In this episode of our Podcast, Bryghtpath Principal and CEO Bryan Strawser discusses the trends that we’ll see in the Post-COVID ‘New Normal’ or ‘Next Normal’.
Topics discussed include remote work, business travel, work productivity, collaboration technology, telehealth, and more.
Related Episodes & Blog Posts
- Blog Post: What the COVID-19 pandemic will mean for the office of the future
- Blog Post: Engaging your Board of Directors on your Crisis Communications Strategy
- Episode #97: Returning to the office in the age of COVID-19
- Episode #105: Taking care of yourself during a crisis
- Episode #106: Rethinking Business Continuity in the age of COVID-19
Welcome to Managing Uncertainty, podcast series from the experts at Bryghtpath, discussing global risk, business continuity, and crisis management. Will you be ready to lead your organization through its critical moment?
Hello and welcome to the Managing Uncertainty Podcast. This is Bryan Strawser, Principal and Chief Executive here at Bryghtpath. And in this episode, I want to talk a little bit about the trends that we’re going to see as we begin to adapt to the next normal, as we begin to adapt to what we hope will be a post-pandemic world. With the vaccine now beginning to roll out, we start to see some light at the end of the tunnel, and we hope that there’s not another disaster or calamity headed our way.
So we really view 2021 as a year of change and transition, as we talked about in the previous episode, about returning back to work, about the role that distributed workplaces and remote work will play for us in the coming months and year. Here, I want to talk about some trends that have really been forced on us by COVID, by the global pandemic related to COVID-19, but also some changes that were accelerated that were already in the works, that the pandemic forced us to address more quickly than we would have expected. These are some trends that we expect are going to take place, and in some cases, are already taking place.
The first one is that we’re already starting to see leisure travel begin to bounce back. We’re seeing more people taking vacation, we’re seeing more people travel to vacation spots, both in and outside of the United States. And that folks really want to get back to traveling for pleasure. And we saw a celebration of this in the third and fourth quarter of 2020, but I expect that that will accelerate even more quickly in 2021, in places where the pandemic has lessened significantly, particularly in countries like New Zealand, and Australia, and China, if you’re to believe their figures. Leisure travel is back in a huge way, at least within the country, where folks are going to leisure locations.
The challenge though for travel is that business travel is lagging significantly. And we’re seeing this with our own clients, where folks are saying they don’t want to travel for business until they and their families have been vaccinated, or until the pandemic has ended, which may be very connected, in terms of vaccination, helping us get to the end. We’re seeing leisure travel, bouncing back, we’re seeing business travel lagging, and we expect that that trend will continue in 2021.
The second we see is that there’s been a huge trend of entrepreneurship that has gone on, that the coronavirus pandemic has really sparked innovation and it’s launched a whole different set, or a whole different generation of entrepreneurs, if you want to think of it in that way. Particularly in areas of digitization, things from remote working technologies, to supply chain reinvention, to the use of AI and machine learning, to improve operations with tele-health and more biopharma, which we’ll talk about in a moment, really coming into their own, online customer service, virtual engagement. There’s been a huge number of startups, and innovation, and entrepreneurship, that has happened in these areas. And this is one that a lot of folks didn’t see coming. If we go back to previous economic recessions, 2008 to 2009, for example, small business formation actually declined. But instead, we’ve seen that small business formation has increased, in the United States and around the world, as we’ve worked through the pandemic. That these new more digital entrepreneurs have really seen a significant uptick in growth.
The next trend that we see is just productivity. And believe it or not, productivity increased last year, in 2020, during the pandemic. And all of this being enabled through digital tools and online collaboration tools. US productivity in the third quarter of 2020 went up 4.6%, following a 10.6% increase in the second quarter. This is the largest six-month improvement since 1965. That’s an incredible gain in productivity here in the United States, and we see similar figures around the world. What’s interesting is that the force that the pandemic had to the workforce, is it forced you to work remotely, where you could do remote work. Information workers, for example, were able to shift very rapidly and be able to work from home. All of this happened through the adoption of online collaborative technologies like Zoom, and WebEx, and Microsoft Teams, and these other tools, that are really game-changing.
