Covid Changes Us All (for the Better!)

Here’s a few thoughts on what changes we as consumers and employees will be looking for from businesses in a post-Covid world. Things will be different …

Self-Checkout or No Checkout

Ahh, yeah…. I don’t want people touching my stuff anymore.

After I’ve put something in my cart, I’m happy to not have anyone else touch it.  Covid caution has me watching the checkout clerk and every other person in the store. And, what I see is that the clerk touches every single thing every person in line has touched.  Them, and all their germ-y, unmasked kids as well. 

Gloves protect the clerk.  They don’t protect me.

With that said, I need to do my part and not pick up every package of chicken to look for a price difference of 40 cents, or touch every apple in the bin before selecting the perfect two. Merchandisers take note. Label placement, font size and produce shelving changes maybe in order.

I’m happy to bag my own things (packing a grocery bag well is as old-fashioned as counting back change), and pay with a credit card – no PIN required. Of course, who wouldn’t prefer the Amazon approach of associating things in my basket to my account so I don’t have to breath on anyone?

Restaurant Take-Out Replaces Fast Food

Fast food isn’t necessarily fast, and it’s not exactly cheap. More importantly, I didn’t miss fast food during my Covid Quarantine, I missed real restaurant food.

Apparently, I’m not alone in my longing for food cooked by a pro (or at least someone other than me!) This is why I was so thankful that my go-to bistros were able to pivot to take out. They got their website in order; they added a cart. They have text notifications. They re-did their menu so food travels better. They started offering “Family” sizes. (You don’t need a family, you just need to love left-overs or have a freezer). Moreover, now that restaurants are opening again, they’re finding that people would gladly pay a few bucks more for their food than the #2 from Carl Jr’s (who makes a fine burger, and chicken sandwich, BTW)

If I can order it easily, and get it in a reasonable time, there’s no reason I won’t choose the Parmesan Brussel Sprouts and Ahi salad take out.

Fast food and similar chains have a great strength, which is the consistency of their menus. That’s exactly why we go there, but it’s exactly why I don’t want to eat at another Five Guys. When bistros and upscale restaurants can provide take-out and delivery quickly and easily, the market for restaurants in fast-food space diminishes.

For me, this restaurant case study provides the most compelling example of change. GrubHub recognized the need, but even with their success, many eateries were unwilling to change. Why? Change is disruptive, expensive, annoying, time consuming, stressful. Moreover, there was no need to change. Things were good exactly as they were; dining rooms were full.

Now that they were forced to change, many are discovering that 1) It wasn’t as difficult or disruptive as they thought it would would be (in their head) and, 2) Take out is here to stay, it’s easier than they thought, and it will provide a revenue stream that will likely prove more resilient to future disruptions.

Office Commutes = Empty Calories

If commuting were food, it would be classified as “empty calories,” and expensive empty calories at that!

Many of us drive to a big, crowded indoor space to sit in a cubicle by ourselves most of the day. Why? Rather than strategically schedule F2F meetings, business was conducted with the assumption that everyone would be in the same place and available M-F, 9-5.

We can still see each other IRL, but it needs to be planned, purpose-driven, and not ad-hoc.

The cost of commuting: Car, gas, tolls. That’s nothing compared to the time, especially if you use PT. Many people spend 45 – 60 minutes commuting to/from their jobs. This comes to about 10 hours a week – more than an entire workday. Time IS Money and commuting is neither billable hours nor training nor investment. For example: If you picked up a retail job for 10 hours a week, you’d pull in an extra $600 a month. If you worked in the trades, that 10 hours a week could easily be $1200 – $2k a month. Neither is a small amount of money. Ten hours a week is also about two college classes, including homework.

The WSJ reported the Covid crisis resulted in a 30% increase in the individual savings rate. Much of this saving was realized by not having to commute. Filling up your tank at $50-$60 bucks a pop adds up quickly. Not having to do that was a big contributor to people’s extra cash.

If we want to save the planet AND save money, we need to stop commuting into an office everyday.

I Want to Live Someplace Else

I rob banks because “that’s where the money is.” It’s also the reason I live in Southern California – one of the most expensive places on earth. Sure, it’s pretty here, but it’s pretty in lots of places. However, the reason I’m here has nothing to do with pretty: I’m here because that’s where the money is.

The majority of us live where we do because if we lived further away, it would be impossible to commute.  Even if we were willing to make the commute, many companies simply will not hire you if they feel you live too far away (or if they don’t like your neighborhood, but that’s a topic for another day). My hope is that Covid makes the requirement all workers reside within a certain geographical radius of some office building as old as the rotary, corded phone.

Where I live, just like my age, gender, or race, shouldn’t be considered when hiring talent.

I want to live where it suits me, my family, and my current life circumstances. I don’t want change my personal and financial priorities just to be 30 minutes away from some leased office building.

I Want to Work for Whomever I Want

Similar to where I live, I don’t want to be limited to working for companies within a 50 mile radius of my home. I want people to be able to hire me and work with me even if I don’t live in St. Louis or Chicago or Puerto Rico. I want to pursue jobs with growing companies, and opportunities that use my skills and experience. I don’t want my career and earning potential to be limited to a few employers with physical offices in my city. 

People will be able to find better jobs and better employers if they are not limited by geography.

Companies who have embraced virtual workers prior to Covid can attest that they are able to attract better talent than they would if they limited themselves to hiring someone who lived within a 30 mile radius (even less for places like NY, LA, and Chicago). It seems logical that if companies can find better talent, talent will find better companies if they, too, are not limited by geography.

Choose How Covid Changes You

A little more than six years ago, I suffered a sudden, and major illness. It required several hospitalizations, and more than year to fully recover. Like most people who come through something like this, they find their life and all the little routines and assumptions upon which it was built have changed – forever. In retrospect, I can say that I would not have chosen my health crisis, but I would not change it either because it has given me a focus and perspective and strength I would not have gained otherwise.

Covid – our collective health crisis — has brought so much change, with so much more to come. I wouldn’t have chosen it, but I don’t think I would change it either…

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Copyright 2020 Pierce/Wharton Research, LLC. All rights reserved. No part of this post shall be reproduced without permission.

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