The COVID-19 pandemic has altered almost every aspect of our lives over the course of last 1.5 years. Among other things, it necessitated the need of a digital acceleration in our personal and professional lives. But as the situation around us changes and things cautiously reopen, will we ever go back to pre-pandemic ways of doing work?
During the pandemic, Canadians used the internet for a variety of reasons-from shopping to studying to working, and everything in between. According to a survey conducted by Statistics Canada, during the period of November 2020 to March 2021, 75% of Canadians aged 15 years and above engaged in more internet usage during the pandemic, while 48% reported performing various Internet-related activities for the first time. In a similar survey conducted by Pew Research from April 12-18, 2021, 40% of US adults said that they have used digital technology or the internet in new or different ways during the pandemic.
While the drastic shift to work from home was definitely the biggest driver of increasing internet usage, this shift triggered a series of other chain reactions that rippled through businesses and cities. As the pandemic pushed the internet into all facets of life, whether a citizen or consumer, adult or child, internet access has become of paramount importance in daily life. From retail hubs to public transport, to leisure spots, this one shift affected all other allied units. As a result, the pandemic changed a lot of things for business and cities.
Businesses had to quickly pivot to change their strategies, investing in keeping their workforce protected, changing their product cycles to cater to customer demand, and focusing more on technology to change customer buying behaviour and experience, all with the aim of maintaining sustainable profitability. While many businesses were able to successfully display agility, there were others who could not survive this battle.
With vaccination numbers increasing and vaccine eligibility expanding, things are starting to look up and many businesses are migrating back to hybrid working models. However, are we ready to go back to the old ways of doing work? Are we ready to get back behind the wheel and commute to work?
Across North America there seems to be a lack of a definitive ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ in this case. While some companies and their employees are insistent on being ‘back to office’, particularly in jobs where the alternative is not possible, many professions and employers have made work from home a permanent feature, permanently reducing overheads and expenses significantly.
As many Canadian university are getting ready to come back to campus in January 2022, nearly 5000 student at York University have signed a petition urging the university to reconsider this decision. The City of Tulsa’s three year old program to lure remote workers to come and settle in the city is continuously seeing an upward trend.
Similar stories emerge from the public sector. As employees from almost all major cities adopted the ‘work from home’ model (a lot of them for the first time), many city services went online. As a result, virtual town hall meetings, online payments for city services, and even services like building permits went online.
This digital acceleration happened almost overnight, but moving forward, will this constitute the new normal for all of us? After having easy access to this service online, would citizens want to go back to the traditional methods? Would we want the ‘curbside pick-up of library books’ to be a permanent feature? Or would we rather prefer visiting a library and picking the books we want?
As time passes by and things come back on track, it would be interesting to note what part of the pandemic-led changes will become a part of the ‘new normal’ and what will revert back to 2019. In the debate of experience v/s convenience, who will win?