In the past two weeks, we have reached the beginning of the end of the COVID pandemic in the United States. Now is the time to reflect, plan and prepare concretely for the future. Post-pandemic affairs will be much more normal, but also different from what we remember.
After 12 months of restrictions and pushes, it’s hard to believe this is the end of it. Yet the evidence is strong. Vaccines work well: Israel and Britain, major countries that are the most advanced in immunization, see dramatic drops in rate of new cases among vaccinated groups, despite high levels of new viral variants in both countries . The US vaccination campaign is progressing rapidly: 23 percent of US adults have received at least one dose and the vaccination rate is expected to accelerate sharply in April. The rate of new cases is down about 75% from the Christmas peak, and summer is approaching, which will further slow transmission.
Recognizing this progress and very motivated to end the restrictions, governors are opening states to business. Here in the northeast, Massachusetts and Maine are dropping travel restrictions and moving to the final stage of their reopening. And consumers are coming back: a Kabbage study found that 57% of US small businesses are now fully open; airline bookings are increasing rapidly; and my hairdresser has noticed that people who have been gone for a year are now coming back, talking about the vaccine comfort factor. In many markets, there will be pent-up demand: consumers have additional savings and a strong desire to do things they love and have been denied.
Your next challenge is to optimize your business operations for the post-COVID period. First challenge: what will the new operational environment look like? Here are some likely key features:
- The virus will always be with us but under control: a so-called “endemic” situation. A large group of people will not be vaccinated: children’s vaccines will be available by the end of 2021 at the earliest, a significant fraction of adults will refuse vaccination at first, and COVID will infiltrate from countries where vaccination is less advanced. Companies will need to continue to take various precautions to ensure the safety of customers and employees.
- The recovery will occur more quickly in some markets than in others. In travel, for example, visits from friends and family and travel to national sales forces will pick up quickly, while cruise ship travel, business and leisure trips to poorer countries and business conventions will take much longer to restart.
- COVID has accelerated permanent market changes. Video conferencing will replace many trips to attend meetings. Doctors have learned to integrate telemedicine into their practice. Home delivery of groceries is now widely used. Working from home is more efficient than you might think: a few days a week of working from home will be common, and offices will be transformed to support employees who need to be present, intermittent presence of other staff and meetings. team to make connections. Overall demand for office space is likely to decline dramatically as buildings are reallocated to residential and other uses.
How to start your post-COVID business plan? Here are some building blocks:
- Start with the customer by explaining how your market has changed and what customers will want after the pandemic. Which parts of your business will grow rapidly, which will recover slowly, and what new opportunities are visible? Does your business need to be more US-focused until overseas markets recover? Has an adjacent market suddenly become accessible to you? For example, a small company that provides software tools for healthy eating discovered during COVID that dieticians need a platform to run their practices virtually; it quickly expanded its capabilities to meet this need and created a new growth opportunity. Also determine if your market is now available to a competitor in the adjacent market and what you need to do to counter this threat.
- How should you change your sales and service model to meet this new demand? The Kabbage survey found that 33% of small businesses plan to further scale up their digital operations after the pandemic, and only 15% expect digital to return to previous levels.
- How will your operations and your personnel model change? COVID security will remain a big concern and raise thorny issues: Workplace technology company Envoy has found that most Americans don’t want to return to the office unless their employer requires employees to be vaccinated. But some employees may assert a personal right to refuse vaccination. And customers may require your salespeople and technicians to be vaccinated before they can return. Many employees will want to continue working from home, at least part time. And the success of remote working creates the opportunity to hire nationwide, which can be a big advantage in high cost areas with tight markets for key skills. There are big moving parts here that will need time and thought to realign.
It will be an exciting time for almost everyone. President Biden’s announcement that there would be a vaccine for everyone by June 1, eligibility for all adults by May 1, and safe barbecues by July 4 was a turning. It has given us reason to believe that the long, dark COVID winter is giving way to a new spring. Now is the time to use all of our intellect, energy and creativity to get the most out of it.