The pandemic struck at the core of one of the most basic of all human activities – personal interactions. Fortunately, the technology industry has launched a range of solutions aimed at helping fill the void. In healthcare, telemedicine has allowed providers to continue offering care to thousands of patients. Delivery apps are helping grocery stores get food to customers, and videoconferencing software is helping people stay connected. These changes have transformed how we live and work these past eight months. Some of the changes will be temporary but others are likely to have a lasting impact. Here are some observations on what to expect in a few areas going forward.
Working from home is great but not perfect. According to a recent Stanford study, the number of working days Americans spend at home is up eightfold with the pandemic. Employee reaction to the shift has largely been positive with over 75% reporting a desire to work from home at least one day a week. But there have been related costs as well. As the chart to the left shows, increased hours and challenges with maintaining a work-life balance are also causing an uptick in reported mental health issues. From an employer standpoint, remote work has produced some clear economic benefits. Productivity is up across the board while rental and staffing costs are down as employees move to remote work often in lower cost locations. But CEOs report serious concerns about the resulting loss of organizational culture and collaborative benefits. Moving forward, expect a shift to more flexible work arrangements that attempt to exploit the best of both worlds. Google, long a leader in employee culture, recently announced a pilot plan for employees to work at least three days a week in the office for “collaboration days” while working from home for the others.
The future of brick and mortar shopping may not be as bleak as it seems. The pandemic has accelerated the shift to e-commerce. Retailers like supermarkets who have been resistant to online shopping have jumped on the bandwagon while traditional leaders in the field like Amazon have gained share. But customers stuck at home also have a new found appreciation for the social benefits of in-person shopping. Digital brands too are increasingly viewing an in-store experience as an ideal way to showcase their offerings and gain clients. To date, a total of 2,000 digital-native brands have opened physical stores, many in high end class A malls, and another 850 expect to by 2023. While second tier space will likely continue to suffer, premium locations with unique offerings could well thrive in a post-pandemic world.
We want to age in place but can we? The business of providing care to seniors has been hard hit this year. While the industry operates a number of different business models (skilled nursing facilities, traditional nursing homes and assisted living facilities), all have struggled to protect at-risk residents, retain staff and maintain financial solvency. Today, eight in ten senior living executives report falling occupancy rates. While some of the current challenges (inability to visit family members and higher risk of infection) may fade over time, others will not. Operating costs associated with stemming future infections, such as increased staffing and facility redesign, will increase while funding sources (Medicare and Medicaid) will remain pressured. The rising demand for aging in place solutions is likely to spur innovation. In the near term, expect consolidation within the industry and potentially, a shift within the existing reimbursement structure toward supporting more in-home care.