As the first wave of the pandemic subsides we now see a new normal starting to be forged.
Last year you might have sniggered at folks on the tube wearing masks, or pitied those that worked from home. The new normal is starting to be, erm, normal. And that means avoiding crowds, more specifically, unnecessary contact with, erm. anyone. Throw in a bit of personal hygiene (what should really have been in place anyway) and that’s about it.
However, how this plays out in a society historically built around urban mega-centres, productionised workplaces, mass-commuting, and intimate social settings is far-reaching and life-changing for many. The space is evolving, but it’s fair to say that some major long-term changes to how we live and work will happen. The new normal is here. Now. it won’t go back to what it was like before.
Face to face meetings
Nope, they’re mostly gone, replaced with iffy video tech, peaking into folks cribs and seeing how weak the tech knowledge of many of the world’s leaders is. Getting rid of toxic meeting is good, losing the personal touch and the ability to read body language is not so good. We’ll get better, the tech will get better, we’ll all gain from this in the longer term.
Yay, this is on the decline and will likely never return to its previous levels. Staggered working hours, home-working and shifting the mode of transport to walking and cycling is the beginning of the end of centralised, 9 to 5 working. Will you still need two cars on the drive?
Another one for the chopping block. If you can work from home or work anywhere then you’ll need the office less. The offices that remain will be sparsely populated and a lot less open-plan. Office per square foot costs may fall as demand drops, but making them safe for the workers will become more expensive. We’ll see the rise of smaller, more local hub-offices for worker keen to reduce their commute and exposure to unnecessary folks.
Shopping and retail
This has been moving online for nearly two decades and will accelerate even further, reducing the need to go to crowded shops. Less time spent physically shopping will move retail into an experience space for those companies that survive.
Large-scale crowded entertainment venues have serious challenges and may never adapt fully. We’re seeing these types of leisure experience move online and into your lounge, on your terms, and without the expensive add-on cost associated with visiting, say, the theatre or a music festival. Pubs and restaurants will adapt, but standing at a crowded bar is out, it will be socially distanced food and beverage with either table service or a pseudo take-away model.
Whilst not available to all, for many it will become the hub of social interaction. We’ve already seen the bonding of communities and local social circles – this will continue and rise further. Urban areas with limited access to private outside space will become less desirable.
Will become a luxury or for essential purposes only. it’s not just the airport or the flight, but the destinations are going to struggle to meet our new social distance-driven demands. When we do take holidays they will be open-air, longer and less crowded. The days of popping over to Berlin for a weekend on the beer is going to happen for less frequently. Staycations will be huge in this decade.
In a different world, some may struggle to adapt and that is a concern for society. But, given time, we should benefit from a better balance in our lives, with more private time and an appreciation of what’s on our doorstep.
Human beings are incredibly good at adapting, we’ll see many new technologies and habits rise to address our new world.
A lot is talked about the re-emergence of the COVID-19 disease as a second wave and is it too early to slacken the restrictions. When the lockdown started, 81 days ago, the UK had 5,000 new cases and 300 new deaths per week. In the last week, we still had nearly 10,000 cases and over 1,300 deaths – the pandemic is not over, we’re not even back to pre-lockdown levels of infection and death.
What the lockdown did achieve is the flattening of the curve – reducing the demand on the NHS. The relaxation of the restrictions will likely see some of the rates rise unless track and trace comes to save us by stopping new cases and clusters dead. More likely, we just need to accept the fact that this vile disease will be with us until mass immunity arrives via vaccine or sufficient herd immunity to rob the virus of new hosts.