Last week we dove into how businesses evolve. We recognized that, though many changes are gradual, sometimes universal changes in society force us to leap forward in our evolution. We used the examples of air travel after 9/11, and the transition to the automobile, to illustrate these type of changes.

COVID-19 has forced many businesses to leap forward in their evolutions. Eventually, we expect things will be “back to normal” but with this forced evolution upon us, I’ve found some business aspects that we may keep moving forward. Last week in this column we examined three of those concepts: remote workspaces, flexible scheduling, and less meaningless meetings. This week I want to examine several other recent changes that as businesses, and as a society, we may want to consider holding onto.

Telehealth

The meeting software has existed for over a decade but telehealth — meaning meeting with a doctor over a video call on the internet — is exploding in popularity since COVID-19 began. It’s a very interesting transformation as some health care systems have been encouraging these type of virtual check-ins for years, but patients have been reluctant.

Understandably, patients couldn’t imagine they could get the same interaction with their physician without being there in the room with them. What many didn’t consider is that, of course you can’t run tests over the internet (yet), but a big part of visits, and especially check-ups, are conversation-based, and telemedicine is perfect for conversations.

One member business told me, prior to COVID-19, hardly anyone would even consider telehealth, but now their doctors are booking dozens of appointments each week. It makes a lot of sense for a rural state like ours. The commute is gone as patients can meet with their doctors from the privacy of their own homes. Visual observations can be made, using the cameras on the computer while symptoms get discussed. It’s a good system. Telehealth also increases the effectiveness of the health system.

For instance, you may have a minor health issue you wouldn’t be willing to schedule an appointment for but could linger and cause future negative health outcomes. For instance, I twisted my knee exercising, and rather than self-diagnosing I simply made a telehealth appointment with my doctor to discuss my treatment for 10 minutes. He was able to fit me in the same day. That type of efficiency, and the ease of use, makes telemedicine a healthcare tool we will stick with.

Increase in Outdoor Dining

I love seeing people eating on decks, sidewalks, lawns and even parking lots of our local downtowns. Many restaurants weren’t designed for this much outdoor dining before (why would you when you can pack the people into your space), but there’s been a very welcoming atmosphere created with the increased outdoor dining.

Will it all remain? No, of course not, especially with the seasonality of Maine being so limiting, but I could see several restaurants requesting permanent outdoor seating for the late Spring through early Autumn in the years to come. It’s nice to see people gathering and enjoying our spaces- it makes you want to be there too. If you haven’t done so yet, you should try it before snow flies. The restaurants have the protocols in place to keep you safe, and it’s a fun experience.

Less Recreational Screen Time, More Time Outside

Screen time has been a major concern of parents and non-parents alike in recent years. Computers, tablets, televisions, phones — everywhere we turn there is a screen trying to get our attention. Yet Wayfair and L.L. Bean can attest to more people buying items to camp with, or enjoy their backyards with. It seems that we spend so much time on the computer with meetings and interactions that when it comes to free time many people are seeking solace away for screens.

Additionally, with typical tourism destinations being reliant on gathering large crowds, 2020 has become a year to explore the outdoors which is a safe, socially-distanced getaway for many families. Campground camping, and backyard camping are on the rise, as are fire pits, walking trails, bike trails, and more. This outdoor recreation should lead to some healthy fun and hopefully makes some nice memories too.

Caring for the Needs of Others

This last point is two-fold, with the primary meaning being about masking and social distancing. According to a survey of nearly 3,000 Mainers that our chamber administered, on average the majority of people wear masks and value social distancing. This matches with many national surveys, as generally about 28-35% of people oppose them, while upwards of 70% of people are in support of masking and social distancing.

One of the rewarding parts of wearing a mask is not for your own protection, but for the protection of those around you. Many mask wearers understand they could be asymptomatic carriers, and they don’t want to take the chance of infecting other people.

Sit with that for a second. As divided as we may seem during these stressful times, 7 out of 10 people are caring for the health and needs of others by selflessly covering their mouths from spreading a disease they don’t even know if they have. Just the idea that they might have it, is strong enough for them to take the precautions for others. That’s a positive piece I hope we keep for a long time.

The second part of caring for the needs of others is the meaningful conversations I’ve been having with so many. I’ve had over a dozen outdoor catch-up meetings with friends and colleagues, and unlike before, we begin each of them discussing how we are, and to their credit, they’ve been particularly frank. We’ve shared things that undoubtedly would have been held back before COVID-19. It’s led to, more meaningful conversations and a better connection to those friends. That kind of change is one I hope we keep, as well.

Cory King is the executive director of the Southern Midcoast Maine Chamber.

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