Positive Changes in the Way We Work, Learn, and Live as a Result of COVID 19

The coronavirus created a global health crisis, disrupted economies and stock markets across the world, and has left so much uncertainty about our future. Now, as the world struggles to get back to normal, it is clear that the outbreak will create lasting changes in the way we work, learn and live. This article highlights  many of the positive outcomes that have occurred as a result of COVID 19.

The Way We Work

-Increase in Ability to Work Remotely

With so many employees forced to work from home during this pandemic, it’s given employers plenty of reasons to re-think their work from home policies. Companies are seeing that working from home during this time is actually having a positive effect on productivity. A recent YouGov survey found that 54% of respondents, professionals age 18-74, feel that they are actually more productive. The reasons for this, they said, were less time spent commuting (71%), fewer distractions from coworkers (61%) and fewer meetings (39%).

Many employees are actually happier working from home, at least on a part-time basis. Employees are saying that they don’t want to give up this benefit when it’s time to go back.  It’s going to be difficult to take this away from employees now that they have had the chance to experience working remotely. Employers who don’t adjust to this “new” normal may lose valuable employees. This is indicated by a recent Gallup survey showing that 54% of US workers would leave their current job for one that would allow them a flexible work arrangement. 

Employers should also consider the effect of working remotely on employee engagement. Years of Gallup research shows that when employees are engaged, their performance increases dramatically. Employees who are engaged are more enthusiastic, energetic, positive and healthier! Engaged employees feel better about what they do for a living and where they work. Companies with higher engagement claim 41% lower absenteeism, 40% fewer quality defects and 21% higher profitability. So, what does job flexibility have to do with employee engagement? A lot! Gallup research indicates that remote work flexibility improves engagement. The chart below indicates that the optimal engagement is when 60%-80% of employees’ time is working remotely. In 2012, this was not the case. Optimal engagement occurred when employees spent less than 20% of their time working remotely.                                               

Kate Lister, President of Global Workplace Analytics, sees this pandemic as a “game changer” for remote work  for reasons such as greater competition for talented employees, less reluctance from managers and reduced real estate costs for employers. Her firm estimates that employers can save approximately $11,000 per each employee, who work remotely 50% of the time.  Employers are starting to realize that the money spent on office space can be used in better ways. 

On the forefront of changes in job flexibility policies is Twitter. On Tuesday, May 12, 2020, Twitter gave its employees the choice to return to the office once the pandemic subsides, or work from home forever. 

-Decrease in Business Travel

With the increased use of video meetings to conduct business during this pandemic, companies realize that they can take the same great care of their customers without the need for travel expenses such as hotel, airfare, car rental and expensive meals. Webinars have even become a very effective way to obtain new clients. Video conferencing has allowed companies to have staff meetings and company celebrations with employees all over the world. New employee interviews are also being conducted virtually, without the need for people to travel to one location. For example, Google announced that for the foreseeable future, they will conduct all job interviews virtually, using Google Hangout for the health and safety of their employees and job candidates.

Post-COVID 19, companies will give a lot of thought into how and when they spend money on travel based on what they learned during this time. In May 2020, Business Insider reported that 17 top CEOs say they are likely to be more selective about their business trips, or skip them altogether. 

The Way We Learn

-Education: Increase in on-line Learning

According to UNESCO Institute for Statistics, over 1.3 billion students in 186 countries have had to start learning online. In many instances, it seems to be working, and for good reasons.

Health and safety are definite reasons to support the demand for online learning. Alice Pong, a Pediatric Infectious Disease Physician and the Medical Director for Infection Control at Rady Children’s Hospital in San Diego said hospitals have seen a sharp decline in pediatric admissions for respiratory illnesses. She states that the decline is due to kids not being in daycare or school.

With regard to college, the cost is soaring. It is getting increasingly more difficult to afford the cost of a four-year degree, particularly middle-class students who don’t qualify for financial aid. Many believe that online courses will increase dramatically and be used in conjunction with in-person learning as a way to decrease college expenses. 

