And What Entrepreneurs Can Learn
World-changing events can inspire world-changing innovations. The COVID-19 pandemic changed life for entrepreneurs around the globe, just as it spurred a tech renaissance. Now, businesses have even more tools to satisfy their customers and business partners.
The past three years have been a whirlwind, so here’s a guide on the significant changes and innovations that stemmed from the pandemic.
How Did the Pandemic Change the Business Landscape?
First, it’s essential to understand why these innovations occurred.
One of the most significant changes from the pandemic was the meteoric rise of remote work. In early 2020, many companies sent their employees home to do telework and decided to let them stay remote.
This flexibility allows workers to move across the country and keep their jobs. Research shows about 27% of Americans work remotely, a sharp increase from 5.7% in 2018.
The pandemic caused many stores to close temporarily, forcing customers to question where they could buy clothing, kitchen appliances, tech devices and more.
Consumers shifted toward e-commerce because they could easily purchase these goods at home. Research shows the e-commerce market has more than doubled in revenue since 2017, increasing from $1.45 trillion to $3.32 trillion in 2023.
Another factor businesses have dealt with is the supply chain crisis. The pandemic slowed down production in 2020, creating backlogs in manufacturing, construction and numerous other industries.
These disruptions caused businesses to be more vigilant of their supply chain’s visibility and be more cost-effective in their operations.
What Innovations Did the Pandemic Spur?
One of the silver linings of the pandemic was the incredible increase in innovation. Here are six of the most influential changes people have seen in the last few years.
Remote Patient Care
The pandemic overwhelmed hospitals with patients who contracted the virus. Physicians and nurses had difficulties tending to all the COVID patients — especially when they ran out of empty beds for sick people to stay in. What was the solution? Hospitals turned to remote patient care.
Telehealth existed before 2020 but exploded in popularity during the pandemic. With this technology, hospital staff can provide care and track patients while they stay at home, thus lessening the burden on patients inside the facility. Hospitals can use remote patient care after the pandemic to help patients living in rural areas who may have to drive a long way for an in-person visit.
Virtual Collaboration Tools
Remote work depends on employees’ ability to complete the same tasks at home as in the office. Collaboration is essential to the workplace, so how do businesses emulate this feature? Companies have begun to rely on virtual collaboration tools to complete their agendas.
The pandemic spurred growth in software like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and other applications. Zoom doubled its revenue in 2020 between the first two quarters and has remained steady since, showing this trend is here to stay. Businesses use video conferencing for meetings, interviews, happy hours and more. Industry leaders have even used these collaborative tools for virtual conferences, allowing more people worldwide to get involved.
Before the pandemic, masks used to be prevalent only in specific industries, such as construction and health care. As the pandemic has waned, so has wearing masks. However, entrepreneurs can invent iterations of masks for unique occasions. For example, some companies have developed specialty masks, including:
- For eating: Wearing masks prevents disease transmission, but people eventually have to eat. Luckily, there are masks with openings for mealtime. In 2020, an Israeli inventor developed a remote-controlled mask allowing people to eat without taking off their personal protective equipment (PPE).
- For musicians: Playing a wind instrument contributes to COVID transmission by spreading respiratory droplets. However, musicians can mitigate this problem by using special masks for their mouths and covers for their instruments. Instruments can have wide bells, so these masks protect all the musicians in the orchestra.
- Battery-powered: In 2020, LG introduced a mask that purifies the air, allowing people to disinfect everywhere they walk. These masks are ideal for health care professionals and others who want to avoid contracting airborne illnesses.
During the pandemic, businesses wanted to minimize contact between employees and customers to protect everyone from disease transmission. Companies in the food and retail industries pushed contactless delivery and have kept this practice through 2023.
Contactless delivery spurred tremendous growth in food delivery services like DoorDash and Uber Eats. Consumers have demonstrated they enjoy the convenience of these companies even as the pandemic dwindles. Experts predict the food delivery app market will grow 25% annually until 2030. Entrepreneurs should emphasize mobile-friendly applications for their businesses because it’s the way of the future.
Another form of contactless delivery comes through parcel services. Companies like Amazon have developed drones to deliver packages instead of relying on UPS, USPS or FedEx. These delivery drones are not ready for widespread use, but they will soon be a part of daily operations for many companies.
Digitized Restaurant Menus
Delivered food has become commonplace for consumers, but some diners still want the in-person experience. Going to restaurants now looks a lot different due to digitized restaurant menus.
Paper menus are becoming a thing of the past due to quick response (QR) codes. Patrons scan the code with their phones to check in for their reservations, read menus, order food and pay. It may take getting used to this idea, but it’s here to stay. QR codes streamline the dining experience for consumers and ease the burden on waitstaff. Entrepreneurs should heavily consider this method because of its cost-effectiveness.
Another way restaurants have digitized menus is with kiosk ordering systems. Consumers mostly see these systems at fast-food restaurants like McDonald’s and Subway. Cashiers can still take orders at the register while other customers input their orders into the kiosks, reducing congestion and increasing efficiency for all parties. This method is an excellent way for entrepreneurs to help customers customize their unique orders and reduce the irritatingly long lines.
Another important innovation for the restaurant industry is the food truck. These machines have been around since Oscar Meyer’s hot dog truck in the 1930s, but the pandemic spurred a newfound interest in this type of quick-service restaurant (QSR).
With food trucks, consumers can find takeout services on the street corner without having to go inside a restaurant. Plus, the overhead costs for entrepreneurs are much lower than investing money in a traditional restaurant. Business owners can acquire a box truck or trailer to serve cookout-worthy dishes like street corn, burgers and ribs.
Experts predict a 6% annual growth rate for food truck services through 2030, so now is an excellent time to get on board.
The pandemic brought numerous changes to the business world, making it nearly unrecognizable compared to 2019. However, the improvements have pushed companies forward. These six innovations demonstrate how times have changed and what entrepreneurs can learn.