No one really knows what the “new normal” will look like. But as we start to emerge from COVID-19, it’s crucial that we learn from the extraordinary changes transforming how consumers shop and behave, how businesses must adapt quickly and how societies are reflecting on what is truly important.
The personal threat from this crisis – to you and me and everyone we know – has shifted perceptions and actions around working, shopping, socializing, traveling and every other aspect of our lives. More importantly, it has altered our expectations.
One lesson we’ve learned already is that the world is suddenly more digital than ever before. As people grow accustomed to shopping online, working from home, doing video chats and using contactless payments, these will become lasting habits of convenience and choice.
These shifts have profound implications for governments, employers and businesses. As a recent article in Harvard Business Review noted, COVID-19 is not a one-off crisis. More disruption in the future – from any number of causes – is a certainty. That demands change and preparation now.
“Rather than heaving a sigh of relief and returning to normal routines when the crisis subsides, efforts should be made not to squander a valuable learning opportunity,” the article says.
To deliver on people’s evolving expectations, the lessons we learn and how we react will determine whether the “new normal” is successful, sustainable and acceptable for everyone.
Even the mightiest and richest nations were found wanting in their COVID-19 responses as public health budgets are typically a fraction of what is spent on weapons and security. With citizens now seriously concerned about their well-being, governments should re-examine their priorities and investments.
Lower-wage workers are a vital part of the economy and we must ensure they have better living standards. Many are the “essential workers” who have kept grocery stores, transport and other services running during the pandemic. Some countries have ignored this section of our society, resulting in more infections and rising inequality.
Innovation in technology happens at breakneck speed. Why then are we talking about vaccines being available only after 18 to 24 months? Investment and innovation in the medical field – around COVID-19 and all major diseases – must be the utmost focus.
We’ve seen some positive changes in the climate and environment during COVID-19 with fewer vehicles on the road and factories slowing output. It would be prudent for governments and businesses to take the climate issue far more seriously, change current ways and collaborate with environmental experts for a cleaner, healthier future.
The widespread disruption caused by COVID-19 completely changes the concept of business continuity planning and means much more focus and investment must be put into this area to reflect new realities and new expectations.
The need for many employees to work from home during the pandemic – and their ability to do so – is a major transformation of traditional operating models. It’s also becoming a preference that companies and governments should not ignore.
In a survey of 3,500 remote workers around the world, an astounding 98 percent said they want to continue working away from the office at least some of the time. The fact that many companies have been able to operate well with remote staff during the pandemic puts to rest many of the long-standing arguments against working from home.
Beyond a better work/life balance, more flexibility for workers will mean less strain on public transport, less congestion and pollution and higher productivity as valuable time will not be spent commuting.
Despite the numerous negatives of COVID-19, there is one big positive. Digital transformation has accelerated as governments, the private sector and consumers see the benefits of online commerce and contactless transactions. Governments should use this opportunity to drive the digital future much more aggressively across economies and societies.
In the short term, investing in digital transformation will increase demand for related goods and services, create jobs for displaced workers, encourage new skills and position the economy for recovery and growth.
In the long run, the economy will become more diversified, efficient and globally connected. Workers will enjoy more progressive opportunities, a better quality of life and more inclusive growth with access to financial services and the digital economy.
One of the biggest challenges, as a recent McKinsey article noted, is figuring out which consumer behaviors and trends are here to stay and which will fade over time.
“We believe three priorities will define customer experience in the post-pandemic era: digital excellence, safe and contactless engagement, and dynamic customer insights,” McKinsey said.
As physical and digital worlds converge, merchants must find the right mix of brick-and-mortar shops and e-commerce. People now expect shopping to be fast, simple and at their convenience, so businesses must change how they think about everything from customer interaction and retention to inventory, production and logistics.
Online learning has seen a big uptick during the pandemic. Governments should use this technology to deliver big increases in literacy – reading and writing but also basic financial and digital skills.
Even as tourism slowly resumes, the travel and hospitality sectors must rework their models as many companies re-examine the need for corporate trips. The last few months have proven how much can be done remotely and online, so the travel industry must offer value and experiences in entirely new ways.
For corporations, it’s time to strategically examine and diversify supply chains and key dependencies on others. They also should look hard at their needs for office and retail space and identify opportunities to avoid over-investing in real estate.
We should be seeing the light at the end of this pandemic tunnel before too long. Will we sustain this light by truly adapting our business, political, environmental and personal practices to create a sustainable “new normal”? That remains to be seen.
Nobody has a crystal ball but let’s hope the lessons have been crystal clear so we make the most of the transformative changes and deliver on the evolving expectations for a better future.
The writer is executive vice president for customer delivery in Asia Pacific at Mastercard. The views expressed are his own.
Disclaimer: The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not reflect the official stance of The Jakarta Post.