While individuals have had a hard time during the global pandemic, from isolation and upended schedules to dealing with homeschooling, business owners have arguably been hit harder. Some businesses have had to close completely for months, others have seen a downturn in sales because of people staying home. Those who can have turned to more online delivery models to keep a modicum of business going. Now that it appears the world is getting ready to reopen, business owners have to ask themselves what the new normal will look like. Here are four ways that the pandemic will continue to affect businesses in 2021 and beyond.
Consumer Resurgence Fuels Business
Those who follow the markets believe there will be a surge of consumer confidence but also a lot of "revenge shopping" to make up for the perceived theft of time that was the COVID-19 pandemic. Business leaders like Suzanne Clark, the CEO of the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, are hoping that the service sector, where businesses were hit hardest, will also see the greatest rebound. In part that's because those services where people can get together, like restaurants and live music venues, are the ones that people are missing the most.
The Fourth Industrial Revolution Speeds Up
The pandemic created a big leap for the Fourth Industrial Revolution. This sea change sees the blurring between the real world and the digital realm. Businesses that for years claimed that they couldn't sustain productivity if their workforce wasn't in the office environment learned how wrong they were.
Not only are the technologies in place to make physical location irrelevant, jumps in artificial intelligence and the advent of the 5G network have allowed businesses to improve data security and build supply-chain redundances 20 to 25 times faster than leadership previously believed possible. Executives are providing more funding for digital initiatives than ever before. That's in response to the immediate changes COVID wrought on the business landscape. In just a year companies increased the likelihood of digital customer interactions by three times.
Business Travel Never Rebounds
Those who love to travel have missed it over the past year and will get back to it as soon as it is safely possible. On the other hand, business travel may never rebound to pre-pandemic levels. In part, it's the newest industrial revolution to blame. People no longer have to be face-to-face to meet, using collaboration and video conferencing tools to take care of business. That's bad news for the hospitality sector where the $1.4 trillion spent on business travel was a huge profit driver. In fact, high-end hotels took 70% of their pre-pandemic profits from business travelers.
Better news for the hospitality industry is that business insiders believe that even if business travel never rebounds to its earlier levels, it will still rebound substantially. That's because once the first business sends its sales team out to meet with potential customers others will feel pressured to follow suit. No matter how many video conferences a business has, nothing says "personal touch" like having a team there in person to answer questions and wine and dine clients.
Addressing Climate Change Builds Business
For the first time, the recovery plans of many countries addressing the pandemic have included environmental policies. Countries like Canada and the United States, along with the European Union are tying pandemic recovery to climate change initiatives. The E.U. is actually spending about 30% of its recovery plan on climate change measures.
For individual businesses, it means recognizing that sustainability is more than a buzzword. Investors and customers are looking for it in meaningful ways. Businesses should be looking to make themselves climate-resilient through diversification and alternative power and supply sources.
There will be many permanent changes because of the pandemic. Businesses can look forward to increased consumer spending and they can also look forward to saving money with new technologies that are bringing business and customers closer than ever before. The smart business will also take away lessons of how they can prepare for any future disasters too.