I am in Detroit, one of the emerging epicenters of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s sunrise and oblivious birds chirp cheerful songs outside the window of my home office. I’m not sick, but like many people, the stock market crash and the continued lockdown weighs heavily on me. In a time of uncertainty, there is one thing we can bank on: that when all of this is over nothing will ever be the same. Don’t let that panic you, normal hasn’t been all that wonderful. Working from home has proven to be an effective strategy in controlling outbreaks that spread through offices like wildfire. But it has also yielded some beneficial and unexpected outcomes that may change the way we live forever:
- Pollution is down. From time immemorial the canals of Venice have been a murky black cesspool that smelled vaguely of sewage. But now social media is alive with photos of clear water in the canals. And there’s more. The air quality of India (and many other places) has improved remarkably in a very short time. Now let’s not get too excited, however, because experts point to this as an unsustainable solution, and the mayor of Venice’s office told CNN that the change is not actually due to improved water quality.“The water now looks clearer because there is less traffic on the canals, allowing the sediment to stay at the bottom,” a spokesman said.”It’s because there is less boat traffic that usually brings sediment to the top of the water’s surface.” While water may not be cleaner, (I would say it is because the poisonous sludge is not being continually churned, but I would counter the assertion that the water isn’t cleaner with the fact that this is the first time in a lifetime where we can actually SEE that the damage to the environment is caused by human activity. )
Even Venice’s Mayor’s office had to admit that the air in Italy is much cleaner. And Venice is not an outlier. Literally people from around the globe are seeing not just cleaner air, but remarkably cleaner air. The rapid rebound from decades of pollution means that lifestyle changes on a grand scale can clean up the planet quickly. There are even claims that the ozone layer is repairing itself. There is no denying that making lifestyle changes like driving less is making a positive difference and for many that difference is worth changing our routines.
- Working from Home May Become the New Normal. For years I worked for an ogre of a boss who literally believed working from home was just an excuse to goof off, and I doubt he was alone. And yet, faced with a crisis of unprecedented magnitude, companies are now taking a second look at working from home. Disruption has been minimal, even while children are being home-schooled and employees are juggling essential chores like shopping. We live in a digital world where, in my case, I am working with clients and colleagues in Europe and Asia at the beginning of my day and the West Coast at the end of my day. Does it take a more flexible approach to work? Certainly, or at very least better planning. But today’s technology has proven that not only is working from the home office possible, but it also has many advantages, not the least of which is businesses can have smaller, more eco-friendly main offices that will reduce their costs and carbon footprint.
- People Will Get Healthier. The restaurant business isn’t going away, but not being able to eat lunch and dinner out every day is surprising a lot of people at the amount of cash they had been spending. People are cooking more and eating more meals with the family—many whether they like it or not. When hoarders have inexplicably gobbled up the least nutritious overly processed food, it forces the rest of us to cook nutritious meals. After the initial withdrawal from foods that are quick and easy to prepare and are popular with people who have known nothing else, eating healthy foods and just may realize that staying in to eat provides better food and saves money. Perhaps going out to dinner or lunch will return to what it once was: a treat and not the norm.
But it’s more than better nutrition, COVID-19 has put resilience at the forefront of the minds of many people—both individuals and policymakers. Look for a greater trend toward preventative, healthy trends that help people adopt healthier lifestyles.
- Wages Will Increase. A family member posted on social media, “My paycheck sure doesn’t look like I am an ‘essential’ worker”. Many of the so-called essential workers will reevaluate the extent to which their pay is commensurate with their compensation. To quote Fight Club, “We cook your meals, we haul your trash, we connect your calls, we drive your ambulances, we guard you while you sleep. Do not **** with us.” There has not been a call for income equality this large since the French Revolution. That things will change is certain, what remains uncertain is whether the change will be peaceful or soaked in blood.
- The Gig Economy Will Die. The devastation of the economy has underscored the complete unsustainability of the gig economy. Sure there will be entrepreneurs and there will still be individuals who will be the business equivalent of guns for hire, but unless there is a substantial reorganization of the social safety nets in place for these people many will simply give up this life and return to a more traditional and stable workplace. Gig workers can no longer be treated like library books to be check-in and out of a business without so much as a thought to what happens to it after it is returned.
- Companies Will View Workers Through a Different Lens. For decades companies have treated workers like chattel—unpaid furloughs, arbitrary and capricious pay cuts for people who don’t own any equity in the company, and generally acting as if making business owners wealthy is not only a privilege but a privilege that can be snatched away at any time. Companies who continue managing with a slave owner’s mentality will soon find that workers will move to more enlightened organizations. We aren’t all in this together imbeciles, you own the company we only work here.
I recognize that all of these things may not come to fruition, at least not immediately, but a man can dream can’t he?