While online education at any age group is highly controversial, there is research that shows that on average students retain 25-60% more information when learning online compared to only 8-10% in a classroom. A lot of this is due to students being able to learn faster online since it requires 40-60% less time to learn than a traditional classroom setting. Students can learn at their own pace. They can also go back and re-read or skip information they  already know. The results vary between age groups though. Younger children still learn more effectively in a structured setting. 

While school will start again, it’s clear that more classes will be offered online long after the pandemic is over. 

-Increase in Personal Development Courses

From the start of our stay at home restrictions, there has been a significant increase in the number of people signing up for online personal development courses. Within the first month,  a company called Coursera had eight times as many enrollments for online courses in social science, personal development and arts and humanities. In March, Coursera’s Chief Product Officer said that the course from Yale called, The Science of Wellbeing, had +500,000 new enrollments in a single weekend.

Many of these courses are taught by Professors from top universities. But there are other companies, such as Masterclass, who offer a wide range of personal development courses taught by famous chefs, musicians, actors, authors just to name a few. They offer over 80 classes such as photography, cooking and building music beats. For job seekers and people wanting to improve their career skills, there are courses that offer certifications. For example, there are over 30 companies who accept Google’s course on IT Management.             

Once people experience the benefit of taking online personal development courses, demand will continue to grow. In his book, Time and How to Spend It, James Wallman says, “personal growth is central to many psychological theories of long-term happiness. So, although an hour listening to a lecture may not be as enticing as the instant gratification of reality TV or social media, it will lead to greater life-satisfaction in the long term. You could say that humans are like bicycles: if you’re not heading towards something, you fall over”. 

Just as the post SARS created an increase in e-commerce, COVID 19 will very likely be responsible for the rise in online learning.  

The Way We Live

– The Way We Travel Will Change

Travel is very likely to change as a result of the pandemic as well. By April 2020, the on-going Harris Poll COVID 19 Tracker shows that Americans are afraid to travel too far from home and of being in confined spaces. The Poll says that only 33% of Americans will stay in a hotel and only 28% will be ready to fly within three months of the curve flattening. 

Lisa Burns, Executive Director of the Finger Lakes Regional Tourism Council, is seeing a larger emphasis on outdoor destinations that include camping, trails and water activities. Travel that involves social distancing will be a common theme.

There will also be an increase of people virtually visiting destinations all over the world. GoUSA TV is one online service that has seen a significant rise in viewers.

– The Way We Socialize Will Change

While we are still in the trenches of COVID 19, it’s hard to see the positive side of things, but people are coming together from near and far. And, they are connecting with friends and family more than ever before with the help of apps like Zoom and Google’s House Party. Families and friends who were not able to see each other very often due to age, illness, distance or simply busy lives, are now gathering virtually. While these apps have been around for a while, many people are just now learning how to do this.                           

In an article called “In a Time of Coronavirus, This is How We Party”, the author Emma Gray, had a date with her boyfriend on FaceTime on a Friday night and attended a debate watch party with a group of friends on Zoom on Sunday. I celebrated my 23rd birthday with many of my friends via Zoom, and I have attended a couple others as well. As my friends head off to live in different parts of the country, we will stay close because we are already using Zoom to hang out on a regular basis. My parents say they would not have lost touch with so many good friends from college if they had apps like Zoom.

-The Way We Take Care of Our Health Will Change

After COVID 19, most people feel that this will not be the last pandemic we will ever see. Therefore, countries are coming together and working hard to develop vaccines and figuring out ways to strengthen our health care systems.

On an individual basis, there will be an increased emphasis on personal sanitization, such as washing hands, keeping our homes, cars and offices sanitized. We know the virus did not go away, and even when we have a vaccine, we will live in fear of the next virus or outbreak.

We know that people most susceptible to the virus were those whose health was compromised.  Many will see a greater need to take care of their health now. We will eat better and exercise more knowing that pandemics may be more common in the future.

