Humans have a surprising ability to adapt to change. The problem is in the fact that everyone fears the change and goes kicking and screaming. But once people go through the five stages (denial, anger, depression, bargaining and acceptance), they typically settle into a new routine.
I don't think we have experienced a societal change this dramatic in our lifetimes. I think we are in the early stages of a new normal that has yet to be clearly defined. It is tough to project a path forward when new data continually emerge in real-time that everyone is also trying to react to in real-time.
I say this all the time, “it’s OK to sit on your hands and let the dust settle; don't take action for the sake of taking action, you might be moving in the wrong direction.”
COVID-19 has been a game-changer across the world. As of May 26, Culpeper has had 638 total cases, 47 hospitalizations and six deaths. The illness and loss of life are tragic. But out of tragedy, some good can arise.
Here are a few things I predict will become the new normal once the dust settles.
1. High-Speed Broadband Access is a Nationwide Priority — I’ve lost track of how many times I have written in this paper about rural broadband access issues. Internet providers indicate they will work with communities on expansion and simultaneously stab them in the back with legal maneuvers. But after schools were shut down and people started working from home, the inequality of internet access reared its ugly head. I applaud Stafford County Schools for distributing mobile hotspots to students in need. But that is a short-term, stop-gap solution. There is now some movement at the congressional level to expand funding for broadband.
2. Work from Home (WFH) Is Here to Stay — Remote workers (WFH) has been increasing the past few years. But WFH still had some negative stigma attached to it. Some corporations felt they were losing control over staff, productivity would decrease and teamwork would go down. For organizations that could work from home, they have proved the opposite to be true. Companies such as Twitter and Facebook are indicating a shift to more remote workers because productivity wasn't negatively affected. The downside being that salaries would be adjusted to where you live.
3. Less Traffic on the Roads and Cleaner Air — My wife works in Stafford and goes to her office once or twice a week now. Occasionally she comes down I-95 on a Friday afternoon to find very little traffic. That is unheard of. There will be more data gathered, but because we see less traffic on the roads, satellite images are showing the air getting clearer. We are getting a real-time look at how humans affect the environment.
4. Better Risk Planning — It would be impossible to plan for a pandemic. There is no way to predict when one will start and the affects. But for business owners, this should be a time for reflection and documenting lessons learned in times of catastrophe. If you run a brick-and-mortar store and it catches fire, do you have a plan to continue generating revenue? Do you have one key employee whom, if something tragic happens to them, would cripple your business? It is impossible to plan for everything. But you need to self-evaluate your business and life and determine what risks are plausible and have a plan to address them should the moment arrive. Trying to figure it out at that moment is a recipe for disaster.
Those are just four things I predict are here to stay, or worked on more aggressively, or take more seriously. This is the tip of the iceberg. I imagine many more changes in the next six to 18 months. Some of the changes probably won't be good. The flip side of work from home is what the effects will be for commercial real estate.
My final thought regarding change.
Be part of developing the solution when you know the circumstances require you to adjust. Don’t be resistant because you are fearful. Be a problem-solver in a time when many people are still trying to figure out to work in the new normal.