You see it every day: Someone pulls into a parking spot, hops out of the car, and heads for a nearby store or office. When they get within a few feet of the entrance, they stop, turn, and, muttering some choice words under their breath, head back to the car to grab the face mask they (once again) left hanging from the rearview mirror.
Admit it. You’ve done it yourself. It is a near-daily occurrence in what we’ve come to regard as the “new normal.” But here’s the thing: Nothing about this is normal. We are not living in a “new normal.” No, we are clearly living in a new abnormal!
Comparatively speaking, the need to remember your mask is small potatoes given the other challenges we face in 2020. But it serves as an ongoing reminder that things are different—and not at all normal.
Consider the start of the school year. Rather than gathering in classrooms, kids across the country are learning remotely or on a hybrid remote/in-class basis. We’ve largely stopped traveling. A trip to the grocery store has become a special occasion, as we go far less frequently and stock up when we do. We spend most of our time at home, rather than dining out, socializing with family and friends, or attending movies and concerts. The list could go on and on, but the point is the same: This is not normal, new or otherwise.
Then there’s the human toll. As of Sept. 16, 29,610,479 COVID-19 cases had been confirmed in more than 227 countries and territories, and on 26 cruise and naval ships. There were 8,572,150 active cases. The death toll stood at 935,898. And the pandemic is far from over.
Part of the tragedy is that much of this could have been avoided. Public health experts have warned for years that a pandemic of this scale was inevitable. But we didn’t listen, and because we didn’t listen, we were woefully unprepared. You need only look at the chaotic patchwork of local, state, and federal government responses—and the disastrous results—for evidence of that.
In the midst of the chaos, both businesses and consumers have adapted—typically by using technology to eliminate or reduce the need for interpersonal contact. The technologies they’re using aren’t necessarily new; many existed long before the pandemic hit—think teleconferencing or contactless payment. But with the onset of COVID-19, an urgent need for all things “virtual” arose, greatly accelerating the technologies’ adoption.
While these adaptations were initially viewed as interim measures, it’s becoming increasingly clear that many are here to stay. An obvious example is e-commerce, which exploded during the lockdowns when retail stores were shuttered, and is now expected to retain much of that new business post-pandemic.
And it’s not just our collective embrace of digital commerce. Visits to doctor’s offices will be replaced in many instances by telehealth medical care. Rather than heading to the cinema or concert hall, many of us will opt for streaming online entertainment. Instead of commuting to the office or school, we will work (and learn) remotely.
That techno-trend is playing out in the world of logistics and supply chain management as well. Orders placed online will soon be delivered by robots and drones. Payment methods will be digital and contactless. Some orders will even be fulfilled by home-based 3D printers, a technology whose time has finally come. The driving technologies of the so-called Fourth Industrial Revolution, like blockchain, the internet of things, and big data, will lead to improved supply chain accuracy, agility, and resiliency.
For businesses, the path to success in the “new abnormal” seems clear. The winners will be those that quickly embrace the changes, adopt the right technologies, and recognize that their “normal” business practices will no longer cut it in a world that is anything but.