Lots Will Be New, Little Will Be Normal: How COVID-19 Is Making Business Un-Usual

One question is on everyone’s mind these days: When will this global pandemic end? The answer is relatively easy – when society has achieved herd immunity, or we have an effective vaccine administered to all. We’re likely 12-18 months away. But as governments around the world begin to plan for a very slow and measured return to normal a second question comes up: What will be different? According to an article in Monday’s WSJ, A LOT. Here is a brief synopsis:

To begin with, for the next 12-18 months we may all be wearing masks in public, mandated or otherwise. Guests at Shanghai Disneyland know what this potential ‘new normal’ is like. Disneyland guests are mandated to always wear masks unless they are eating. Visitors must also have their temperature checked at entry and show their government-controlled QR code indicating they are virus-free. Park hours and capacity are limited.

Similar safety protocols will happen in the workplace before we are completely rid of COVID-19. For example, workers and customers may need to take blood and temperature tests to ensure they’re virus-free. Alternating work groups will help keep office numbers down and make it possible for workers to maintain six feet of separation. For non-essential workers, work from home will continue to be the new normal. According to the CEO of Knotel, a flexible office company, “security changed forever after 9/11, and it’s going to happen in the workplace now”.

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo echoed that change will be a constant: “it’s going to be a testing-informed transition to the new economy”.

Airlines are discussing temperature checking before and after boarding, limiting contact between passengers and crew, spacing passengers well apart, and asking passengers to bring their own food and beverages on board. According to airline industry research, the threat of the virus needs to dissipate before passengers return to the skies en masse.

Factory floors are being redrawn, cafeterias are being reconfigured, and plexiglass is being installed to separate workers. Tyson is installing walk-through temperature scanners at all its plants, catching virus symptoms of all sorts. Car assembly lines will run below maximum capacity to allow for social distancing.

95% of Starbucks China stores have re-opened using a “new model we will use around the world” says CEO Kevin Johnson. Restaurants around the globe are experiencing limited hours, reduced seating, and more takeout. As former Disney CEO Roger Iger said, “to return to some semblance of normal, people will have to feel comfortable that they are safe. We must prepare for a world where our customers demand that we scrutinize everybody.”

Dinner, movies, and sporting events will change dramatically – if they open at all. Panera Bread CEO Niren Chaudhary says they will need to find new revenue sources beyond dine-in: “we will have to carefully build the brand for a new world”.

This CEO’s words are true for most brands and brand experiences.

All of these questions and change beg the questions: Besides rekindling relationships and hugging loved ones, what will really matter to your customers as they cautiously emerge from their homes? How will your brand promise and brand experience need to change and adapt if at all?


1 Schwartzel, E., Sider, A., & Haddon, H. (2020, April 13). The Coronavirus Economic Reopening Will Be Fragile, Partial and Slow. Retrieved from https://www.wsj.com/articles/the-coronavirus-economic-reopening-will-be-fragile-partial-and-slow-11586800447