Posted by The Daily Camera
By Sean Maher, CEO
We were all so excited for 2021 to arrive and put 2020 behind us. Well, here we are and I have to say that, so far, it has been a big disappointment. But I am an optimist and still believe this year will end far better than it started.
Covid will slowly recede over the coming months as vaccine distribution ramps up. Events will start happening again. By late spring, we may even be able to run the Bolder Boulder just like old times.
But life after the pandemic will never look or feel quite the same as old times. Covid has permanently disrupted how we work, play, socialize, learn and do business. In many ways, this disruption is an acceleration of trends that were already taking place.
Let’s start with how we work. The concept of working remotely has been growing for years as technology makes it easier to stay connected from wherever we live or travel. But it still was not “normal” for most of us. That has changed. A recent national survey shows that 55 percent of Americans are working remotely due to Covid and nearly 20 percent say they likely will not return to the office.
At my company, one employee recently moved to Utah and others have indicated they may also move further away from Boulder to live closer to family or somewhere they can afford to buy a house. Among the rest, most are not interested in returning to the office full time. We will likely shrink our office space and have people split their time working from home. I know many firms are doing the same and still others are going totally remote.
Speaking of remote, think about online shopping. Amazon and the other internet giants were already steadily gaining market share but Covid gave them a huge boost. It also forced even the strongest brick and mortar retailers to move online. Some days at Whole Foods, there are more employees pushing carts to fill online orders than there are regular customers.
Tens of thousands of small retailers have been forced to accelerate their migration to selling online. Some have added ecommerce to their physical stores and others have gone totally digital. Shopify, a company that provides online selling platforms for small businesses, has seen its stock quadruple in the past year.
The small brick and mortar retailers who survive Covid will have to maintain and grow their online presence even after the pandemic is over. It is just what normal will look like going forward. They will also have to focus relentlessly on improving the in-store experience. Consumers who have grown comfortable shopping from home will need serious enticement to go back into stores to spend their money. Creating a great experience will be a key driver.
Of course, no business segment has been hurt more by Covid than restaurants. As of last month, nearly 20 percent of restaurants nationwide had given up and shut down. Most others are barely hanging on. To their credit, many state and local governments have made dramatic changes to help their eateries stay alive. These include closing streets for outdoor dining and allowing alcohol sales to go.
And guess what? The public loves these new options and they have now become normal to most customers. Surveys consistently show that Americans want the expanded outdoor seating made permanent. They also want to keep buying their favorite cocktails to go home with their takeout food. My guess is that many local governments will acquiesce and allow the new policies to continue in some form beyond the pandemic.
The above examples are just the beginning. Think about schools, college campuses, business travel and movie theaters … virtually every aspect of daily life. Everything has been disrupted by Covid. Of course, some things will bounce back and look much the same as before. Others will come back but look a little different. But many aspects of life will be forever changed.
So yes Covid will recede and this year will end much better than it started. But life will never be quite the same as it was in 2019.
Sean Maher is the CEO of RRC Associates in Boulder. You can email him at firstname.lastname@example.org to blog