As the end of COVID-19 is now in sight (albeit it will be some time before this reality is realized), I’ve been wondering what changes we will see in Canadian society as a result of our “COVID experience”? While many things will likely return to “normal” (whatever that means), there are likely to be other things that are forever changed.
For example, I’ve been thinking about such things as downtown office towers, public transportation, retail shopping and the hospitality industry. Many individuals who previously worked in these downtown office towers were mandated to work from home instead, and use teleconference calls to stay in touch and up to date. While I doubt that every example of remote work was successful, there seem to be a lot of stories of people finding that they preferred these locations, and were more efficient in their daily work routines.
If companies decide to permit employees to remotely work from home, either part time or full time, how will downtown commercial real estate companies manage to fill all the empty spaces? Secondly, I wonder about the millions of dollars that have been spent, and are being spent, to develop Edmonton’s rapid transit system. This system, to a large degree, was designed to transport people into downtown Edmonton to start their work days, and take them home at the end of these days. If a large percentage of these employees no longer work downtown, have we ended up a with a massively expensive transportation system that, in many areas, is no longer really required?
In some ways, the retail shopping and dining “experience” has also been impacted by COVID-19. Especially in the U.S., on-line purchasing by individuals has mushroomed in activity, and one questions how long so many shopping centres can survive with such a decrease in business? The same question can be asked about the restaurant industry. While people will likely still want to “dine out”, I wonder how much of this restaurant business has been lost forever?
It’s also difficult to predict what will happen in Canada’s hospitality industry. Will Canadian businesses move away from sending employees out to travel to other locations, and rely on teleconference calls instead? Some travel will obviously still be required, but at what level? And will there be enough business left for hotels and motels to still survive?
Whatever the future holds, it is likely to be far different from the past. Some individuals understand this and will prepare for this new future, others will not. Years ago, philosopher Eric Hoffer observed: “In times of change, learners inherit the earth, while the learned find themselves beautifully equipped to deal with a world that no longer ...”