Blog | Monday, March 29, 2021

Imagining the post-pandemic workplace

Millions of Americans are working remotely during the pandemic. Many of them would have never believed that they could perform their jobs away from the office. I'm one of them. But we all now acknowledge that the basic structure and function of the workplace has been forever altered. This transformation was inevitable, but the pandemic was a potent catalyst to bring it about at, shall I say, “Warp Speed”? Did we really believe that in a world with remote robotic surgery, driverless cars, personalized genetic medicine, exploration of Mars, Alexa and the explosion of artificial intelligence, that we would continue to commute to brick-and-mortar offices each day? It was only a matter of time before the physical workplace would be recalibrated.

The disruption has been monumental and to a great extent irrevocable. While I do believe that there will be some backward adjustment after the pandemic has largely resolved, I do not expect a return to the status quo ante. Do you think that DoorDash will be out of business then?

And as occurs after every disruption and innovation, there will be winners and losers. The printing press came about in the 15th century. Good idea? Probably yes, but it may have been a job killer for many.

Many industries are very nervous now. If you have earned your fortune up to now in commercial real estate, you may not welcome the prospect that your high-priced office space will no longer be in high demand. Indeed, huge companies are leaving New York City in search of more economical alternatives. Will stage theaters and cinemas ever return to full capacity now that most of us have enjoyed these experiences from home? The hospitality industry has taken a body blow and will do its best to stagger up in the coming year or two. Would you want to be an investor in a sports stadium now? Investors may need to factor in that future pandemics may be lurking.

But it's a good time to be in the vaccine business. If your manufacturing company could adapt to produce personal protective equipment (PPE), you probably could have run three shifts of workers. Remember when we couldn't find sanitizer left on the shelf? Those companies really cleaned up. Grocery and restaurant delivery services can barely keep up with the demand. And with all of us hunkered down in our homes, it has been a good season for Netflix and other streaming services. On-line retail was already doing well pre-pandemic, but they have reached the stratosphere. How do you think Zoom fared this year?

We are all aching to return to normal, but the normal of tomorrow will be quite different from the normal of yesterday. And just when we start to get used to the new normal, guess what will happen?

This post by Michael Kirsch, MD, FACP, appeared at MD Whistleblower. Dr. Kirsch is a full time practicing physician and writer who addresses the joys and challenges of medical practice, including controversies in the doctor-patient relationship, medical ethics and measuring medical quality. When he's not writing, he's performing colonoscopies.