Brace Yourself For The Happiness Boom
By Raj De Datta
This article first appeared on Forbes.com.
Hang on, humanity. When this crisis has passed (and it will pass), we will be set up for two terrific booms: one in our economy and the other in our happiness.
As a serial entrepreneur in Silicon Valley, I’ve seen firsthand -- and more than once -- how businesses behave during a crisis. And as a technologist, I can see how digital transformation might be accelerated by COVID-19. Additionally, my company facilitates eCommerce in both the U.S. and UK, so I see online behavior trends as they happen. While we are deep in our crisis now, from my dashboard, I see two positive surges ready to take off when the pandemic stabilizes.
Business Will Boom
Here's what to watch for:
Productivity will improve. After the crisis, it may well be concluded that we don't all need to be in the office all the time. Sometimes, sure, but five days a week? Maybe not. I believe many businesses will shift from an 80-20 physical to virtual ratio to 20-80. They'll do it because they are more productive that way. With that comes an average of two new hours a day – hours we used to spend commuting. Now, we’ll have those hours for other uses.
Business costs will drop. A boom in remote work can help lower the cost of doing business. For instance, the cost of commercial real estate will come down. Energy prices will be in for a long-term decline, and more money will be invested in people, products and offerings.
Innovation will soar. This is not my first economic crisis. I was an entrepreneur at the time of 9/11 and again for a new company during the financial crisis in 2009. I saw firsthand that out of both convulsions came innovation. It was after 9/11 that Google emerged as an advertising option. From 2008 to 2011, we saw the rise of Airbnb and Uber. This will likely happen again. We may see smart doorknobs that sanitize between use, face recognition security that frees us from touching keypads and software that tracks health conditions. The backs of proverbial cocktail napkins are filling up with big post-pandemic ideas.
Happiness Will, Too
The really positive news is that the post-pandemic boom will not just be about economic growth. Our happiness will be part of the resurgence. Changes in the way we work may also bring changes in our leisure.
We’ll spend more money online. Today, e-commerce as a percent of total retail averages from 10%-30%, depending on the category. I expect that to flip to where we spend 70%-90% of our disposable income online. We would have gotten there anyway -- now we will get there a lot faster.
We’ll go out more. In a strange twist of events, while we will go out less because we have to (for work), we may go out more because we want to (for leisure). Under the pre-pandemic system, when the workday was done, with the added stress of commuting, most of us just wanted to stay home and relax. But if the office and commute are out of the equation, we’ll be far more interested in getting out when the workday is over. We’ll eat out more, go to more bars, visit more parks, and see our friends and family more often.
We’ll value our physical interactions. If this crisis has taught us anything, it’s that virtual communication is no substitute for the real thing. We’ve all been trying -- we’ve used Zoom for holiday gatherings and FaceTime to see our friends. But we miss our fellow humans. Screens just won’t cut it -- we want a hug.
Life will not be perfect, to be sure. Much of what I’ve described has a decidedly first-world slant. Poorer communities will be less able to participate. We will need to face that challenge or risk further digital divides.
Even for those of us with the ability to adapt to the digital transformation, there will be downsides. For one, our serendipitous interactions with neighbors will drop. We won’t have the shared human experience of the grocery store or the crowded subway. We will be able to curate our interactions and may have fewer opportunities to hear and see those who are not like us.
Finally, there will be a new normal around health. Just as 9/11 made TSA lines and pat-down searches normal, COVID-19 will leave its mark. Expect a federal response, like Homeland Security, to emerge as a regular presence. Terrorism changed our lives, and this virus will, too.
But there will be a reason to be excited again. So, for now, stay home, and stay safe -- and watch for the twin booms. They’re coming.