What Will the New Normal Look Like?

What Will the New Normal Look Like?

No one is sure exactly when or how it will happen, but eventually, it will be time for the United States to start to open back up. Life will likely not look like it had before COVID-19 for a long time. And, in some ways, may change forever.

So what can you expect as you prepare your own business for the upcoming transition?

First, don’t expect social distancing to go away anytime soon. If your business is housed in a physical property, whether it be a warehouse, manufacturing or retail space, you will need to plan ahead to build in social distancing and safety measures, if you have not already done so.

This would include tape markings on floors to demarcate distances, rethinking the current layout and one-direction walkways. Restaurants may close off every second table, and manufacturing facilities may place employees at every second station in order to allow the business to continue to function at some level.

Additionally, employees will need to be provided gloves, masks, cleaning and disinfecting supplies as well as additional time built into their workday to sanitize and clean frequently touched surfaces. With predictions that this virus may reemerge in the fall of 2020, don’t expect social distancing, personal protection and extra sanitizing to let up anytime soon.

We can look to Sweden for how this may take shape. The use of plexiglass to protect employees and consumers from one another has become ubiquitous there. Social distancing is on a bit of an honor system there, and the U.S. will likely go that direction to keep people from coming too close.

“The strategy in Sweden is to focus on social distancing among the known risk groups, like the elderly. We try to use evidence-based measurements,” states Emma Frans, a doctor in epidemiology at Sweden’s Karolinska Institute, as quoted by Euronews. “We try to adjust everyday life. The Swedish plan is to implement measurements that you can practice for a long time.”

Expect similar long-term measures to be considered in the U.S.

Employees who work remotely will likely be encouraged to continue doing so. This will ensure less exposure and less sick time and keep the total number of employees in the workplace to a minimum.

Matthew M., a chef in the Midwest, chuckles at the idea of doing his job remotely and notes that restaurant kitchens are notoriously crowded places. Improved air filtration and ventilation are possible options. He foresees a few problems for his restaurant and the industry as a whole.

Restaurants tend to run tight profit margins, and the slowdown has led to a lot of layoffs in the industry. He explains that while salaried personnel have generally retained their positions, hourly personnel may have found work elsewhere or not be planning to return to work at their previous employers.

Restaurants with drive-thru and pickup options have been able to do some business throughout the shutdown, and this model may make up the bulk of the restaurant business even as the country moves toward opening up. His restaurant has already introduced a “take and bake” option for prepared gourmet meals to heat up at home and did a brisk business over the Easter holiday when they premiered it.

Chef Matthew emphasized that curbside, contactless and meal delivery options will be key, Restaurant owners should change their strategies to maximize these service delivery models. Additionally, he adds, restaurants need to continue to strictly enforce rules about not allowing employees to show up for work if there is any suspicion of illness or exposure.

This model will likely apply to other businesses as well, and business owners may need to think of creative ways to incorporate new service delivery modes that they have not needed in the past in order to help customers and employees alike feel safe.

Businesses that have not done so already should step up their website and app game. Functional and user-friendly web portals are essential, and a marketing effort must go hand in hand to communicate changes of policy and ease of use. The victories will go to those who most effectively communicate and deliver these new service models to end-users.

If your business depends on the supply chain for day-to-day production, expect disruptions and delays even shortages. All the pieces of the process that you depend on for the vital components of your business are in restart mode themselves, whether it is manufacturing, international shipping or domestic air cargo. Business owners will likely find themselves getting creative with inventory options and scrambling to find local sources for items they once bought more cheaply overseas.

Consumer spending may be slow to rebound as well. Between never-before-seen unemployment figures and general skittishness that consumers experience in times of uncertainty, there will likely be a slow rollout of a return to vacation plans, high-end restaurant meals, big-ticket retail and auto purchases, among other areas of discretionary spending.

Carsten Lund Pedersen and Thomas Ritter of the Harvard Business Review advise owners to have a carefully thought-out plan to serve as a guide to getting businesses on a path to a new normal. This plan “should explicate what you need to do today to achieve your objectives tomorrow.”

Any lack of a plan will only contribute to the anticipated chaos and you should take into account how the company culture and identity may change, what new projects need to be undertaken and the company’s level of preparation to undertake the needed developments.

Marnie Kunz, writing for the Houston Chronicle, suggests a grand reopening, with all the requisite publicity and event planning. In the wake of coronavirus, businesses will likely look to social media and other publicity to get the word out and host online events with special promotions to bring customers their way. Any such promotion will need to clarify new safety assurances and policies.

It is likely that states throughout the nation will have varying regulations for social distancing and employee and customer contact. It is incumbent upon business owners to understand these regulations, communicate them to employees and provide whatever resources are needed to achieve them. Employers should seek state aid and assistance when necessary to achieve these standards.

With purpose,

Dr. Patrick Gentempo

Patrick Gentempo