How will COVID-19 Change Our Everyday Lives?

Change. There are innumerable clichés, anecdotes, and books about it. The Greek philosopher Heraclitus wrote, “Change is the only constant in life.”

“Who Moved My Cheese” was a best-selling book about how to cope with it. Paradoxically, most of us crave the spice of variety but have difficulty dealing with change.

About a week into quarantine, my lovely wife and I were watching TV when it struck me: life was normal just a few days ago. In disbelief at this reality, I remarked as much. She nodded and said, “Hard to believe.”

Vladimir Lenin said a great many things, and I disagree with almost all of them, but he had a great quote on the timing and rapidity of change.

Doug Voss, Ph.D., professor of logistics and supply chain management

“There are decades when nothing happens, and there are weeks when decades happen.”

Someday, this will come to an end but there will be many fits and starts along the way. It’s unlikely that some miracle of modern medicine will occur that allows us to flip a switch and completely do away with COVID-19 overnight.

The fits and starts — repetitious exhaustion, joy, frustration, and exuberance — will help us transition to whatever new normal lies ahead. Nobody can be sure how our world will change once the pandemic is over but myself and many others who pontificate for a living try to predict. Here are mine.

Technology adoption will increase. Otherwise uninterested people have shown up at the tech party during the pandemic and will likely stay a while. Grandma and grandpa are part of a vulnerable population and have taken advantage of online shopping with home delivery during the pandemic. In supply chain management, we use the term “final mile” to describe the delivery of goods to their final destination. This frequently involves delivering items to a residential location and can involve everything from delivering groceries to installing washers and dryers to setting up a treadmill. More people will take advantage of these services after the pandemic is over simply because they now know they’re available and incredibly convenient.

Consolidation in the final-mile sector. Many final-mile delivery companies are relatively small. There will be consolidation in this sector for several reasons. First, it’s often the natural order of things. The small are often eaten by the large. Second, customers won’t want 10 deliveries every day. They will want fewer deliveries but larger quantities delivered in each one. This not only reduces the number of doorbell disruptions but also the number of potentially sick people coming into the home.

Inflation. Supply chain costs will increase and the price of goods will as well. After many years, firms will finally come to grips with the need to insulate their supply chains against major disruptions. They will diversify their supplier base away from riskier countries like China. This doesn’t mean they won’t manufacture goods in China. Just that they will also manufacture goods elsewhere. This way, if geopolitical or biological problems occur in China, the firm’s supply chain is not completely broken. Some of this manufacturing may even come back to America. Firms will also hold more inventory of critical goods. Some industries may even face government mandates that they hold more inventory similar to how the government regulates bank liquidity levels. The U.S. consumer will not tolerate an inability to quickly access critical items such as PPE, pharmaceuticals, and ventilators in the future.

More contactless transactions. There will be less contact with people going forward. For instance, you may not have to speak with someone the next time you drop your car off for service. You may simply call to schedule your appointment (or do it online), describe your problem, then, drop your car off without ever coming in near another person at the dealership.

This isn’t too different from how it’s often done today but tomorrow it may be the only way to do it. Amazon and Walmart have been working for years to allow customers to check themselves out and had prototype stores with this capability even before the pandemic. They will perfect it. Your items will be scanned when you place them in your cart or RFID tags will be scanned as you walk out of the store without ever having to work with a cashier.

Cashiers demand wages to work, they can sue the company if they get sick from a customer, and a customer can sue the company if they get sick from a cashier. Further, customers don’t like waiting in line to check out. Along similar lines, pun intended, more retailers will implement drive-thru or drive-up service. Drive-thrus may be an order qualifier to operate in some restaurant sectors. Customers may not feel comfortable going in stores and restaurants as often as they did pre-pandemic and retailers will have to accommodate this desire.

Increased focus on hygiene. Hand sanitizer dispensers were commonplace before the pandemic but get ready to see them on every door jam. Americans living in large, metropolitan areas will wear masks more frequently. I’m not convinced those of us in rural areas, who have not yet been as severely impacted by COVID-19, are ready to wear masks daily but big city denizens will.

Changes in workforce, work-life, and work location. The number of baby boomers in the workforce may decline precipitously after the pandemic. Many who are close to retirement won’t return to work. They may decide the health risks of being in an office are too great or they may simply enjoy staying home. Either way, boomers won’t return to the workforce in the same numbers. After taking time to reflect on life during quarantine, others will return to work but don’t want it to be the same. They may realize that they actually have a spouse and kids or that a three-hour, round-trip daily commute isn’t worth it. Commuting via public transportation will be a non-starter for many. Commuter trains are Petri dishes and people can be packed in like sardines. More employees will want to work from home. Some employers will welcome this.

Office space is expensive and reducing the lease payment will be attractive during the post-pandemic recovery. Frankly, a change toward telecommuting would do wonders for our government’s budget. The federal government hasn’t raised the fuel tax to pay for roads since 1993. Consequently, the Highway Trust Fund is chronically underfunded. The feds might consider tax incentives for companies who ask employees to telecommute just to take traffic off underfunded and congested interstates.

A return to formal attire. If you have had small children in recent history then you have heard of pajama day. Elementary schools allow kids to occasionally wear pajamas to school. It’s a fun activity. During a trip to a local discount retailer a few years ago, the number of shoppers in pajamas prompted my then 5-year-old to ask if it was pajama day at the store. I cynically replied that every day was pajama day at that particular establishment. People used to dress up to go out in public. They worked hard and got dirty all week so dressing up was a welcome change.

I’m guilty, too. I wear nice jeans, a sport coat, and boots to almost any business meeting. It’s a fashion that’s part Silicon Valley but also very Arkansan (my fashion sense is highly questionable, though, so don’t take that as the gospel). People have the luxury of being in sweatpants and blue jeans all day when they stay home. Post-pandemic, people may again relish the opportunity to get dressed up.

Change has come and will continue. I’m not a sociologist, psychologist, or a psychic (but I do have “ESPN”), and my Otterbox crystal ball case protector didn’t prevent any number of scratches and cracks. However, I am certain post-pandemic life will not be the same.

Some changes will be good while others will be bad. Some changes will be fads while others will be trends. Everything will be fine in the end. We will adapt to post-pandemic life and the next generation won’t know anything changed at all if we don’t fill them with stories beginning with “When I was a kid…”

Doug Voss, Ph.D., is a professor of logistics and supply chain management at the University of Central Arkansas College of Business, director of the college’s Center for Logistics, Education, Advancement & Research, and holds the Scott E. Bennett Arkansas Highway Commission Endowed Chair. He serves on the Arkansas Trucking Association Board of Directors.