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NOTEBOOK: The pandemic’s residual impact on business


I serve on the Downtown Chamber’s marketing committee and recently started writing a twice-monthly column for one of its newsletters. I’ll share some of the relevant ones in the Business Record as well. 
The other day I was looking at a photo from my trip to Germany in 2019. My first thought was “Oh, my gosh, I’m touching a random railing,” as I looked at myself standing on a bridge in Frankfurt. I’ve heard from friends who’ve cringed when looking at photos of themselves in crowds or even watching shows that were filmed long before coronavirus. Of course, we’re still in the middle of the pandemic now – but how many of these trepidations and disrupted norms are here to stay, and what does it mean for doing business? 
Twenty-seven percent of Iowans say they will never be comfortable shaking hands again, according to a recent survey conducted by the Business Record and Iowa-based research firm SPPG + Essman Research. It’s hard to imagine what had always been a widely accepted greeting may no longer be a norm. I have to say, I’m a big fan of the elbow bump and wouldn’t mind at all if it became the new greeting. Nonetheless, the comfort level is indicative of just how much of an effect the pandemic is having on human nature. 
But there are much bigger shifts on the horizon than the way we greet each other. Remote working, large events, meetings and e-commerce are all likely to never be viewed the same as they were pre-pandemic. In the survey, many indicated that they’d prefer flexibility in their weeks – working from home part of the week and in the office part of the week. 
Of course, it’s probably more beneficial for business leaders to strategize around adaptability rather than their own predictions for the future. I say this because some of the smartest people thought the internet was a fad and that companies like Amazon would never be accepted by consumers. If businesses position themselves to roll with the punches instead of focusing all energy on any given prediction, they’ll be better positioned to pivot (the 2020 buzzword) to any of the uncertain changes that will be needed down the road. 
The U.S. Chamber of Commerce has an interesting piece on business practices rapidly implemented during COVID-19 that are likely here to stay. Contactless commerce, e-commerce and sourcing locally are among the items on the list. Many Des Moines businesses have made and are making transitions to these trends. The good news is that more resources are becoming available to help businesses make these transitions. 
The Iowa Economic Development Authority launched Shop Iowa, a new e-commerce platform that gives retailers a place to showcase their products online. The statewide platform will help businesses, particularly those that didn’t have an online presence, to better compete in today’s online economy.
Pre-pandemic, I never once ordered my groceries online – now I’m not sure I’ll go back to grocery shopping in the stores, at least not on most occasions. These consumer preferences are here to stay, and the more businesses can be flexible in how they do business (both with employees and customers), the more likely they’ll be able to adapt to the continued uncertainty. 


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