As the pandemic continues to drag on in much of the world, even impacting countries that previously halted the spread with draconian health measures like New Zealand, will the impact of covid on businesses, their employees, and customers ever go away? Increasingly, health experts, citing the rise of Covid variants capable of higher infection rates and potentially evading current vaccines, fear we’ll never totally eliminate the virus but must learn to cope with it in the long run. There’s good evidence to support their claim. Take measles for example. Through rigorous vaccination programs, including requiring the vaccine for public school children, healthcare workers, and many others, we nearly eliminated the disease in most of the western world, only to have it come roaring back in the wake of vaccine resistance in some communities, like the recent outbreak among unvaccinated Orthodox Jews in a New York neighborhood. A more recent outbreak in Virginia is blamed on arriving Afgan refugees.
Given the likely impact of Covid into the future, how do businesses respond without suffering the massive impacts caused when most countries went on lockdown in March 2020?
Impact of Covid on businesses
Covid had a massive impact on profitability and many businesses didn’t survive the lockdowns, declining demand from workers who were out of work, customers afraid to venture from their homes, and workers unwilling to subject themselves to possible exposure. Other consumers, unwilling to mask, social distance, and vaccinate, are still locked out of many venues due to their reluctance to protect their communities and themselves. Without government bailouts in most developed countries, the economic pain where have been much worse.
Businesses that survived the economic onslaught of 2020’s Covid pandemic, emerged savvier and are better positioned to continue growing as the world emerges from the worst of the pandemic. Falling back into old business models is unlikely to bode well in the long run, as the virus is likely with us in the long run and consumers’ buying habits changed after more than 18 months of dealing with the pandemic, as you can see below.
So, let’s take a look at how you can move forward given we’ll live with Covid or other infections far into the future.
Remote work, school, and shopping
Technology, especially internet-based technologies reigned supreme in a world living in fear of a deadly disease. Employees moved to work from home, schools went virtual, and customers did their shopping online, resulting in a very small number of big winners from the pandemic, including Amazon, Zoom, and ISPs. Will life return to normal as the vaccine becomes more commonplace? The answer is likely no.
Employees are being called back to work, especially in the hospitality sector where working from home isn’t possible. Unfortunately, consumers are more willing to return than employees resulting in serious employee shortages through a combination of low pay that isn’t commensurate with the risk they face, childcare concerns, and other factors. Many other employers are happy to allow workers to continue working from home; some indefinitely.
Schools, once hopeful of returning to face-to-face classes, are facing a virus spread that’s forced some schools back to a virtual model, at least temporarily. With entire sports teams facing quarantine, even forcing some schools to close due to high infection rates, schools must adapt to a new world. Nowhere is that more evident than in our colleges and universities where students, especially those in graduate programs, discovered the convenience of attending class from home or work via Zoom. Zoom classes allowed students the freedom to attend class from anywhere, allowing them to cut commute times, reduce expenses by living at home, and ease childcare issues, all while getting a nearly comparable education. And, while undergraduates might miss the “college experience” for some this offers education at a much lower cost and increased convenience.
Consumers. The pandemic also escalated consumers’ comfort level with online shopping, as you can see in the graphic below. The convenience of shopping online and picking up items the same day via curbside pickup is something consumers are reticent to give up, even though less fearful of shopping in stores. Obviously, businesses can expect pushback if they try to curtail online shopping and curbside pickup. Moreover, the impact of Covid might result in more fear and safety measures, so those strategies are likely to return in the short term.
Overall, the impact of Covid on your digital marketing efforts are likely permanent so, if you didn’t have the time or resources to build your digital presence before, you should concentrate on that strategy moving forward.
Securing your online networks
Another thing that you must do is make sure that your network connections are secure. One of the unforeseeable impacts of Covid was an increase in cybersecurity threats as hackers had nothing better to do than attempt to breach your security or encrypt your data until you paid millions of dollars in bitcoin for release, something called ransomware. Your business is especially vulnerable if your employees work from home where you’re at the mercy of their home network. You must ensure your business data is safe to protect your business, your employee personal data, and for the security of your customers. But you can’t expect your employees to pay for security software out of their own pocket nor can you trust their computer and network to offer sufficient protection. It’s also true to say that employees must have access to data and files from home, so look into purchasing a remote VPN for your employees. Don’t forget to train employees on the use of your VPN and set policies that require them to use the VPN when accessing company files and data.
Maintain a community
Whether it’s employees working from home or customers shopping online, building a community increases loyalty and trust, and, in the case of employees, greases the wheels that keep your business on the track.
You need to remember that it’s not as easy to run a remote workgroup as it is running a group of people at the office. In a shared office, you can head downstairs and talk to employees, act as a coach, and help solve problems. It’s much easier to solve an employee problem when you can physically interact their them. When you have remote workers everything is done electronically, making problem-solving more challenging.
Similarly, without physical contact, achieving group goals is more challenging. Using meeting software, such as Zoom and Google Meets, as well as project management software, such as Trello, helps keep everyone on the same page, builds a sense of community, and aids cooperation by giving everyone input and a chance to voice their concerns. Some brands even host non-business meetings such as company happy hours via Zoom or send Grubhub coupons so everyone can share a meal together.
The same is true for maintaining relationships with customers. While you no longer have them coming to your store to browse your newest stock or chat up your staff, you have online tools, like social media platforms, where you can replicate much of this relationship building.
The impact of Covid on businesses will likely continue for a long time, although the disastrous impact of lockdowns in early 2020 is hopefully gone for good. I hope you found these suggestions helpful as you plan your strategy moving forward.