Telemedicine with doctor, mother and baby
As we inch toward returning to normal, there are some changes that could be here to stay. Be sure that your business is ready for these post-pandemic changes. — Getty Images/recep-bg

Although the COVID-19 pandemic is still ongoing, the coronavirus vaccine has offered hope that things will return to "normal" in the year ahead; however, some things may not go back to exactly the way they were, especially in the business world.

As a small business owner, you'll want to make sure you're prepared for these permanent changes in business operations and consumer expectations, even after the threat of COVID-19 has passed.

Consumers will expect stricter cleanliness standards

The pandemic has necessitated much stricter cleaning and sanitation protocols for businesses with in-person shoppers and clientele, and has opened people’s eyes to how easily germs can spread in public places. Consumers will continue to demand this standard of cleanliness moving forward and expect businesses to put the customer’s health and safety first.

“Not only is this something [business owners] recognize as good practice, but it’s something that our customers and staff are going to expect,” said Nerissa Zhang, CEO of The Bright App and owner of two private gyms. “I foresee business practices for better prevention of the spread of illness and disease to become widespread across most industries after COVID.”

[Read more: How Companies Are Communicating Their Reopening Plans to Customers]

Virtual fitness and training are here to stay

Despite gym closures in the early months of COVID-19, people still found a way to get their exercise in. From riding stationary bikes to subscribing to fitness apps, consumers have found new routines for working out in their new home — and a lot of them plan to keep it that way.

“Many people were looking to focus on their health and fitness with the extra time the pandemic gave us at home,” said Tyler Read, CEO of PTPioneer. “Now that we’re starting a new year, I don’t see virtual fitness and training going anywhere. If anything, I see it becoming even more popular and possibly the new norm.”

People will continue to access health services virtually

Healthcare became more important than ever during the pandemic, and the industry made itself as accessible as possible virtually. While in-person consultations will always be needed, these virtual capabilities will allow healthcare professionals to offer hybrid medical appointments and serve more patients in more convenient ways.

“Virtual communication via Zoom or other conference methods will be standard,” said William Gaunitz, WTS, certified trichologist and founder of Advanced Trichology. “[Medical professionals] must build a model that can easily accomplish both types of scheduling in the normal day-to-day practices.”

This shift to telehealth services applies to the mental health sector, too. With so many people experiencing anxiety and other mental health concerns during the pandemic, virtual therapy has taken center stage and will likely remain an industry standard.

“The rapid and massive expanse of telehealth services has introduced a level of access and convenience into the mental health marketplace that is likely to continue growing even once this pandemic is over,” Dr. Nicole Beurkens, a holistic child psychologist, told CO—.

Leaders will need to rethink goal-setting and alignment in virtual and hybrid work environments

Even when it’s safe for companies to return to their physical offices, many will still be operating on a fully or partially remote model. Managers will need to reinvent their processes for checking in with remote employees and revisit the way they set goals and gain alignment for both in-office and at-home employees.

“If people won't be seeing one another five days a week in the office…we must change internal processes and procedures to better enable people to over-communicate, stay on the same page, and make sure that we are rapidly responding to market needs,” said Prithvi Raj, chief operating officer of SquareFoot said.

[Read more: 4 Business Management Trends for Leading a Remote Team]

Companies need to prepare accordingly with their goal to provide a safe and controlled environment to build consumer confidence and trust.

Duncan Jones, VP of sales at Jet It

Masks and social distancing will continue to be the norm for months to come (even with a vaccine)

Dr. Velimir Petkov, DPM, owner of Premier Podiatry, believes it will take months for society to normalize once the vaccine becomes widely available. People are going to need to continue to wear masks, social distance and continually wash their hands in the workplace and in medical offices, even after they are vaccinated.

“People should continue to be vigilant, especially since the vaccines are only just now beginning to be rolled out,” Petkov told CO—. “Once several months have passed and enough people are vaccinated, the authorities will deem it safe to relax some of the safety measures.”

Nonprofit fundraising strategies will be reimagined

Prior to the pandemic, many nonprofit organizations relied heavily on in-person fundraising events to reach their monetary goals. They got creative in 2020, using a combination of livestreamed events and unique personalized incentives to help raise money through online platforms.

“Events aren’t dead,” said Colleen Kelly, CEO of Concern Worldwide US. “Human connection and celebration is needed more than ever — but we need to reinvent, restructure and reimagine fundraising events to ensure we’re doing what's needed versus what is expected.”

Technology will play an increasingly important role in healthcare

As the vaccine becomes more widespread, people will likely begin scheduling non-emergency medical appointments, like wellness checkups and elective surgeries. Medical professionals are going to need to leverage the appropriate technologies and resources to meet this post-pandemic demand.

“Healthcare providers, hospitals and doctors’ offices should proactively invest in technology, systems and processes and prepare for a large influx of patient volume [for] diagnostic and elective procedures, once we return to normal,” said Dr. Richard Awdeh, founder of CheckedUp.

[Read more: 6 Common Traits of Businesses That Thrived During the Pandemic]

Employers will take a more active role in employee healthcare access

The pandemic has caused people to focus on their own well-being more than they ever have. They’ll expect their employers to be forward-thinking in the insurance benefits they offer and how they keep their employees safe in the office. It will require managers to be more empathetic and open-minded about their approach to healthcare.

“This means making an annual plan for healthcare services their workers will receive and ensuring that employees feel that when taking time off [for health reasons], they are not ‘slacking’ or ‘underperforming,’ but rather protecting others,” said Eva Sadej, founder and CEO of MedBar and FlossBar.

Travel crowds will remain smaller and more direct

Between international travel restrictions, interstate quarantine guidelines and a general fear of catching COVID-19 on public transportation, the travel industry has seen a lot of big changes during the pandemic. Moving forward, consumers will want affordable travel solutions that are more direct and have fewer people in the overall travel party.

“Traveling with large groups through crowded terminals will see a slower recovery than custom, direct options that inherently mitigate risk,” said Duncan Jones, VP of sales at Jet It. “Companies need to prepare accordingly with their goal to provide a safe and controlled environment to build consumer confidence and trust.”

CO— aims to bring you inspiration from leading respected experts. However, before making any business decision, you should consult a professional who can advise you based on your individual situation.

Follow us on Instagram for more expert tips & business owners’ stories.

CO—is committed to helping you start, run and grow your small business. Learn more about the benefits of small business membership in the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, here.

Brought to you by
Simplify your startup’s finances with Mercury
Navigating the complex finances of a growing startup can be daunting. Mercury’s VP of Finance shares the seven areas to focus on, from day-to-day operations to measuring performance, and more.
Read the article