They went from a cool, new thing over the last few years to now being something that everyone uses, it’s a productivity driver. COVID sped this up significantly. We have several clients who did not have a strong work from home culture at their organizations prior to the pandemic, the pandemic forced to that shift. And they’ve adopted these technologies and capabilities with open arms. COVID definitely sped up that transition. We’re seeing the adoption of newer technologies that are really on the edge, like AI and machine learning, and other digitization, taking the place of unskilled labor, in some cases, or minorly skilled labor that did some things in the past that are now being replaced by digital technologies. And this is happening at a pace that’s just unheard of, in our history, since the industrial revolution.
It’s created this imperative for companies to really look at their operations and think about how can you reconfigure those? And what is the opportunity to transform those processes, to allow for greater productivity, and adopt these tools that are such force multipliers? For those of us in the crisis management and business continuity global security world, well, this changes the game for us. How do these technologies have an impact on the way we think about cognitive operations, the way we think about disaster recovery? These are trends that are going to continue and will continue to accelerate.
Another trend is that shopping behavior has radically changed. Two-thirds of consumers, in a recent survey from McKinsey, note that they have tried new kinds of shopping, such as curbside delivery, such as home delivery, or shifting things to Amazon Prime, to online shopping tools like Shipt or ordering alcohol through Drizly, which was just acquired by Uber in the last two weeks. We’re seeing this even in developing markets like Brazil and India, where the pandemic has accelerated digital shopping, even though they started at a relatively low base utilization that this has gained significantly. And we’re seeing this everywhere, not just in the United States and in other Western countries in the EU. The shift to online retail is significant, and a lot of it is going to stick.
When I too look at my own shopping behavior, and I don’t think I’m an abnormal shopper, but in the last couple of months, as Shipt, for example, has built more capability, and brought on more store brands that they’re able to shop and deliver from, I have stopped going to the grocery store because I can menu plan, meal plan with my family, I can make the order in less than 10 minutes, and then I don’t have to go at all. Whereas before, I was going two or three times a week. I think that we will see this kind of shift continue. And again, poses challenges to how do we think about the continuity of operations, and disaster recovery, and this even higher dependence upon technology, than what we had before.
The next trend we’ve seen, it’s just this entire reshifting and rebalancing of supply chains. In the past, we’ve talked a lot about supply chain resiliency, in the past. The pandemic though has revealed significant vulnerabilities in some long and complicated supply chains, where we have a high dependence on a single country, such as China, high dependence upon a low number of ports, high dependence upon a certain tariff structure, that then changes because of a political impetus, like when the United States implemented tariffs on a lot of goods coming out of China, created a lot of rebalancing. We’ve also seen where the pandemic has impacted certain regions in the country, and because of that impact, a single factory goes dark, that single going dark means a critical component is not being manufactured, and that has ripples down the entire supply chain. And that’s going to continue. It’s looking at the supply chain in terms of how do we rebalance, and how do we shift, and how do we build a more resilient supply chain, is a trend that will be a challenge for us in 2021 and beyond.
The next trend is that the future of work really came at us quickly in 2020. We were forced to go to remote work and think about restructuring as distributed teams, distributed companies. Prior to COVID, remote working was something that was in the air. Some of you may have been doing it, some of your companies may have had a small number of people doing it. It had not proceeded really far. There were cultural challenges, there were technological challenges, but the pandemic changed all of that, essentially overnight, in almost every industry. It’s changed things such as health because of the shift to tele-health where, unless you absolutely have to be hands-on with the physician for an examination, you’re probably using tele-health in order to have your sickness or your issue addressed.
For example, I caught a relatively bad sinus infection back around Thanksgiving of 2020. This is normal for me, I get usually a bad sinus infection every 12 to 18 months. I know exactly what it feels like, I know what the symptoms are. I was pretty confident that it wasn’t COVID, but I did do a COVID test, which was shipped to my house. I did it online via Zoom with a technician from the state’s contractor here in Minnesota. I shipped off the report, I had an answer in 48 hours. But the more interesting thing to me, is I went to my health clinic online, and there’s a process, an AI-driven process, where you answer some questions, and it decides whether or not you need to come in to be seen. Mine said, “No, we can do this remotely.” I never actually interacted directly, camera, phone, with a physician.
