While questions remain about when life in general will return to normal after nearly a year of pandemic, some of the more pressing questions surround the sustainability of businesses if they continue to operate in a virtual vacuum.
Certainly, for the time being, both small and large businesses in Huntsville are adjusting well to the circumstances. Telework and working from home, Zoom conferences and virtual events have made their way into the mainstream, and everyday life from online learning to groundbreakings, tradeshows, and award ceremonies are relying on virtual technology to carry them through.
While some people, particularly in the educational field, are reporting “Zoom fatigue”, others are already seeing it as an opportunity to get creative, scale back office space, and streamline procedures and operations well into the future if not permanently.
But how sustainable is it really?
Air travel at Huntsville International Airport is ordinarily 70 percent business and 30 percent leisure. Currently combined, HSV is operating at about 30 percent of what it was this time in 2019.
According to Jana Kuner, airport public relations and customer service manager, air travel is slowly improving, but business travel will be the real indicator for how long it will take to get back to normal, and when it does – assuming it will eventually, just how much will business have changed?
“Do people prefer Zoom to in-person meetings and are the savings in travel costs justifiable when compared to face-to-face meetings to ‘close a deal’ or meeting new people to build relationships?” she asks. “These are questions businesses everywhere are asking and the airport is interested in their perspective.”
Bevilacqua Research Corp. CEO Larry Burger said employees are losing, and missing, the personal connection with people.
“Those little conversations you have waiting for a meeting to start, or at the end of the meeting when you extend the conversation beyond the meeting,” he said. “You lose that sense of belonging, that feel of family in an organization when you haven’t seen someone in a month or so who works within your company.
“I think there are a lot of general update meetings for established customers that may continue to be virtual after everything returns to normal,” said Robert Conger, senior vice president of Technology and Strategy at Adtran. “However, when it comes to competing for new business and establishing key relationships, companies will still want to be in-person once they are able to safely do so.
“I do think web meetings and remote work will continue to play a much larger role in business than they did prior to this year, but each company will have to make their own decisions about when they may return to normal based on the type of work and roles within each company.”
For example, Conger said it will depend on the type of work a company is doing, the individual roles within those companies, and the experience level of the employees as to how effective remote working will be in the long run.
“For a lot of jobs like software development, remote work is fairly efficient and effective as long as the employees have a good environment at home to limit distractions. However, for employees that are new to a company or are earlier in their careers, there is a lot of value in those face-to-face work environments where you can collaborate more frequently and easily.”