"New Normal" is on the tips of everyone's tongues as Thailand slowly makes the first tentative steps toward re-opening stores and places of business and restarting the economy. But what is this "new normal" and how long will it last? Will it be years of living with social distancing precautions? Or will people simply forget about their fears in a few months and go back to their behaviours of old.
Whatever will happen, there are a few valuable lessons we can take away from the pandemic that both gives us hope for the future and reveal areas that we need to improve upon. The most important lesson is that the coronavirus has been an equal-opportunity virus. It has infected pretty much every country around the world without regard for the wealth and development of the country.
What has mattered the most is the preparedness of each country. The countries that had the best response were those that recognised and dealt seriously with the virus early on. Thailand did an admirable job, but let’s keep our fingers crossed nonetheless as the country opens back up for business.
The Thai government will hopefully continue to practice cautious diligence in protecting its citizens from infection. The precautionary approach of the country seemed to have spared the Thai residents of the number of infections suffered by more developed and wealthier nations. But where do we go from here?
Tech entrepreneurs should have been taking notes during the work-from-home exercise of the past couple of months because there were some opportunities revealed by the pandemic. While we have seen that it's certainly possible to do business completely online from the safety of your home, there are some aspects of working this way that require some additional tweaks.
Security issues reared their ugly head with everyone working online. With Zoom being pretty much the only low-cost, video-conferencing app on the market, it became an inevitable target for hackers. Greater competition in video-conferencing platforms moving forward is what businesses need. Remember, we’re not out of this thing yet.
And with so many video-conferences taking place throughout the day, bandwidth seemed to be suffering as well for many people in Bangkok and throughout the world. Before a company commits to the “new normal” of conducting a large portion of their services online, they should think about upgrading their internet services to make their connections as robust as possible.
But overall, companies that could conduct their business online had less of a transition to make at the beginning of the lockdown and suffered less upheaval to their operations.
The coronavirus is such an unknown quantity that no one is absolutely sure how to proceed as we get back to work. Face mask-wearing during flu season and increased hand-washing year-round will probably always be a part of social behaviour moving forward.
Although if the infections continue to drop, so will our inhibitions as sports and entertainment gatherings will begin to resume and people will not think twice about sitting together on a crowded bus or BTS train.
Life will slowly go back almost to the way it was. But the "new normal" means that in the back of everyone's mind the memory of the fear that this was a genuine and dangerous illness - an illness that has so far taken the lives of over a quarter of a million people around the world.
It's hard to say what may be the long-term effects of the pandemic on society. For all the alarm the SARS epidemic caused at the time around Asia, no one talks about it as having a lasting impact. But Singapore seemed to have been well-prepared to meet the challenges of the coronavirus because of their experience with SARS.
But it may cause significant changes that people will adopt more slowly. More people in the world will buy a health insurance policy. Supply chains may be improved pre-emptively to guard against shortages of certain strategic items.
In the business world, companies may look at the work-from-home exercise as a learning experience. They may start to encourage this practice on a part-time basis, particularly if they didn’t see any loss of productivity during the isolation period.
They may start to think if their employees in terms of work from home or office employees, depending on the job they perform. Managers may begin to look at their businesses from the point of view of how much office space they really need to have to operate efficiently.
Businesses may take more of a strategic approach to business operations. From what they learned about their employee's work habits during the lockdown, they may have decided who rose to the occasion and who didn't. The actual value of a co-worker is best seen during times of uncertainty and stress. A good manager used this situation to learn more about their staff.
It may take a year or more before we begin to see the full extent of the impact of the pandemic across all aspects of life in Thailand. From home life to business, the coronavirus has given us a lot to think about in terms of how we can better prepare ourselves for the future.