In these unprecedented times, where a global pandemic rages and draconian isolation reins, the return to normality is a glistening beacon of hope on the horizon.
It’s a turn of phrase you’ll have heard a lot over the last few weeks. Most sentences are now pre-empted with the obligatory, “well, when life goes back to normal… we can get back to doing XYZ.” or “As soon as this is over, and normality returns, we’ll be back to XYZ”.
The need for normality has never been greater.
Not in a generation, has a state of normality seemed so desirable. Not since the Second World War, have the notions of freedom and companionship seemed so starkly absent. It’s now clear that what was once our normality, didn’t even seem like normality, until it was taken so abruptly from us by Covid-19.
Like a thief in the night, the virus stalked our way of life, our way of thinking and swiftly snatched it from our grasp. Rendering our experts and politicians, at least initially, dumbfounded and reeling.
Social distancing measures have since forced a restricted and simplified life upon millions around the entire globe, leaving many swathed in uncertainty. Huge populations now live in a state of unrest, left hanging on the anticipation of when government measures will end and when the impending threat of infection will retreat.
In the developed world, restrictions still favour the privileged; those who are white-collared are still able to work, provide and stay entertained. Those worse off, now face a lack of income and even poverty. But privileged or not, the enforcement of staying indoors and being restricted to limited outings, has imposed a drastic change in lifestyle for everyone — the world is now yearning a return to ‘normality’.
In the USA, searches for the return to normality have skyrocketed in the last month, with the search term ‘normality’ seeing over a 100% increase in the last 30 days— the global populous are understandably looking for concrete answers of when status quo will return.
But what if the normality we know and pine for can never exist again?
Whilst the effects of Covid-19 and the subsequent Government interventions have caused obvious hardship, they’ve also changed the behaviour of millions of humans on a scale unlike anything seen in the modern era. Those changes in behaviour won’t be so easy to revert and perhaps some can’t ever be reverted in the same way.
Compared with this time last year, levels of pollution in New York have reduced by nearly 50% because of measures to contain the virus. Similarly, in China, emissions fell 25% at the start of the year as people were instructed to stay at home, factories shuttered and coal use fell by 40% at China’s six largest power plants since the last quarter of 2019. The proportion of days with “good quality air” was up 11.4% compared with the same time last year in 337 cities across China.
In Europe, satellite images show nitrogen dioxide (NO2) emissions fading away over northern Italy. A similar story is playing out in Spain and the UK.
Essentially, the key contributors to global pollution have been grounded which has given the planet a chance to take a well-earned break. It shouldn’t take a global pandemic for people to be more conscious of their carbon footprint, but the fact of the matter is, we’ve all been forced to and its having a dramatic impact.
Across the world, small, medium and large businesses have been propped up by fiscal support packages. Millions of Dollar, Yen, Sterling and Euro have been forked out by respective states to protect businesses from going under. The leisure and retail sectors are two of those hit the hardest, with consumer foot-fall drastically dropping and many shifting their spending to online vendors like Amazon — even there, many consumers are being tighter on spending their disposable income and focused instead on hoarding basic necessities.
This has led some of the largest retailers to temporarily close their doors, with the UK’s John Lewis Partnership (a store that remained open during WW1 and WW2) shutting off brick and mortar outlets to the public.
These are big shifts. Environmentally and socially.
It all raises the question of evaluation and as the world looks to acknowledge the daunting impacts of Covid-19, it must begin to shift from a stage of suppression and temporary containment, to a stage of adaption.
We all need to adapt to the world that is here now, with the view that elements of these restrictions are here to stay. Those that don’t change will be rendered irrelevant.
With many of us now forced to travel less, consume less and give focus to the more important and essential items of our daily life; it means businesses and service providers must also shift their offerings to accommodate the change in public behaviour.
And despite some lockdowns already being relaxed in China and even some places in Europe, the pivot towards an online way of living has only been accelerated by the methods enforced to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
Businesses who relied on footfall for their income will need to consider longer-term digital strategies, that support sustained and consistent online growth. They won’t survive in the long run on band-aids to cover the current situation.
When the time comes for all lockdown measures to be lifted and the public is eventually released, the world they find won’t be the same. And nor should it be.
We should all consider what’s truly important to us and begin to re-evaluate the ‘new-normal’ — what kind of world do we want to shape, how will we adapt to benefit from this shift?
We’re all yearning for life to go back to normal and it eventually will. But the normal we find on the other side, won’t look the same as it did before.
There’s something in that we can be excited and enlightened about.