2020 has been a difficult year... to put it mildly. Some were affected by COVID-19 directly, others indirectly such as for example business owners who were forced to close up shop indefinitely. From health effects (including mental health) to economic effects, it is difficult to think of an entity not taken by surprise by 2020 in one way or another.
However, it would be a mistake to limit ourselves to a doom and gloom perspective on 2020, as warranted as it may be on the surface. If we take one step back, especially since most of those who are reading this article are engaging in online activities and have done so for quite a while (well before the pandemic, in other words), there is a silver lining for people like us: the fact that existing trends pertaining to anything related to the online dimension of business have been exacerbated.
Not Being on Board Is Not an Option
As Michael Saylor put it in his now-famous DomainSherpa interview, CEOs understand more so than ever that their online presence needs to be taken to the next level. The same way, CMOs understand that generating sales online is the future and the list could go on and on. Some of these individuals were already on board, others were forced to step it up by the pandemic but regardless, it is difficult to envision anything about what has happened in 2020 as not being ultra-bullish for all things internet-related.
Businesses that facilitate online interactions such as Zoom have skyrocketed, with their share prices literally soaring. The same way but on a smaller scale, businesses which weren't necessarily designed so as to benefit from such situations but that simply had a robust online presence to begin with have most likely not only survived but thrived. Companies that had been less aggressive on the internet front were forced to take things to the next level, whereas those which were never all that keen on the online world were oftentimes faced with a brutally simple decision: adapt (in terms of embracing the internet) or go bankrupt.
What Will Change After the Pandemic Is Over?
As distant as a future involving the pandemic being one hundred percent over may seem, we will eventually get there in one way or another. The COVID-19 public health situation isn't the first of its kind, nor is it likely to be the last. With that in mind, it is worth pointing out that some observers believe pandemic-facilitated trends will only be temporary. That yes, our lives have been altered in a significant manner short-term speaking but that let's say two years from now, it will seem like nothing more than a bad dream, with everyone returning to business as usual.
While people's tendency to sometimes desperately cling to normality or in our case a return to normality is understandable, seeing things in such a "black or white" manner is short-sighted at best. Of course the public health situation will eventually be over. Of course restaurants will eventually re-open and more people will travel. When it comes to certain industries, yes, the end of the pandemic will facilitate a "back to business" environment.
But what about companies that allowed their employees to work remotely and were pleased with the productivity increase they have noticed?
Or the fact that they were able to run their businesses just dine outside their physical offices... so why bother continuing to pay sometimes-exorbitant rent?
The same way, what about employees who enjoyed working from home and choose to make it a permanent endeavor, either with the current employer if that entity is also on board or with a different employer if not? After all, someone who had to deal with for example a two-hour commute might feel as if he or she was given the gift of time by avoiding it.
The main argument here is that there is no "one size fits all" answer and while some industries will return to their pre-pandemic status quo for better or worse, others will embrace many of the changes which were forced upon them by the pandemic. In aggregate, the effects will be more than impressive enough in terms of economic impact and business climate for it to be relatively safe to state that yes, the world will undoubtedly change after this pandemic.
Was This Change Unavoidable?
One of the top mistakes made by those who have analyzed the COVID-19 pandemic and its long-term consequences is represented by the fact that they give too much weight to this public health issue with respect to bringing about trend changes. In many cases, it's as if they believe that in the absence of COVID-19, the changes in question would have never materialized. Or to put it differently, that the world had been merrily walking down Path A prior to the pandemic and that due to the pandemic exclusively, it is walking down Path B.
But what if Path A = Path B?
In the opinion of this author at least, that is precisely the case. The only difference between the pre-pandemic world and the post-pandemic one is represented by the fact that it is walking down the path in question (call it Path A, Path B or anything else) much faster and therein lies the nuance we need to understand in terms of the impact on existing trends COVID-19 had.
Did COVID-19 alter existing trends?
In some cases yes but in far more, it most certainly did not: it simply sped things up when it came to the trends which were already in motion. For example, how many companies weren't at least flirting with the idea of embracing work from home options well before the pandemic hit, for reasons which range from cutting costs to enhancing productivity? The same way, how many companies weren't at least flirting with strategies that revolved around stepping up their online game, for reasons which range from a keen interest in this direction to being essentially forced by competitors to adapt?
Many observers mistakenly believe the internet "got lucky" and that the companies which let's say facilitate the transition of primarily offline businesses to the online world wouldn't have thrived under scenarios other than our COVID-19 one. That is quite a misguided statement to make and while it is true that such companies are doing well in a COVID-19 world, it would be a huge mistake to assume they would have performed poorly had the pandemic not hit.
Is it true that the COVID-19 situation enabled these businesses to do better than for example in 2019?
But make no mistake: pandemic or not, the internet is the future and companies that in one way or another contribute to this tectonic shift (from offline to online) were in no way poorly positioned prior to the pandemic. There is a world of difference between receiving a boost after an exogenous shock such as the onset of a pandemic and being "saved" by the exogenous shoch in question, with those who refuse to understand the difference in terms of nuance usually being precisely the ones who miss out on one mega-trend after another due to calling it nothing more than a fad and looking the other way.
What Does the Future Have in Store for the Internet?
While there are many charlatans out there who claim they are able to accurately predict the future, the truth is that when it comes to specifics, nobody has a clue as to what will happen. Instead of aiming for the unattainable (a working crystal ball), why not simply embrace this uncertainty and act accordingly?
Realistically speaking, even if nothing is set in stone, it tends to be quite difficult to envision scenarios which would revolve around taking steps back in terms of the internet and how influential it is. While I could think of such scenarios if someone were to hold a gun to my head (for example, a potential fragmentation of the internet and everything that encompasses, with I believe the Castello brothers being the most vocal domain investors when it comes to warning about this threat), let's just say that the path of least resistance involves moving forward: a greater and greater number of businesses that embrace their online presence, the internet providing more and more answers to our needs as well as problems and the list could go on and on.
It is downright impossible (for me, at least) to think about anything that tops the internet in terms of both wind in its sails and future potential. Therefore, a valid case can be made that those reading this article are at the right place at the right time. Due to reasons pertaining to COVID-19 or something completely different, more and more decision-makers end up being on the same page internet-wise, so to say that things are looking beyond bullish long-term speaking would be the understatement of the (21st) century. While short-term challenges most likely lie ahead (the March liquidity crunch, for example), few people believe that the future does NOT belong to the internet in 2020 and beyond.