As of April 3rd, 2020, it’s a cliché to say life and work will never be the same after COVID-19 but it’s still painfully true.
For service contractors whose bulk of business is with non-essential companies, this pandemic is like trying to cross whitewater rapids at night.
For service contractors working for essential businesses, it’s a different roller coaster. Theirs is one of a short-term sugar high of too much business (immediately after 9/11) to be followed by the inevitable drought when customers drastically cut spend (months after 9/11).
In either situation, service contractors are in a period of the unknown, bumpy and turbulent, which will last for some time.
The economic devastation is already colossal (6.6 million new unemployment claims for the week ending March 28, 2020 – doubling the previous week’s record of 3.3 million – for context, the prior record high was 695,000 new claims in the week ending October 2, 1982).
And there will be another pandemic in the future, possibly years from now, likely a different form of SARS, MERS, or H1N1.
Or the next pandemic may be in months; a second round of COVID-19 starting in this fall’s flu season, as anticipated by Dr. Anthony Fauci, a member of the White House coronavirus task force.
Yet the world is not ending, there will be a future. And I’m looking ahead to what that might look like for service contractors and their customers.
Here’s my take on that future, from today’s vantage point.
Facing Mass Mortality Will Change Us Profoundly
There is one inescapable truth for all of us; no one gets out alive. Though no surprise, death will be front and center during this next phase of the pandemic.
As a community-oriented species, we crave news and the media business will provide it, and bad news always sells better.
When COVID-19 subsides, customers will have been touched in profound ways that change their business expectations and behaviors.
This change will be a result of the rising death count now in progress. As of today, there are more than 6,000 deaths in the US, and between 100,000 – 240,000 deaths are expected. At COVID-19’s apex, the Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) projects 2,644 deaths in the US on April 16, 2020.
This is a reality to prepare for, and hope it never fully materializes.
However, for businesses, this economic catastrophe will change customers and stick with them for the rest of their lives: unlike the 2008 recession that faded away after the economy began to recover.
This is different. Here’s why:
It Will Be Personal
It’s likely someone you know, a family member, neighbor, peer, company employee, or customer may have died as a result of COVID-19.
There is nothing more personal and profound than facing one’s own mortality through the loss of someone you know.
The sheer number of deaths will likely leave an emotional scar on our collective psyche; public consciousness will be different because of it.
Customers’ expectations and behaviors will incorporate that experience; they will be changed by it. How could they not?
Their work expectations, when they return, will reflect it.
Customers’ Future Normal
Customers’ expectations about “where” and “how” they work will be different after COVID-19. They’ll expect:
- Not to be crowded into smaller office spaces – fewer workers per square foot (lower densities)
- Indoor air quality to be highly filtered for particles & contaminants, with appropriate humidity for health
- Greater flexibility to work from home
- Fewer people working at the same time in their facilities to keep 6 feet between each other – staggering schedules for hours/day or days/week
- High touchpoints to be frequently disinfected – multiple times daily in hoteling, hot desking, & coworking spaces
- Hand sanitizer everywhere
- Strict observance of peers to stay home when sick – to eliminate presenteeism
Changes are About to Begin
These changes may not have started yet because the absolute proof, the number of deaths, is not frightening enough for everyone.
That tipping point is expected shortly, as deaths will continue to rise for the next several weeks or even months.
But by August or September of this year, when the mortality numbers have tapered off and round one with COVI-19 is deemed over, customers’ future normal will be clearer.
And service contractors will adjust their work to these changed expectations and behaviors.
Today, this will be seen in their planning what to do next, in innovative designs, training during this downtime, and their overall business preparation.
The challenge now is to keep steady in the rapids and make slow progress across to the other side.
There is always another side.
This article first published on LinkedIn.