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Preparing for the New Normal

A lot of adjectives have been used to describe our current situation: chaotic, once in a lifetime, strange, unusual, and unprecedented, along with others that are less politically correct. Everybody using one of them agrees that this is not a normal time. But what is normal? defines ‘normal’ as “conforming to the standard or common.” It defines ‘normalcy’ as “the quality or condition of being normal, as the general economic, political, and social conditions of a nation.” I think we can all agree that the general economic, political, and social conditions we are experiencing today do NOT conform to what is (or was) standard or common.

When the pandemic is declared over, the conditions we experience will not be the same as before, they will be what is commonly referred to as “The New Normal.” To be prosper and be sustainable, businesses will have to adapt and adjust to the New Normal. The situation we face will not be unusual; following virtually every major disruption of the previous norm, the generations that were affected by it, either economically, physically, or psychologically, developed new business and consumer practices, personal preferences, and social mores. 

The Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918 resulted in an international awareness of conditions that spread disease, the need for people with cold symptoms to stay home and not circulate in society, and the need to create and maintain hygienic conditions in food processing, medical spaces, and public venues. The Great Depression of the 1930’s brought about the federal government’s oversight of financial markets, federal aid to states, and programs like Social Security. The older generations developed a focus on frugality and the need to save for the future rather than spend for today as the economy recovered. World War II changed society’s perception of the role of women in the workplace. As the economy boomed in the aftermath of the war, the age of consumerism began with households vying to purchase ‘the latest and greatest.’ More recently, the attack on the World Trade Centers on 9/11 changed our perception of security, social mores, and public acceptance of background checks.

How does this relate to today, and more specifically to business owners? We can expect that when the pandemic ends, what we viewed as normal conditions and standards will change. What we don’t know is how it will change, and which changes will be permanent versus those that are temporary. We do know that business owners must begin now to anticipate what might change, make adjustments to their business model and then monitor it and adapt to actual and future changes. They must be proactive rather than reactive and must be willing to make decisions with imperfect information. That is not to say they should not research customer needs and industry and market trends. It is saying that they must make decisions based on the best information available at the time and then adjust as conditions change and develop.

An example of early decision making is a story by Cameron Ridle, posted on 4/21/20 on the RTV6 Indianapolis website in which he describes how Jasen Lockwood, owner of the Runway Barber and Beauty Lounge is preparing for reopening by getting gloves and masks for all barbers and customers, setting up shifts for the barbers so only every other barber station will be used at a given time to create social distancing, and obtaining disinfectant sprays so each customer can see the clippers and scissors being cleaned before they are used on them. Jasen has checked with his barbers and customers and has taken actions that will make them feel comfortable when he is able to reopen.

On April 21st posted an article about what manufacturing will look like after Covid -19. It notes potential trends to employ more automation to lower costs as more processes are brought back to the USA instead of using overseas suppliers, and describes how plants and processes will be restructured to provide more social distancing and have additional personal protective gear available for employees. Functions that can be performed remotely may be shifted to work-at-home to allow greater spacing between office employees. Supply chains and vendors will be re-examined for reliability and multiple sources of key components will become normal. 

Whether your business serves consumers in a retail setting, is in healthcare, manufacturing, travel or recreation, or any other category, it will be affected by the New Normal. Whether your business is in an essential category and open now, or waiting for the lockdown to be lifted, you are not likely to return to ‘business as usual’ in the future. You must begin now to research customer preferences, employee concerns, industry trends, and regulatory changes to be able to prepare for the future. Chambers of Commerce, industry associations, news outlets, universities and other reputable organizations are all posting data, information, predictions and trends that you can use. You should also be polling your customers, employees and vendors to determine their concerns and preferences for the future. 

Your business needs to be READI for the New Normal:

R – Research the New Normal including emerging trends and review information periodically for updates.

E – Engage others in your review process: customers, employees, suppliers, and vendors.

A – Adapt your business model to the New Normal conditions.

D – Decide on what actions you need to take for your business to prosper in the New Normal.

I – Implement your plan, then review periodically by returning to “R” and repeating the process.

By Dr. Philip R. Geist, Area Director, Florida SBDC at UNF

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