Post-coronavirus new normal

May 5, 2020
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Our reality shifted permanently in early 2020. As always, the future was not evenly distributed among the population immediately. All of us as still accepting, coping, realising, learning and assessing the implications. They are neither few nor insignificant.

It’s easy to overestimate the short term and underestimate the long term. While at the middle of the flux and temporarily situation it is tempting to assume it to be the new normal and linearly extrapolate it as the new baseline.

New habits are forming

The reality is that the lock-down yanked people out of whack and put them into a forced situation where they need to adapt their entire life in a moment’s notice. Simultaneously, it also made everyone slow down and stop moving. Altogether, this results outcomes where old ways of doing things are not working and some things stop making sense or cannot be performed at all.

This is a rare opportunity for new habits to form and people were actively looking for alternative ways to do things. Zoom was a clear winner of this reality as well as all remote work-related goods and services. The immediate implications are rather easy to see and observe. How much of them will remain as permanent solutions after some time passes remains to be seen. Human memory tends to be rather short and forgiving. Old ways are easy to retrieve after the immediate stressor relinquishes.

No turning back in some cases

There are clear indications that some things are not going back to their old grooves anymore.

In the business realm, remote work has shifted from the tech world to the mainstream. It is acceptable now to have a videoconference instead of travelling. It is also starting to become questionable whether it’s efficient and ecologically acceptable to travel for a meeting and spend numerous hours on the process. Remote work is another evident winner. Why go to the office if you can manage to do the work from elsewhere? Do we need expensive office space in a prime location anymore if it has less prestige, and business travel subsides?

These two categorical but related changes bring up new winners and losers. Anything and everything related to the home studio/work environment set-up is on the rise. Virtual collaboration, productivity and management tools will become abundant as well as anything related to last-mile logistics solutions.

Less preference towards closed dense spaces for extended exposure periods

Public places and gatherings are less favoured in the short term. How long this will last after the imposed restrictions are lifted remains to be seen. Some businesses that previously operated locally and were bound by their locus limitations have realised something huge. They can extend enormously their audience with the same amount of effort by doing things virtually, and have a similar impact on their income. Why have a local small gig in a jazz club if you can reach potentially thousands if not tens of thousands at the same time?

Entertainment, arts and culture are facing this dilemma at the moment. Is it worthwhile to wait and adapt when the signals are clearer or is it then already too late, and the new winners have already been chosen by the patrons in the meanwhile?

The situation is especially tricky for transportation and tourism-related businesses where you cannot easily go virtual. You need the people to come and use your services on spot. Yet, in some cases, you can bring the audiences with you, like in Halipuu’s case. Leisure travel may not be that much affected than business travel but the timing is anybody’s guess. It may take years to get back to the last few years demand levels. Some people may also decide to skip the actual atom travel and use electrons instead. Why hop in a plane when VR and AR solutions are soon providing a decent experience with less hassle and costs. Physical travel may become a new type of luxury again, or even a vice due to its environmental impact and moral burdens.

What happens to trains, airplanes, buses, ships and other means of transportation where you’re in close contact with people for a long period of time? Do you prefer walking, private vehicles or other ways to go about your business if it is possible? Small shifts in preferences have large impacts when enough people do them together. Technological solutions will kick in and help to alienate the dangers involved in the mid-term but are they enough or too late to soothe our feelings and habits towards the old ways again.

Less intimacy

Physical contact and close approximate have become undesirable due to invisible dangers to personal health. Everybody becomes a suspect and it’s just easier to avoid and block people away categorically than try to negotiate in each situation the appropriate response in question. Handshaking is an old habit that hopefully not too many will miss and we can happily get rid of it. Hugging and other forms of greetings may become less frequent. Virtual meetings will become more common but they are less intimate forms of interaction.

The new world has shifted in the direction of introverts and Finns. A large social distance and personal space have become virtues, at least in the short term. What are the implications for social relationship and the human psyche are something we will discover together in the coming years. It is already evident that virtual meetings are more stressful and draining than normal face-to-face meetings due to different and scarcer information sources. Most of the non-verbal communication clues are missing in the video or audio links. On the other hand, audio is getting a new revival. Always on solutions are rising in popularity. Clubhouse-app is the latest trend among the Silicon Valley tech elite where you can join rooms with people for real-time talks.

Attending a virtual conference is not the same as visiting a physical one. How do you have random interactions and meet new people serendipitously? A group meeting has new rules when everybody has the same real-estate pixel amount in your room. The conversation is less dynamic and spontaneous when everybody stares their screens and wait for the current speaker to finish. How do you encourage the more quiet types to participate, or exchange looks or smiles between participants?

For years, physical stores had many challenges due to digitalisation and shifts in consumer preferences towards more direct business and distribution models. Now, this trend was just accelerated immensely with dire consequences. Yet, it also provides new opportunities for the ones open to adapt to new opportunities and ways of serving customers. Remote restaurants were already emerging but now they are thriving. Delivery services are the new norm and the Chinese way of ordering in all your meals is gaining a foothold in the West, too.

Non-touch solutions are becoming ever more important. Face and gesture recognition, optical sensors and other mechanisms to trigger service and responses without a human touch become standard. No hands policy in everything retail-related is the future direction supported by the latest technology innovations such as Amazon’s Go stores.

The next part of this article talks about the second order effects of post-corona new normal.

The others parts are:
Second-order consequences of post-corona new normal
Coping with post-coronavirus realities
The new post-corona world.