How business routines will change when we get to the other side

by Pierre G. Villere

Before the pandemic, my business routine was pretty steady: In the office on Monday handling client and new business calls, administrative details, and the general straightening up of desk and files. Most weeks, it would be off to the airport on Monday evening, out on the road on behalf of our clients or drumming up new business. Sometimes it would be three cities in three days and home on Friday, sometimes even Saturday morning. It has been that way for decades now.

The Covid-19 pandemic brought that to a halt. Now, like the rest of us in our industry, we are adapting to the new electronic world of business contact, learning the intricacies of Zoom, AdobeConnect, Skype, and all the other video conferencing technologies that have been catapulted to the forefront of our business culture. These technologies have forced widespread, rapid adoption as alternatives to face-to-face meetings, since they are mature, easy to use and available on any device.

And we now know with a high degree of certainty when this will finally be over—one of two things must occur. First, a vaccine has to become a reality, and the inoculation of billions of people will be a daunting task and will likely take years. Next, and a far less likely outcome, is that the virus will just fade away as so many pandemics have in the past; think of the Black Plagues of Europe hundreds of years ago, and more recently, the horrific Spanish Flu of 1918-19 that is reported to have killed up to 100 million people globally.

But one or both will occur, and three or four years from now, the pandemic will mercifully fade into memory, and we will go back to our daily lives. But big changes will be with us forever.

Commercial office space design will change dramatically, and for the foreseeable future, urban towers will be the hardest hit. Those who used to work in the tall buildings of central cities will follow their employers to smaller spaces in the suburbs, as the need for square footage shrinks in the face of more people permanently working from home. And office design will be different, with the cubicle warrens of corporate America a relic of the past as we revert to the designs of the 1950s and 1960s: Individual offices with doors for almost every one, the only way to attract fearful employees back to their desks.

Business travel will have an entirely new face. The volume we experienced in the past will change dramatically, with some industry experts opining that one-third to one-half of business travel will go away. Trips once thought necessary will be seen as superfluous, and everybody who depends on business travel will be rethinking their travel needs. These same experts think the leisure side of travel will bounce back robustly, but as the rich ticket prices and hotel room rates of business travel shrink dramatically, leisure travelers will be forced to endure higher prices across the board. And a new trend that was forced by the pandemic will be a welcome change; travel agencies polled customers recently and found that relaxed cancellation policies were more important to travelers than a vaccine, and that flexibility may be with us for years.

Further, a more touchless experience will be rapidly changing in airports, where facial-recognition systems for everything from checking bags to passport control are likely to become far more widely adopted to reduce person-to-person contact. Security, passport and customs lines themselves may get redesigned. Video links may enable processing of international passengers before they depart, rather than having them go through passport control lines upon arrival. Even hotel shuttle buses may become a relic.

There is no doubt life on the other side will be dramatically different, and many of those changes will be permanent … and welcomed.

PGV headshot 2016Pierre G. Villere serves as president and senior managing partner of Allen-Villere Partners, an investment banking firm with a national practice in the construction materials industry that specializes in mergers & acquisitions. He has a career spanning almost five decades, and volunteers his time to educating the industry as a regular columnist in publications and through presentations at numerous industry events. Contact Pierre via email at [email protected]. Follow him on Twitter – @allenvillere.