While Covid-19 rages on in parts of the world, in the U.S. it is looking increasingly realistic to anticipate that the pandemic will end -- or at least be reduced to such a manageable level that people will be able to start doing the things they enjoyed so much before social distancing began in March 2020.
Since then, there have been clear winners and losers in the business world. Winners -- such as videoconferencing, food and alcohol delivery services, online furniture retailers, home selling and construction companies, and makers of personal protection equipment -- were the businesses that helped people continue to participate in a work-from-home (WFH) world.
Losers were the businesses -- such as airlines, restaurants, schools, gyms, taxi and ridesharing services, movie theaters, cruise ships, athletics and concert venues, and hotels -- whose operation depended on people spending hours or days packed into relatively tight spaces.
As states permit sports and concert venues and restaurants to return to 100 percent capacity, will the more than 60 percent of unvaccinated Americans go unmasked and start a new wave of infections? Will new Covid-19 variants that are immune to the vaccine spread quickly throughout the population? Or will enough people be vaccinated to enable us to return to what passed for normal before the pandemic started?
For business leaders, where you stand on these questions depends on where you sit. If your business lost out during the pandemic, you are hoping that demand will come roaring back as people return to being in close proximity. And if you have enjoyed a surge for growth during the pandemic, you are hoping to keep that growth going as the pandemic fades into the rearview mirror.
To help you decide what to do, here are four questions you should ask, the data to gather to answer these questions, and what to do about the answers.
1. Will the pandemic end or restart?
To be sure, in the U.S. it feels as though the pandemic is ending and that the government is firmly doing its best to keep it that way. However, business leaders should consider whether those efforts will succeed.
For example, if your business is located in a region with a very low vaccination rate, consider whether customers and employees will follow social-distancing and mask-wearing guidelines. If not, the pandemic may not end for your business.
If you live in a region where people are getting vaccinated in large numbers and are generally following guidelines for wearing masks in places where the government requires it, you should begin planning for people to rush back to activities that suffered during the pandemic.
2. If the pandemic ends, will people treat our business the way they did before it started?
It is difficult to imagine that Zoom Video, for example, will continue to enjoy the surge of growth that it experienced in the early months of the pandemic.
If you are leading a business that enjoyed growth during the pandemic, you should consider different scenarios that might occur. For example, Zoom could experience a 25 percent, 100 percent, or greater drop off. The answer depends on the mix of employers that allow WFH, hybrid, or 100 percent in-office work.
To test such scenarios, business leaders should conduct surveys of their customers and ask them about their preferences among alternative scenarios. Unless the results of these surveys point overwhelmingly in one direction, you should remain flexible and keep close track of how customer behavior is changing until a clear pattern emerges.
3. If we see a surge in demand, are we adequately staffed to satisfy it?
For some businesses -- most notably restaurants, hotels, and sports and concert venues -- the imminent surge in demand could create a problem: hiring and retaining enough staff members to satisfy that demand.
It's quite possible that potential workers are getting paid more thanks to government stimulus checks than you would be willing to pay them to work for you. If the hiring challenge persists, you may have to raise wages to attract the workers you need and either raise prices to cover your higher costs or accept lower profits.
4. If demand for our products drops, can we create new demand or should we cut costs?
During the early days of the pandemic, companies -- such as Airbnb and Toast -- that suffered a drop in demand were able to follow changing customer purchase patterns and offer new products to meet their needs. If you can do that, you might not need to cut costs. If not, you should cut them so you can make sure your company is sustainable in the new normal.
Answer these questions well and your business can succeed as the pandemic ends.