At VCloud, we are constantly watching economic and social trends, almost as much as we are watching and testing new technologies. Lately we have been focusing on what trends will likely start, stop or even change forever because of COVID. Some of these are devastating. Others, however, are teeing up for positive change. I’ve been mentally filing away the observations I’ve collected through personal experience, conversations with other and what's in the news, and here are my post-COVID predictions:
The mental health industry will boom.
There is no question that COVID will bring a whole slew of psychological side effects to the table in its aftermath. Depression, alcoholism, insomnia and anxiety are already on the rise. Families are dealing with job losses, financial strain and the loss of loved ones to the illness. Front line workers are experiencing more burnout than normal in their fields, as they now double as caretakers and comforters for patients who are dying alone due to hospital restrictions. Not surprisingly, the suicide risk for front-line workers has risen. Teachers – already largely underpaid and underappreciated – are working double time trying to make distance learning effective, seamless and engaging while finding ways to somehow create bonds with the kids virtually.
And that’s just the adults. What kind of effect is COVID having on children? Carefully crafted screen time limitations for kids have been thrown out the window as they now spend hours in front of the screen for school each day, isolated from their classmates and lacking the much needed in-person connections with their teachers. How much will all of this affect these kids when all is said and done? Will Middle and High Schoolers be affected more or less than Elementary aged kids? Child abuse reports have dropped dramatically, not because they aren’t happening, but because around 21% of child abuse cases are reported by teachers each year. Without the kids at school, these cases are that much more likely to go unnoticed. While some households are fortunate enough to be able to surf the waves that we're being pummeled with, what about the families that don't have the right resources to do so? The stress and anxiety these parents are undoubtedly going through will certainly trickle down to their children in some degree.
It is evident that therapy and medication prescriptions will be at an all-time high when all is said and done. But if there is one silver lining, it’s that COVID-19 has brought attention to the many weak points in our mental health infrastructure and that will hopefully spark an urgency to take mental health more seriously going forward.
Masks will become a permanent part of our culture going forward.
Masks may become a part of our culture (or sub-culture) going forward, but likely only for 10-20% of the population. For years now we have seen other countries sporting masks in airports and other highly congested, enclosed areas. While the U.S. will most likely see a decrease in mask usage in our everyday activities, its likely many will continue to wear masks while traveling or commuting in close quarters going forward. Silver lining? With more mask wearing in public, perhaps we'll see a reduction in the flu and even the common cold during flu and cold season.
Commercial real estate will get crushed.
With smaller businesses failing to maintain through COVID, coupled with the realization that many corporate jobs can be done remotely, tenants are now breaking leases or demanding rent cuts. If businesses continue to embrace the “work from home” culture once everything is settled, cities will start to look drastically different. Are we closing in on the era of the "bustling downtown business life"?
With remote working becoming more of a norm, people are realizing they can live in their dream area rather than being chained to a location closer to their jobs. This will further hurt cities and commercial real estate.
Financially untangling this mess will take time and will be painful.
Families have had to make some really tough decisions and it appears women in the workforce are taking the hardest hit. Almost four times more women than men have left the workforce since July, whether because of their job fields reducing significantly or because they were needed at home as schools moved to 100% virtual. Families who are fortunate enough to have one or both parents able to work from home are still facing struggles as they find themselves constantly interrupted while they juggle the many hats of distance learning moderator (are you supposed to be in class? You're on ANOTHER break??) and full time employee, resulting in reduced hours and/or lower productivity. This is a time where the disadvantages of adult ADD can really smack you in the face. For those of you who can execute their days with laser focus as kids are doing literal cartwheels around you - kudos to you! That is not me.
But on a serious note, these changes and disruptions to the workforce have affected many in a huge, huge way. Just last month, CNN reported that 205 million Americans are at risk of utility disconnection as COVID-19 disconnection moratoriums are set to expire in the coming weeks. I have no idea how folks are going to catch up after such a devastating blow, but there is no doubt both consumers and the providers are hurting in this process.
This will be the end of todays brick and mortar retail world.
The brick and mortar retail world took another huge hit and much of it will not come back. Several big hitters like Men’s Wearhouse, Pier One, Nordstrom, Victoria’s Secret and Chuck E Cheese (say it ain’t so!) have taken a toll, along with gym memberships we (well, not me…but other people) have figured out alternative workout options during quarantine. E-Commerce has thankfully helped boost many retail stores to (or close to) pre-pandemic status as far as sales dollars go, but as far as browsing leisurely through the stores, those days might be coming to an end. Much like the affect ZOOM has on the workforce, online shopping and at home workouts will likely be the new norm going forward.
Sounds pretty gloom and doom now…but what the "silver linings"? Here are some bright spots we can focus on during these dark times:
This could ultimately become a stress reducer for some.
Wait, What? How, you ask? With remote work becoming more widely accepted, more people are realizing they can move to their “happy place” for good. Too often people are saddled with the need to live in or near larger cities for work purposes. But with larger cities comes higher stress levels, longer commutes and higher cost of living. Why stay in a toxic environment when you can log into work from your peaceful lake house or family cabin every day, or move to an area with lower cost of living and a more laid back environment?
Additionally, if you are an owner of a vacation property, you might see a spike in rentals as more people are veering away from “resorts” and opting for the safer, less communal option of a private home.
Self-Care is on the rise.
With all the extra time people are saving by not commuting and running from one physical meeting to a next, that leaves more time for family and for self-care. It seems everyone (again...except me!) has taken up running and exercising more. Family walks are increasing, bike sales are on a rise, home gyms are being utilized, backyard volleyball and badminton nets are being set up (and used!) We can only hope this this will eventually combat the stress and negative psychological effects that this disease has had on so many families.
Improvements for archaic systems and groups are inevitable.
As with most crisis situations, COVID-19 has brought to light the many flaws in all aspects of public services, from schools, to the police force to the unemployment offices. This will force government institutions to re-evaluate their systems and processes.
Technology will thrive more than ever.
In the VCloud world, the speed of improvement, new software and changes in artificial intelligence and speech recognition have been nothing short of amazing. And with all this remote working happening in my earlier predictions, people will be dependent on technology more than ever.
Automation is becoming king. Hotels and other industries were forced to close entire call centers or lay off large sales forces, and for a while tried to compensate that with chatbots, IVR, AI or any self-service tool. But advances in technology over the last few years - and even in just the past few months - have allowed them to actually automate entire processes and deliver a “better than human” experiences in a few use cases. The results were as dramatic as their initial problem and so many of these changes are becoming permanent.
In short, COVID has been devastating, no doubt about it. But when the dust settles, an opportunity to build and improve will present itself. It’s also a chance to recognize the capabilities we have. Distance Learning has showed us that kids and teachers are more resilient than we give them credit for. Restaurants, retail stores and small shops have had to think outside the box in order to keep their businesses going (hello curbside pick-up!) Many companies can save money on overhead costs by having their employees work remotely, and - maybe most importantly - families are finding their “work/life” balance again thanks to less commute time. With so much chaos going on right now, it may be hard to see the light at the end of the tunnel, but I do believe we will rebuild even stronger than before. We can only go up from here… right?!?