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Brace Yourself, Here Come the Aftershocks

In his new ‘Aftershocks’ series, Jim McCann delves into the unintended consequences that various sectors and industries will experience post-pandemic.

The term “aftershock” refers to geological events after an earthquake. Aftershocks are typically additional rumblings that result from the initial earthquake and are usually less severe and diminish over time. With COVID-19, the first big shock came in March as businesses shut down and millions of people became jobless, particularly those in the retail and service industries. Many workers left the office, immediately testing continuity plans and IT infrastructure. In just half a year, remote working capabilities—and the processes inherent—have completely transformed business models of many major companies and the lives of millions of Americans.

The hope now is that many individuals will soon be able to reenter the workforce as businesses carefully reopen. But, even as life returns to some version of “normal” in some places, it is clear that the aftershocks of this pandemic will continue for years to come, as it will affect our political, economic, socio-cultural and collective mental health. Due to the lengthy shutdown, many things have already changed drastically, forcing all of us to learn quickly along the way, both professionally and personally.

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Because of this, I’m beginning a series that will delve into various sectors and industries and discuss how they may change as a result of the pandemic, as well as what, if any, unintended consequences may occur. Speaking with individuals whom I’m lucky enough to know or do business with, we’ll learn how the world and workforce are expected to change post-pandemic and weigh in on the expert opinions of a diverse group of thought leaders.

To begin, I have been thinking about some recent conversations I’ve had with friends and colleagues I admire in the business world. Together, we have realized a few things—many of which I plan to delve into further in the coming weeks and months.

  1. Above all, I believe there are three macro trends that are on pause: urbanization, globalization and the sharing economy. The consequences of this will lead to suburbanization and “cocooning” at home.
  2. There is an excess of commercial real estate, which will only become exaggerated by the new norms that emerge from the post-pandemic experience.
  3. Commerce will fundamentally change. In retail, what was going to happen in five years has happened in five months. Consumers have adopted new behaviors, favoring digital shopping and larger retailers. Looking ahead, e-commerce has the potential to explode this holiday season.
  4. Stakeholders expect more from businesses and executives. As the World Economic Forum (WEF) notes, “There is now an urgent need for a new model of business leader: one that makes the long-term sustainability and resilience of our world a top priority.”

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There is no way to anticipate and prepare for every shock and its associated reverberations, but reopening presents businesses the opportunity to reprioritize and reinvent themselves in order to better address the needs of their employees, customers and suppliers as they arise. As individuals, companies and leaders of companies, we now have to look back on what we had been doing pre-COVID and see our choices through a series of new filters. What things do we de-emphasize? Where do we pull capital from?

The ground we stand on will continue to be shaky. Hold on tightly and think hard about how to prepare your organization—and your stakeholders—for the next chapter.

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