What a post COVID-19 world could look like
The COVID-19 pandemic will go away one day. But our lives — how we work, how we interact with others, and how we play — will likely change forever.
That future remains unknown, but a group of academics, futurists, and industry executives painted a picture to BNN Bloomberg of how the novel coronavirus could change society, even in some of the more mundane ways.
The experts suggest you may soon wake up and begin your morning routine with a "pandemic-ceutical" pill that strengthens your immune system against future outbreaks. As you dress for work, a fashionable face mask could be attached to your shirt or jacket.
Working from home will be more commonplace as open-concept workplaces abruptly become old-fashioned in a post-COVID world, some experts say. Going out in public may mean constant monitoring of your body temperature while commuting may mean more autonomous vehicles on the road. Eating out may become more of a luxury as getting your groceries could mean ordering days in advance if food scarcity becomes an issue. Even attending a show or watching a baseball game may be held under more intimate settings, or even virtually, to avoid large groups.
Here's more of what the experts had to say:
If you suddenly find yourself working from home after years of working in an office, better get used to it. A recent paper authored by two University of Chicago business professors found that 37 per cent of U.S. jobs can plausibly be performed at home.
That number may climb higher with remote work quickly becoming the norm in a post-COVID world, said James Canton, author and founder of U.S.-based think tank the Institute of Global Futures. That transition will be accelerated by the rapid adoption of next-generation 5G wireless technologies, he added.
"The transformation of work will be extensive," Canton said.
Efforts to surveil everyone's health will become commonplace, Canton said. With so much riding on ensuring people don't get sick, personal diagnostic tools or sensors in public areas will be used to prove that your body temperature, for example, doesn't show signs of a fever, he added. That could be used to restrict areas that people will be allowed to travel.
"People will trade privacy for security," Canton said. "Some people may worry that it's too Orwellian, but other countries like Singapore and Hong Kong proved that that kind of data can work to flatten the curve."
Hans Davies, director at Toffler Associates, a Virginia-based future-focused strategic advisory firm, said those details may be extended to a very micro level. "Health certificates" may be created to prove that the person who delivers your next meal or serves you is healthy, he said.
"I don't think everything will pivot on a dime, but a lot of changes we see will be about trust," Davies said.
New drugs aimed at curbing future coronaviruses that Canton dubs as "pandemic-ceuticals" would be taken after breakfast and a coffee, he said, adding that face masks will become ubiquitous and emerge as a fashion statement.
Anita McGahan, a professor of strategic management at the University of Toronto's Rotman School of Management, said that consumption habits will likely change permanently. Consumer spending will become less frivolous and habitual, with more people buying online and in bulk, she added.
"There'll be much more control and more mindful spending online than just walking down Bloor Street on a Saturday afternoon and making impulse purchases," McGahan said, referring to a main artery in Toronto that’s home to the city’s so-called Mink Mile. "We're just going to take more time to think about what we'll be spending on."
As more retail spending shifts to online, legacy brands will fade away, said Canton. People will still shop in stores, but more than half of all consumer spending will take place online, he predicted.
Grocers who spent years making their supply chains more efficient — often only holding weeks of inventory — will need to head back to the drawing board. McGahan said that online retailers and grocers will require consumers to plan their purchases well in advance to prevent shortages.
That may force food production to become more local as governments will want to make sure essential items will be made closer to home to avoid relying on other countries the next time a pandemic arises, Canton said.
"There's a deglobalization we may see in the next two years," he said. "It won't be a lack of coordination or trade, but governments will want to control more about their essential supply chains."
However, going out to eat may not change dramatically, although there will be fewer restaurants to choose from, said Andrew Oliver, president of Oliver & Bonacini Hospitality, one of Canada's largest restaurant groups with 1,700 employees and 29 properties. While the current pandemic is forcing long-time restauranteurs to shut their doors, people will still want to enjoy some social interaction and could do so breaking bread with friends and family, he said.
"Human beings have been meeting together in groups for over 10,000 years," Oliver said. "I don't think another pandemic is going to stop us from going to restaurants."
The days of watching a baseball game with tens of thousands of people may be numbered thanks to COVID-19. As society shifts from congregating in large groups to avoid spreading sickness, sports may see a gradual shift to more intimate locations. "They'll be more structured environments to watch sports," Canton said.
Sports will come back "with a bang" once health officials give the green light given the pent-up demand for live entertainment, said Norm O'Reilly, a sports business professor at the University of Guelph. O'Reilly agrees with Canton, that attendance may shrink amid a shift to smaller venues, but that would be done more out of necessity to protect public safety.
Technology that has so far been slow to gain popularity may become embraced to keep large crowds at home. That could mean that future hockey games or concerts will be viewed at home while wearing a virtual reality headset, complete with new camera angles and immersive experiences, O'Reilly added.
"Imagine an NHL game with no audience in the seats so the camera could literally be on the ice with the players," he said.
The COVID-19 pandemic will likely result in a stark decline in air travel, a reflection of how uncomfortable it may be to risk one's health while traveling in an enclosed area, McGahan said. Public transit will see a decline in demand as more people work from home and look to avoid travelling with other people. That could also result in the introduction of self-driving cars to maintain the new normal of socially distancing from others.
"You're not going to see commuting happen as much in a health-focused environment," Davies said.