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Predicting How Coronavirus Will Change Work, Retail and Entertainment

Grad Conn

March 31, 20204 min read

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Five short weeks ago I was barely thinking about coronavirus. I’ve always been a diligent hand washer, but social distancing, personal protection equipment, ventilators, and quarantines weren’t on my radar.

Now, it’s getting hard to remember those halcyon, pre-virus days. The days when our biggest annoyances were the talker in the middle seat on a six-hour flight, or finding a place to store the 24-pack of toilet paper. How petty we could be BC (before coronavirus).

I’ve so quickly shifted to our new reality that I’m suddenly uncomfortable watching Curb Your Enthusiasm episodes. Why are they standing so close together? Did they just shake hands? What are they thinking?

It’s even more difficult to imagine life AC (After Coronavirus). There will be political, economic, and health ramifications when this is over. But we’ll see cultural shifts as well. Or, to be more accurate, we’re already seeing cultural shifts. The question is: how many of these shifts will remain once we’re hopefully through the worst of this. A few examples:

Remote Work

This is the most obvious shift. Quarantines and shelter in place orders have forced many of us to leave the comfy confines of our potted fern-filled offices and set up makeshift workspaces in a kitchen, spare bedroom, or a van down by the river. I’m doing this too (a bedroom, not a van), and have to admit that it’s working out pretty well. My commute has dropped from 30 minutes to four seconds, and — with the help of Cisco Webex, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, and Zoom — I’m able to stay in touch with my work teams. It’s been a reasonably trouble-free adjustment, and I expect to work from home more often once this is all over.

People have been predicting a remote-working explosion for a while. And research has shown that remote workers are more productive and healthier. Now that more of us have experienced the benefits of remote work first hand there’s no reason to rush back to the office. Companies will save money on facilities and employees will be happier.

Entertainment

The 1918 flu epidemic had a massive impact on all of society, including the entertainment industry. Yet within a few years western culture was knee deep in the roaring twenties. Movie and live theater attendance didn’t just recover — it soared. Of course, that was before the advent of home entertainment. Now, I can stream an Academy award-nominated film a week after its theatrical release in all its 4k, 7.1 Dolby surround sound glory. So, why venture out at all?

Ok, that’s a bit of a rhetorical question. There’s real emotional value in going out with friends and family to restaurants and theaters. But at-home viewing was growing prior to the pandemic, and has (not surprisingly) taken a huge jump since. How many production companies will choose to abandon their theatrical-first model?

Or, maybe, if we’re lucky, we’ll go back to the future with a resurgence in drive-in theaters. It’s a night out and social distancing. Win win.

Retail

The growth of online shopping has already been well documented, and predicted to continue even before the full impact of coronavirus had been realized. Now, with Amazon and Walmart going on a hiring binge, will we ever return to a pre-virus normal?

Many small retailers, struggling before coronavirus, will not survive the brunt of coronavirus-related business slowdowns. Stimulus packages will help, but we’ll almost certainly see an acceleration from brick and mortar to online. To what extent consumers reconnect with local retailers remains to be seen, but I suspect local retail will face significant challenges ahead.

We’re creatures of habit. Change is hard. Inertia keeps us in our well-worn grooves. On average, it takes 66 days (not 21) to form a new habit. But we could very well end up in the 66 day range before this is all over. How many of these temporary shifts will become the new normal?

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