Like countless aspects of our lives, the businesses we frequent - virtually and in person - have changed with the onset of the Covid-19 crisis. Although we at YET constantly like to look for silver linings, we still refrain from comprehensive Pollyannaish perspectives. Covid-19 has clearly dealt a calamitous blow to our lives, and we all continue to rapidly adapt.
Simultaneously, we’ve spotted some compelling shifts in the entrepreneurial landscape since March 2020. This collection of changes doesn’t reflect everything we’ve observed but it encapsulates a fair number of trends that can serve as foresight.
With mandatory closures of certain businesses, other restrictions, and social distancing and mask requirements, every business has had to get creative this past year! The especially hard-hit restaurant industry is no exception. Seattle’s famous fine dining establishment, Canlis, iterated from a burger drive-up to a community college to a yurt village! According to the National Retail Federation, food trucks also dove into new locations and experiences, parking in parks and residential areas when central business districts emptied out due to remote work. Scarcity, or a lack of resources - or an abundance of constraints, breeds creativity and innovation.
The rise of the Low Touch Economy
As the threat of testing positive for Covid-19 increased, there was an increased focus on fewer physical interactions with the customer. New and existing Airbnb renters created ways to ensure contactless check-ins. Others set up sanitation stations full of cleaning products in their accommodations. Strategy and business design firm, Board of Innovation, mapped out new ventures and established businesses to illustrate how they were adapting to minimize customer contacts, or touches, in person. Picking up a birthday gift you ordered online from a local boutique? In many cases, via app, you can now confirm your arrival, your exact parking spot, and which car door you want opened before the staff member deposits your gift in the back seat. Hotels pack sack breakfast bags to-go instead of laying out their entire buffets, a Covid-19 risk. Entrepreneurs are and must continue to think about incorporating low-touch aspects into their product or service.
Increased reliance on communication skills
Thanks to the coronavirus, we are pretty sure more people know that WFH equates to ‘Work from Home’. However, not seeing colleagues in person at work has translated into online collaboration tools that often complicate understanding and facilitate misunderstanding. As such, interpersonal skills and emotional intelligence are even more crucial. How often are we checking in with supervisors, peers, and subordinates? If our coworkers skipped town to work remotely from another state or province, we have to confirm what time zone and navigate that change. What nonverbal cues can we pick up from those video conferences? Are some staff speaking up less because they are less comfortable on camera? Mapping that to #thatentrepreneurlife, consider those in-person pitches that many may do to get loans at banks, convince family members to invest, or raise funds in general. In the absence of the water cooler or office lobby, entrepreneurs must think about how to engage with and communicate with their disseminated teams, taking into account a variety of homelife situations. It is more challenging to do all of this through a screen so every word, gesture, and glance becomes that much more valuable.
The escalation of tech integration
Instead of checking in at my hair salon’s front desk, I used an app to confirm my arrival. My hair stylist promptly came to greet me at the door. Prior to that, I used the same smartphone app to read and sign an electronic agreement confirming that I did not come with Covid-19 symptoms, nor traveled recently, and would follow all state-required Covid-19 protocol once inside. More and more airlines in the US are enabling passengers to pre-order their in-flight food through their website or phone app, helping to streamline inventory flows and reduce physical contact points. At restaurants, paper menus are less ubiquitous. On the contrary, QR codes for scanning are attached to tables and we simply pop open the menus on our smartphones. Even major movie studios are releasing their films on streaming platforms rather than in brick-and-mortar theaters. Entrepreneurs must capture these adjustments and apply versions of them to their own businesses to keep up.
The normalization of working from home
Back in the day, errr, 2019, working from home almost implied that you didn’t have a “serious” job that required you to be onsite. Skepticism abound. Fast forward to today, and working from home is a privilege - you get to work away from others at the office, a blessing, and a curse all rolled into one. We have become more understanding of barking dogs, chatterbox kids, and doorbells. We assume most people are wearing a business dress shirt and sweatpants to their meetings. We commiserate over “Zoom fatigue”. We sympathize with coworkers who tell us about their overall work day stretching out over more hours, interrupted by breaks to exercise, eat, or homeschool kids. Very often, we are those coworkers! Bootstrapping - without cash for an office space, countless entrepreneurs, including Sara Blakely, founder of Spanx, have worked tirelessly from their own apartments while starting a new venture. With more working from home, the stigmas begin to dissipate.
Most importantly, we remain steadfast in our belief that Covid-19 and cemented the need for resilience in every entrepreneurs’ toolbox. Entrepreneurs are essential to holistic recovery and propel long-lasting sustainability in communities. Consider how you’ve demonstrated resilience in the past year and how this can translate over into your entrepreneurial endeavors.
Which of these six pops out at you? Which has impacted you most? Least? We would love to hear your story.