Telehealth has increased since the coronavirus pandemic. And, it all started in March 2020, when the Trump administration announced what it called “unprecedented steps”  to expand Americans’ access to telehealth during the COVID-19 outbreak. 

There are many terms to describe telehealth such as telemedicine, tele-therapy and ehealth. The chart below, provided by  The Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality , shows the scope of telehealth terminology. 


The changes were meant to allow people to have appointments with doctors and therapists remotely and take certain tests in order to avoid the spread of the coronavirus. In March, Teledoc, a telehealth company, provided over 100,000 virtual doctor visits to patients in just one week. 

Pre-COVID, telehealth has been used to reach people in remote places. Will it now be a viable option for all of us in the future? Well, some experts believe that it will. The biggest reason that it has not been widely used prior to COVID 19, was because most insurance companies would not pay for it. There is too much support in favor of telehealth in certain circumstances now, so insurance companies will have to back down.

Extensive studies funded by the Agency for Healthcare Research and Quality (AHRC) show the following:

Telehealth is beneficial for specific uses and patient populations. There is a large volume of research indicating telehealth is as good as or better than usual care in certain circumstances.

The evidence of benefit was concentrated in specific uses. Specifically, they found that research supports the use of telehealth for:

    • Remote, home monitoring for patients with chronic conditions, such as chronic obstructive pulmonary disease and congestive heart failure
    • Communicating and counseling patients with chronic conditions 
    • Providing psychotherapy as part of behavioral health

It was once seen negatively by the medical community, but now many doctors are supporting it and have invested in HIPPA compliant software to continue to see patients virtually.  With telehealth as an option, it will help doctors and therapists keep patients out of waiting rooms with other patients while also increasing the safety of themselves.

– The Way We Experience Entertainment and Sports

Entertainment and sports are two of the most harshly affected businesses from the pandemic. Every day, people question the fate of movie theaters, concerts, and sports. Currently, the production of many popular TV shows has been put on hold. But even worse, will we ever go to concerts again? Will I be able to attend a Griz game next year with my friends? What about the year after, or the year after that, or ever again? I worry about the answers to these questions as music and sports are my passion.

And this is how this whole article got started…. I was going to write about the fate of these two industries after the pandemic. Then, my mom wouldn’t stop  sending me Facebook videos of Jimmy Fallon and his crew singing various songs. I thought they were semi-corny, but uplifting to see him singing with big names. At that moment, I realized that there is enough fear and negativity in the world at the moment. I want to talk about all of the positive stuff that is occurring from this horrible pandemic.

Let’s start with virtual concerts. The list is endless. Musicians are raising money for good causes. People who could never afford to go, are getting to see their favorite bands playing up close and live. It’s just virtual.

Chris Martin of Coldplay appears to have been one of the first to start the trend when he played a concert from his home on March 16th.

It’s powerful. These concerts are helping us to stay positive.  They remind us that we are all in this together.  They remind us that we feel better when we are doing good for others.

Also, sports are slowly starting to come back. There have been many talks in leagues such as the NBA, NHL, and MLB, to make plans to bring back live entertainment from these organizations. Some leagues are already back on television, which is a great start. The only difference is there are no fans. European soccer has started, and the sport I have been getting much entertainment from is UFC, owned by Dana White who has done an awesome job bringing his organization back to the world.

 In a CBS interview, Fed Chair Jerome Powell said, “Assuming there’s not a second wave of the coronavirus, I think you’ll see the economy recover steadily through the second half of this year. So, for the economy to fully recover people will have to be fully confident. And that may have to await the arrival of a vaccine.” 

We can already see signs that we will, indeed, get back to normal. And, we know that “normal” will be different in many ways. This pandemic will change the way we work, learn and live. While some of these things are hard to think about, there are a lot of positive changes that have occurred as a result of this pandemic. These are the things we have to remember to tell the next generations.

Article written by: Ben Hastings







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