augusta free press news

Change in the post-COVID-19 world is only beginning to manifest

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We keep hearing how COVID-19 is going to change the world, lead us to a new normal, and, yeah, already has.

No doubt more change is coming.

Let’s start with the most obvious impact, felt by millions, who have been working from home.

If you’ve been able to work from home the past couple of months, and get work done, why should you have to go back to the office once we get the all-clear?

Your life has changed for the better the past couple of months.

I can speak from experience there.

I’ve been working from home since 2002.

I literally have bad dreams about having to go back to a work environment that has me stuck in an office all day.

You may be thinking along similar lines now two months into the lockdowns.

Better commute, more control over your daily schedule, more flexibility to run errands, maybe focus on your fitness, deal with issues with the kids.

What’s good for you, though, isn’t good for other folks.

As companies come to the realization that they can get work done without having to pay for office space, they’re going to cut costs, cost number one being those leases.

Creating, in turn, a glut of commercial real estate, which, what are we going to do with the excess inventory that we know is going to be out there?

Think: all those big-box store spaces on the edge of your town that nobody knows what to do with.

Now we got us another problem to solve.

All that brick and mortar that we don’t need anymore, multiplied.

Hey, we did it to ourselves.

We like building stuff, especially stuff that we don’t really need.

Another problem: the coffee shops, sandwich shops, sit-down restaurants, food trucks, that pop up in and around commercial districts, are going to have a hard time dealing with the loss of traffic as more work from home.

We saw that in my hometown, Waynesboro, as the two big businesses that provided thousands of good-paying jobs started moving those jobs offshore in the early 1980s.

Our once-thriving downtown became a ghost town within the decade.

It’s taken us 30 years to figure out a workaround, which, bad timing for us, was just hitting its stride here recently.

We know here in our River City that change in this vein can come overnight, and its impacts can be long-lasting, and be good for some, and crippling to others.

The coffee shops, lunch shops, sit-down restaurants, food trucks, facing existential challenges in the here and now, give them credit, they’re trying.

The ones still open have had to adapt to the takeout-delivery reality, trying to keep some cash flowing and brand recognition with their customers ahead of whatever return is in the offing.

Problem here is, what if habits have had enough time to have adapted to make people realize, you know, I can cook good meals at home for myself, with the occasional takeout, maybe go out every once in a while, but certainly not like before.

Some people, probably a fair number, aren’t going to want to venture out even when the all-clear comes, because they’ve been scared almost literally to death by what they’ve been spoon-fed by the TV news.

Others won’t be able to afford to, not for a while.

Which isn’t to say that, longer term, you won’t see us eventually get back to where we were, in terms of how we treat ourselves to lunch, dinner, out.

Old habits can be hard to break; new habits, eating in, telling yourself that it’s the same, or better, can be easy to throw out, as anybody who’s ever lost 20 pounds on a diet, then put it right back on once the diet is over, can attest.

I wouldn’t want to be in the food and beverage business now, though.

Or the real estate business.

Hmmm, what else … maybe the legacy media?

More people than ever are watching, clicking, whatever.

But the ad dollars aren’t there to support the work that it takes to produce content, and 25 years of giving away content for free has all but a few disinterested in being willing to pay for it.

That, plus the historic level of distrust in legacy media sources, from all sides of the spectrum, yeah, not good, for those with employees, who need wages and benefits, who need space to work in, which requires rent and related overhead.

Those who figure out how to decentralize will be better off.

This will be good for democracy, if you ask me.

Hedge funds owning newspapers and TV stations don’t care about quality or community impact.

News to those folks is a widget that needs to make money same as with the other widgets in other businesses in their portfolio.

We may see the media, which has been getting bigger and bigger in the first quarter century of the internet era, get smaller, in the sense of getting away from news being brought to you by big outfits owned by hedge funds, rather being produced by the 2000s version of the locals using the web in the place of a printing press.

This is all just off the top of my head, but what’s funny to me is, looking at this short, quick list of things that are sure to change forever as a result of our response to COVID-19, this is all stuff that was on its way to changing anyway.

News needs to be more local.

More people need to work from home.

We probably do need to eat at home more.

Another thing that I hope continues after we climb out of the bunker: my morning runs, and evening walks around the neighborhood.

I, for one, needed something to get me to slow down, and as much as I desperately want to get back out to doing some of the things that I’ve missed out on the past couple of months, I’m kind of warming up to this new, slower, pace.

Things had gotten too big, too fast-paced, too 24/7.

Decentralize, slow down, breathe.

Change is coming. Be on the right side of it.

Story by Chris Graham