By Dr. William Oliver Hedgepeth
Faculty Member, Transportation and Logistics Management, American Public University
After the 2008 Great Recession, many people did not go back to their jobs. Many companies filed for bankruptcy or downsized, in some cases through the automation replacement of human workers with robots.
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Now in 2020, we face a deadly pandemic that has killed more than 194,000 people so far. Some pundits have likened the coronavirus disease known as COVID-19 to that recession, but with a new and strangely unique twist.
Almost all businesses are closed for walk-in customers due to state-mandated closures for all stores unless they are grocery stories, pharmacies or gas stations. For many other retailers such as restaurants, customer orders are being filled with takeout or delivery services.
A New Normal Is Evolving in the Workplace
The shuttering of companies with employees working from home has already shown some financial savings. Meetings of executives scattered across the county now come together on Zoom, an easy-to-use online video and audio app that connects multiple people. The savings from such quarterly or yearly meetings come from not having to pay for hotels, airline tickets, car rentals, food, office supplies, conference room rentals, and perhaps two or three days of travel time.
I just left such a meeting a few days ago as a guest. It was great fun see all the smiley faces on their laptop computers and listen to all the briefings from the various departments.
And this executive meeting was recorded. That means all employees of the company for the first time can see and hear what is going on now and about new ideas and programs in their part of the company.
Pandemic Might Mean the Permanent Elimination of Expensive Conferences and Meetings
What might be the next phase of COVID-19 when all the shuttered businesses reopen? It might be the permanent elimination of all of those expensive conferences and meetings in fun-filled places like Orlando and Las Vegas.
Companies might see that their employees want to continue working from home to save on their commuting time along congested interstate highways. The home office space is more flexible and friendly. Plus, stay-at-home employees can walk outside, and pull up some weeds or just smell the flowers now and again.
In addition, we’re already seeing the five-day-a-week job become six or seven days as employees work at home on Saturdays and Sundays to catch up or get ahead of a deadline. This new normal of working from a home office should also improve sanitation and employees’ health.
This new normal that is growing out of this 2020 pandemic also includes a supply chain of intangible links with failures and new benefits for workers and employees. This new supply chain is already starting to become visible with the logistical voids at grocery stores and pharmacies. Products such as toilet paper, hand sanitizers, rubbing alcohol, and some meats and seafood are not readily available.
Pandemic’s New Normal Has Started Creating Virtual Teams of Workers, Friends and Families
This new normal has already started creating virtual teams of workers, friends and families. Since 2001, there has been a steady increase in social connections using such social media sites as Facebook, Twitter and others through devices equipped with instant video and text communication.
These communication technologies have reached a total cultural immersion of 24/7/365. The social media habit has become the foundation for the Zoom video linkage of employees, teachers and students who are in a classroom at home.
The future of employment for 2020 is already seeing indicators of virtual teams and virtual workforces tackling business problems. Those virtual teams, while convenient for employees, translate into preserving productivity and cost savings for employers. Virtual teams could make us more responsive to changes in the workplace and more competitive with rival companies.
Before this pandemic, the profit and success of many companies was measured in customer foot traffic. We may see a new measure or metric based on customer video time and online purchases.
More virtual and online traffic equates to greater potential sales of merchandise or even medical opinions on a patient’s condition. Many routine doctors’ visits are now done virtually through telemedicine.
Businesses would be wise, therefore, to research, study and analyze the competition. They may also compile a new set of metrics or measures of success to capitalize on this pandemic change from the previous ways of doing business.
Many Face-to-Face Courses Have Turned to Asynchronous or Synchronous Online Learning
The 2020 pandemic has prompted educators to think about a possible need to connect with their students in new ways — even informal social ways — outside the classroom. Learning using technology and the evolving pandemic crisis has increased the collective student experience with Facebook, Twitter and Zoom video connections.
Due to state- and county-ordered school closings, many face-to-face or place-based courses have been forced to turn to asynchronous or synchronous online teaching and learning methods. Virtual teaching and learning has suddenly emerged as the new technological tool in the classroom from the K-12 level and higher.
Our mode of instruction is changing so much that we need to radically alter many of our pedagogical methods. Our students are global now. Educators have an opportunity in 2020 to synthesize and expand the student learning and instructors’ teaching focus and methods to meet these emerging global challenges.
This pandemic is a disruption to education from K-12 to college. But given the social technology capability we have, our students, teachers, and institutions have an opportunity for a new learning experience that helps students to become committed to their global learning experience inside and outside the classroom.
Students today have a global partner for all subject matter. This is part of the new normal in education.
About the Author
Dr. Oliver Hedgepeth is a full-time professor at American Public University (APU). He was program director of three academic programs: Reverse Logistics Management, Transportation and Logistics Management and Government Contracting. He was Chair of the Logistics Department at the University of Alaska Anchorage. Dr. Hedgepeth was the founding Director of the Army’s Artificial Intelligence Center for Logistics from 1985 to 1990, Fort Lee, Virginia.