I live in Florida where Covid-19 is spreading rapidly throughout the population. Our number of cases is currently overtaking every other state including New York, Texas and California. I am one of the co-founders of the International Service Design Institute, a business owner, a wife, and a mother of two. I’m juggling priorities that include staying safe, schooling my elementary children online, and keeping up with the business.
Through all of this, I’m working hard, like many of you, to stay up-to-date with the adjustments we are asked to make and I’m intrigued by how businesses are adapting going forward. I often wonder… what changes are here to stay?
Healthcare: I used to call the doctor’s office for an appointment, now I make appointments online or schedule virtual appointments via telemedicine. My doctors have been more than flexible are are accommodating with HIPPA-complaint email and video. I also have an app that will connect me with a doctor day or night.
Restaurants: Many restaurants, if there’s even any seating allows, have been using QR codes at tables in place of menus to avoid human touch. Our family orders meals online with pick-ups or delivery to keep distancing. Waiters don’t have to figure out what we order, and there is flexibility in how and where we eat our meals. I can see why this would remain. Along with restaurant services, the popular cash transfer app, Venmo, has come to replace cash tips. Since the social media feature allows retailers to stay in touch with customers, I expect its use to grow.
Retail: These days, some states have restrictions on the numbers of shoppers who can be inside a store at any one time. For warehouse-size stores, for instance, staff count the numbers of shoppers entering and exiting. This creates lines of shoppers to get in. I find it surprising that shoppers will wait in line and not choose another, less crowded time. Has social distancing caused desperation, I ask? How long will we tolerate waiting in lines in the summer heat? I don’t think this accommodation will last. But I wonder about our new practice of making appointments for some of the boutique stores where we would often just walk in to be served, including nail salons and beauty shops.
Face Masks: While Florida has been slow to adopt universal mask-wearing (hence our growing number of cases), in many parts of the U.S. masks have become de rigueur. Before, it was not the norm to wear a mask in public. Nowadays, we all hope the folks around us or mingling with others, are wearing them. But it’s a mixed bag, some don’t and some take it to the extreme, wearing them while driving alone or on walks by themselves. Still, mask-wearing has become a bit of fashion accessory, or others would say an advertisement. Masks can be purchased online in almost any print or decoration, some with prints inspired by Louis Vuitton, Hermes and Harley Davidson motorcycles.
Social Distancing: Disney World has just announced it will be re-opening a matter of weeks. In preparation, it’s been reported that the resort has altered its ride-waiting system. For one, it will issue passes with ride times for when to show up. For two, queue areas will be arranged in such a way that riders can maintain a six-foot distance from others. And third, the line to get in will be marked with street paint and secured with barriers so riders maintain distance. Between rides, it’s reported that the equipment will be sprayed down with disinfectant. This might help some park-goers ‘ fears, but I cringe to think of all the visitors coming in and out of the state. But disinfecting rides, hmmm… not a bad idea from now on.
As we say to each other, these are strange times, indeed. So, which current lifestyle adjustments can we expect any of them to stay with us?
We have numerous examples of technology and customs whose origins are long forgotten, yet they remain with us today. The origin of “Bless you,” comes to mind, dating to the mid-1300s from the era of the Black Plague. When someone sneezed, it was often the first sign of infection and almost certain death. From then on it became a saying whenever someone sneezed. Sugar-coated chocolate was from the Spanish Civil War, to provide soldiers with chocolate that wouldn’t melt on the battlefield. The first engine was invented in the late 1600s to drain water from flooding, and freeze-dried packaging was invented to nourish astronauts in space.
Against that backdrop, I imagine there will be technologies and customs that survive the pandemic. For one, I suspect we will prefer more personal space among strangers, perhaps no closer than six feet distance before it feels uncomfortable. Mask-wearing might also enter our culture. Already in our house, we remind each other to take a mask when leaving the house.
For my work with service design, I believe there will be greater acceptance of some technologies that until recently lacked strong demand. The ones I am watching are those that help eliminate or reduce human contact, such as greater acceptance of touchless payment methods, with biometrics to activate them including eye scans, fingerprints and voice. With services, I see the renewed potential for QR codes to help complete and fulfill service journeys and outcomes.
We should also expect new and more uses for smart home technology. Along my street, for instance, there are neighbors who have posted instructions on their doors for leaving packages. Yet, others are installing wi-fi-connected doorbells — devices with cameras and speakers that allow homeowners to respond from anywhere, without needing to interact.
These few predictions around technology also come with tradeoffs, which the pandemic may have helped normalize. As we interact with the technology, vendors and advertisers are able to gain more access to our devices, which means more tracking and targeted appeals.
But I’m an optimist. For decades, our economies have been in slow decline. It might just take a pandemic to force us to adapt to changes that will come to boost our economies and thereby improve our standard of living.