The worldwide public health crisis caused by the novel coronavirus will change almost every aspect of the world, just like pandemics in the past have done. Some of these changes will be relatively small, like many people understanding how Zoom works, while others could shape the next era, like a potential post-pandemic baby boom.
The misery caused by the disease shouldn’t be discounted, and the focus now should be on the ongoing emergency due to COVID-19, the respiratory disease caused by coronavirus.
However, there are ways the world could shift after the virus has come under control that could provide opportunities for small business owners.
The most optimistic reading of our situation is that once the pandemic comes under control and quarantines are declared over, there will be a huge boost in consumer spending as people appreciate restaurants, retail, and live entertainment like never before. Some theorists believe this boom will be enough to lift the entire economy out of its current panic mode, and the economic expansion of the last decade will continue forth.
While this might be the case, it is better for small businesses to have a more tempered outlook. Still, even if consumer spending lags, some sort of demand for the outside world is likely after weeks of quarantine.
Savvy small businesses that could benefit from this demand, like restaurants or Main Street shops, should hope for the best but prepare for a long road ahead, according to a recent report from analyst firm McKinsey.
“Facing up to the possibility of a deeper, more protracted downturn is essential, since the options available now, before a recession sets in, may be more palatable than those available later,” the report states. “For example, divestments to provide needed cash can be completed at a higher price today than in a few weeks or months.”
A comforting revelation of these troubled times has appeared in the form of people generally appearing more supportive and helpful than we might expect. From neighborhoods cheering on doctors to people delivering groceries for elderly strangers, there is still a strong sense of community that we rely on.
At the same time, more people seem more aware of how workers are treated during this crisis. Major corporations are being pushed to treat their workers better. And if they don’t, they are being shamed or experiencing labor actions like never before.
In the post-quarantine world, businesses that treat their employees with respect will likely gain more traction with customers.
“We will be better able to see how our fates are linked,” believes Eric Klinenberg, a sociology professor at New York University. “The cheap burger I eat from a restaurant that denies paid sick leave to its cashiers and kitchen staff makes me more vulnerable to illness, as does the neighbor who refuses to stay home in a pandemic because our public school failed to teach him science or critical thinking skills.”
The global pandemic has unveiled simmering issues in the United States healthcare system, such as the lack of beds in hospitals and how employer-provided health insurance can create economic issues for millions in crisis.
There will likely be some major changes in the healthcare system, even if the country does not dive straight into single-payer healthcare—although that could seem much closer to reality than before.
“Inadequate testing has hampered America’s response to the pandemic, but countries with universal access to health care have gotten it right: South Korea, for example, has tested hundreds of thousands of people, while the US is lagging behind,” a Vice editorial said. “But the cost and availability of COVID-19 testing is just a symptom of underlying problems in the US healthcare system that the coronavirus is now laying bare.”
A move toward a single-payer system could have benefits for small business owners. For one, it would take the burden of figuring out employee health insurance off of their shoulders. It could also increase entrepreneurship as dreamers quit jobs they had just for the insurance and strike out on their own.
Even simpler shifts in the healthcare landscape could create openings for small businesses. How can you get involved in the medical supply chain? How could you get involved in the future of healthcare?
Infamously, manufacturing in the US has been in decline for generations. However, the tide might finally be changing. This crisis has put on display how critical a strong domestic supply chain is for an economy to function.
“Many companies are probably also regretting their reliance on a single company for items they directly purchase,” analysts Tom Linton and Bindiya Vakil wrote. “Supply-chain managers know the risks of single sourcing, but they do it anyway in order to secure their supply or meet a cost target. Often, they have limited options to choose from, and increasingly those options are only in China.”
With China only just attempting to start back up after the devastation of COVID-19, there will be disruptions for weeks to come. Some sectors, like healthcare, are already deeply struggling with finding enough supply of ventilators and other needed equipment.
Hopefully the government will learn a lesson about this, and it is likely businesses involved with the domestic supply chain will find themselves with far more support than before.
Along with the domestic supply chain, online platforms of many stripes are experiencing a massive boost in attention. Now is the time to launch your startup, especially if you have a business-to-business focus and can support remote working.
“Once companies sort out their remote work dance steps, it will be harder—and more expensive—to deny employees those options,” Katherine Mangu-Ward of Reason magazine explained. “In other words, it turns out, an awful lot of meetings (and doctors’ appointments and classes) really could have been an email. And now they will be.”