We hope the following elements will be important in shaping the next normal.


COVID-19 and its impact have pushed this question into the cynosure. Executives and business players have had to reevaluate plans, update annual budgets, and in some instances embark on new business models almost overnight.

It is impossible to know what will happen. But it is possible to consider the lessons of the past, both distant and recent, and on that basis, to think constructively about the future. We hope the following elements will be important in shaping the next normal, and business leaders will need to come to terms with them.

Distance is back

Even before COVID-19 hit, there were signs of unease, expressed in calls for protectionism and more restrictive immigration and visa policies. In these ways, people sought, in effect, to create more distance from those unlike themselves.

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To deal with the pandemic, governments around the world have imposed restrictions on people and goods of a severity not seen for decades. Eventually, the tourists will come back and the borders will reopen, but it is certainly possible that the previous status quo will not return. Technology continues to shrink physical distance, but in other ways, it could be set for a return.

Resilience and efficiency

Even when lockdown restrictions begin to ease, businesses will need to figure out how to operate in new ways. In short, resiliency will be the key to survival and long-term prosperity.

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What characterized the resilient companies was the preparation before the crisis. They typically had stronger balance sheets and effective action during it, specifically, in their ability to cut operating costs.

This advice is still sound, but insufficient. COVID-19 could end up dwarfing the financial crisis in economic damage. In that case, it will not be enough for many companies to tweak their business model. Instead, they will need to rethink it.

The rise of the contact-free economy

In three areas, in particular, digital commerce, telemedicine, and automation, the COVID-19 pandemic could prove to be a decisive turning point.

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E-commerce was already meaningfully and visibly eating into the sales of brick-and-mortar stores. What the coronavirus has done is to accelerate a change in shopping habits that were already well established. 

The figures for telemedicine and virtual health care just as striking. With a vaccine or treatment at least months away, patients and healthcare providers both have reason to expand virtual interactions.

More government intervention in the economy

As governments step up to serve—or save—the private sector, the means they choose will differ. Some countries will outright nationalize, some will take equity stakes, some will provide loans, and others will choose to regulate. If nonperforming loans require a second bailout, the banking sector could become something like a regulated utility in some markets.

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Governments may decide to get out of the business, how they do so will be complicated and differentiated. How much, how fast, and in what ways governments reduce their economic role will be one of the most important questions of the next decade.

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