I entered my set of symptoms accurately, I entered my recent health history accurately, and within 20 minutes, I got told, “You have a viral sinus infection. We can’t do anything for you. Here is the over-the-counter treatment. Come back to us at day 10,” I think it was day 10, “to further address your issue if you’re still not feeling well.” I get to day 10, I go back to the website. I get back into the process. I enter, “Hey, it’s day 10, and I have done the following. Still having the same symptoms, I still feel bad.” And actually, this was one of the worst sinus infections I’ve had for a couple of years. I had an answer in under 15 minutes. “Yes, this is clearly bacterial, not viral at this point. And so I’m going to prescribe a Z-Pak. Here is the pharmacy that is on file. Just click here if you want it to go there, or click here if you want to get it somewhere else.”
I had the prescription the next day. And continued through that treatment, which was successful. That would never have happened previously. The pandemic forced this kind of action. I don’t know that we will ever want to go back to the way it was. I mean, why would you want to go see the doctor if you can do this and get the same output. That’s the trend. We’re going to see the future of work, more tele-health, more online shopping, more meetings from home, more working from home. I think that over time, that’s the direction that we will see. And of course, we talked about this on the previous episode.
The next trend is just this massive shift in biopharma that has always been there, but now we’re seeing more tangible signs of this as we look at the rollout of the coronavirus vaccines. These happened enormously quickly, in terms of design and testing, and the pilots, to make sure that these are safe, and that they’ve had the result that we were looking to do. Previous vaccines, the ones that most of us grew up with, use an inactivated virus, or they used a virus that was weakened that would create an immune response in our system. These are totally different kinds of viruses. They use mRNA, messenger RNA, particularly here, the working with the vaccine created by Moderna, and for BioNTech-Pfizer, which use mRNA. These were the first two that were approved here in the United States. The Moderna virus was designed in 48 hours by a computer. And then everything since then has just depended upon the clinical trials, to make sure that it did as it was supposed to do.
This messenger RNA contains genetic instructions to our cells that creates a protein and prompts an immune response. It’s crazy sci-fi level stuff. And I don’t know that any of us really appreciate just how difficult and how advanced this science is from where we were even a decade ago. Just as businesses have sped up their operations, this pandemic could be the launching point for huge acceleration in the pace of medical invention, along the lines of what we’ve seen with the coronavirus vaccine.
Finally, the last trend that we see going through the year is this shift towards sustainability. Green being the color of recovery, as McKinsey put it in a recent article. That the world is starting to see the benefits of environmental sustainability. And shifting in that direction, that we’re seeing government stimulus programs forcing companies, and innovation, and government contracts, down this line of we’re incentivizing more sustainable strategies, from an energy and environmental standpoint. This is being driven by the EU, but we’re seeing commitments from China about reducing their net carbon emissions over the next 50 years. Japan pledging to be carbon neutral by 2050, South Korea’s Green New Deal, aiming for zero net emissions in the next 30 years. And then President Biden’s promises to invest $2 trillion into green energy strategies, around transportation, power, and building.
There’s a clear shift along this for businesses. And we see the importance of this for businesses, that businesses need to respond to the sustainability concerns of their shareholders, of their investors. That, but also that COVID can make you think about what might a climate crisis look like in the long-term. Something that’s systemic, fast-moving, wide-ranging, and global. There’s opportunity for businesses to really think about how to use sustainability as not just perhaps the right thing to do, but also as a competitive advantage, to be moving themselves down the direction of a significant trend. That it will be advantageous for them to take advantage of.
Those are some of the trends that we see, would love to hear your trends. Drop us a note at firstname.lastname@example.org with your thoughts. That’s it for this edition of the Managing Uncertainty Podcast, we’ll be back next week with another new episode. Be well.