We’re not ‘going back to normal’

Ever since COVID-19 hit, with its ensuing lock downs, shut downs and stand downs, people have been yearning for a time when we will ‘get back to normal‘.

Walking around the shops, restaurants and bars these past few weeks, and seeing the increased traffic on the roads, one might suspect, that in our little corner of the world, things are indeed returning to normal.

This type of thinking is dangerous.

Not only because it feeds an over confidence in that we have somehow conquered the virus (we haven’t), but it also implies that we were interrupted temporarily, and things will now sling back to where we were. We weren’t, and they won’t.

And that’s a good thing.

We (only) notice sudden change

Living in one of the most isolated cities in the world may have shielded us from the worst of the pandemic, but that was not a given. We could have imported it and it could have spread like wildfire. Other states and countries would then be isolating themselves from us, not the other way around.

Like all the best golfers understand when they spray their drive into the trees, we took our medicine, chipped out sideways and lived to fight another day. This was never going to be short term. The only way to treat this was with a long game.

Meanwhile, a few things happened quickly, and that made us all sit up and take notice.

More of us (most of us) were ordered to work remotely. That was a noticeable change. As the weeks and months drew on, we could see the advantages of this, as could organisations. It was not perfect, but in many cases we were happier, more flexible and more productive. Less of all that needless commuting. Less meaningless meetings where we would otherwise prefer to stab forks into ourselves than suffer another minute of some un-self aware colleagues bleating on about nothing.

We discovered the joys of video conferencing, shared Google drives and collaborative documents.

And then it all wore off a bit. We yearned to go to the pub again, even to the office again, at least for a change of scenery. To mix again, to meet again. For above all else, we are social animals.

Change is the only constant

Because it was all so sudden, sometime around mid-March, when we were told by politicians and bosses to stay home, we sat up and took notice. We scrambled to adapt. And we got there. Some better than others.

In fact, all these things had been possible before. A corporate mate of mine had been bemoaning for years (yes, for years) that they should do video conferencing in their business, for productivity and cost reasons. ‘Oh no’, came the reply, ‘That’s not very secure, and it’s much better to meet each other in person.’ Within days of the shutdown, video conferencing was suddenly the norm. So it has nothing to do with the technology, or security, or anything else really, except peoples’ collective will.

One imagines this way of meeting will be come part of the norm from now on.

Suddenly, consumers were not shopping as much, well, not in person anyway. They turned to the internet, and found they could get delivery of almost anything to their door. In many cases, this was much cheaper, and far more convenient.

Businesses turned to the web to see if they could pivot to online relationships with their customers. Member and events businesses learned how to do Zoom calls, with their break-out rooms, Q&A sections and chat.

Not feeling well? Need to check in with the doctor? Telehealth became the norm.

One feels, more and more of this will happen from now on.

What has happened, is that adoption of these technologies has been accelerated by necessity. Having been explored and in the hands of the general populace, a much higher adoption will remain than before.

We’ve had a step change in tech usage and adoption. We are not going back to how it was.

Welcome the new

What’s the lesson from all this?

Three main ones.

Firstly, the world has changed. Get used to it. Don’t try to wind back the clock, the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

Second, we could have had all these benefits before. We could have worked more flexibly, sometimes from home, varying our hours, sometimes from an office. We could have used video conferencing, online shopping, zoom events, telehealth… all before. It was there.

Maybe now, more of us know it, appreciate it, and are easy with it.

The final lesson for business is to look around you, and experiment with what other technologies are right in front of your face, that you can use to your benefit right now.

For as Charles Darwin wisely discovered more than 150 years ago, it’s not survival of the fittest, it’s those that adapt the best that will survive, and maybe even thrive.

These are the lessons of the pandemic. Heed them well.


If you want more on this topic, then do read the excellent post ‘Stop Saying ‘Back to Normal” by tech founder and writer Alistair Croll in CB Insights.

Photo by Andrea Piacquadio from Pexels

About the author

20+ years in Perth’s business, tech, media and startup sectors, from founder through to exit, as CEO, mentor, advisor / investor, and in federal and state government. Originally an economics teacher from the UK, working in Singapore before arriving in Perth in 1997 to do an MBA at UWA. Graduating as top student in 1999, Charlie co-founded aussiehome.com, running it for 10+ years before selling to REIWA, to run reiwa.com. In 2013, moved to Business News, became CEO, then worked on the Australian government’s Accelerating Commercialisation program. In 2021, helped set up and launch The Property Tribune, and was awarded the Pearcey WA Entrepreneur of the Year (at the 30th Incite Awards). In 2022, he became Director Innovation, running the 'New Industries Fund' at the Department of Jobs, Tourism, Science and Innovation (JTSI).

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