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The “New Normal” is really “New”

The epidemic is losing its grip on vaccinated people but the change in habits that has produced are here to stay. The graphic shows a shift (in the US) towards the use of eCommerce in an area, like groceries, where the eCommerce always had problems in getting traction. Image credit: eMarketer

By all means the pandemic is not over, however in several Countries the number of vaccinated people is now significant. Vaccination is not a guarantee of immunity, but from a perceptual point of view many vaccinated people feel relieved and are going back to the pre-Covid behaviour. Are they? Well not exactly.

We have heard during these months the phrase “the New Normal”: this has, actually, two meanings:

  1. the virus will become endemic, it will be around for several years and it will force a behaviour that will become “normal” but that will be different from the one we were used “pre-Covid”;
  2. independently of the virus that might be lingering (or fade away) people have learnt that a new way of living is possible and some of the enforced habits will remain in the post-pandemic simply because those behaviours are better (for individual, for communities and for business), hence the post-Covid normal will be different from the pre-Covid one, it will be a “New Normal”.

Of these two declinations of the phrase “New Normal” I am particularly interested in the second one: we will be living differently because we “like” to live differently!

Indeed the first signs are already showing that a New Normal is being lived. In Italy, and I see similar signs in other Countries, people have experienced the benefit of remote working and now that the number of Green Passes has reached a significant percentage some companies, organisations want to go back to an on premises work, as it has always been. Many voices are raising calling from a continuation of remote working, at least for a few days a week. At the same time, several companies are moving towards a mixed working, some days on premises, some days from remote. Some of these companies, like TIM/Telecom Italia, have had their working force working from remote in the last year and a half and got rid of a portion of their office space so that currently they would not be able to accommodate their full working force on the available premises. Besides, some have restructured their working space assuming flexible use and it would be costly to go back to the “old normal”.

In Italy some politicians are pressing the Public Administration to bring back on premises their workforce, others are looking for supporting the new way of working. Among the workforce, the vast majority is in favour for a mixed remote/on-premise work.

Through the lock-down people was forced to turn to eCommerce, even for items that have seldom been acquired in that way, like groceries. In the US, as shown in the graphic, 84% used to buy groceries in stores in the pre-Covid era, during the lock down that figure went down to in the 50% range (a big shift in such a short time). Now the data are showing that as people feel safer they are going back to in-store grocery purchase but not at the level it used to be. 14% of people have chosen to continue their grocery supply from remote. That is a quite significant change.

In education we are seeing a strong push towards a pre-Covid situation in all levels with the possible exception of University where remote teaching is increasing, even now that University premises are becoming available.

Business travel remains well below the pre-Covid era (hitting the whole biz travel industry, airlines, car rentals, hotels, restaurants) and the use of conference call is as strong as ever. People are starting to move again for business meetings, events and conferences but many have appreciated the convenience of setting up meetings through the cyberspace. Personally, I feel that in person meetings, once in a while, still make a difference.

About Roberto Saracco

Roberto Saracco fell in love with technology and its implications long time ago. His background is in math and computer science. Until April 2017 he led the EIT Digital Italian Node and then was head of the Industrial Doctoral School of EIT Digital up to September 2018. Previously, up to December 2011 he was the Director of the Telecom Italia Future Centre in Venice, looking at the interplay of technology evolution, economics and society. At the turn of the century he led a World Bank-Infodev project to stimulate entrepreneurship in Latin America. He is a senior member of IEEE where he leads the New Initiative Committee and co-chairs the Digital Reality Initiative. He is a member of the IEEE in 2050 Ad Hoc Committee. He teaches a Master course on Technology Forecasting and Market impact at the University of Trento. He has published over 100 papers in journals and magazines and 14 books.