If there is one lesson from the pandemic of 2020, it may be this: We are biological beings in a digital age.

No matter how much technology we have, we’ve discovered we cannot escape nature’s grip. And yet, no matter how humbling this crisis has been, it also should remind us that even a massive jolt to the planet cannot change the trajectory of the fourth industrial revolution. If anything, we’re emerging from this crisis with an even greater desire to harness smart technologies, new forms of intelligence, and vast pools of data to transform pretty much everything we do. COVID did not crush the future. It merely brought it forward.

In the short term, the economic recovery won’t be as fast as the consumer and social changes that are hitting every business and community. The scar tissue will take time to heal. We expect the Canadian economy, as measured by GDP, to decline 5.5% for 2020, as international trade limps along, unemployment lingers in the double-digits and consumers stay home, literally and figuratively. Even as provinces allow for businesses, community groups and eventually schools to reopen, a quiet nervousness will give the economy a collective pause, and people everywhere will focus anew on income security and health security.

This new age of insecurity will do more than pervade the Canadian psyche. We estimate that even with a modest recovery, which won’t fully get going until 2022, the combined loss of economic output for Canada may exceed $1 trillion. The setback is already holding back investors and entrepreneurs, and may also give government leaders pause as they allocate unprecedented sums to kick-start an economy that may be reluctant to rev. Our regular tracking of small- and medium-sized business owners shows caution across the board: three-quarters have partially or fully closed, and a third have laid off staff. More worrisome, a quarter are not very confident they’ll make it. And while one in five Canadians feel they’re “sinking” economically, small business owners are twice as likely to hold that sentiment.

Who will be first back in the water is always a tough question, but that’s when the pearls of opportunity are most plentiful. Yes, the novel coronavirus of 2019 has unleashed a massive global recession – but it’s also unleashing waves of innovation as we all change the way we work, shop, eat and travel. And companies, old and new, that are watching this sudden sea change in human behaviour are starting to grow like never before. In this report, we look at eight major trends underway in the world, and pinpoint the possibilities for savvy business operators, investors and innovators. We all know how much our lives have changed, and how we’re not likely to go back to our old ways. We’ll be more cautious but we also may be more creative. As history likes to remind us, with unprecedented times come unprecedented opportunities.

1. How we work

  • Nearly 5 million more Canadians (~40% of work force) are working from home. WFH-ers are likely to be highly educated and concentrated in Finance, Real Estate, Professional Services, Management, Wholesale and IT.
  • 75% of Canadians would prefer to work from home a little or a lot more often once restrictions ease.
  • 37% of U.S. jobs could be done from home. Pre-pandemic, only 4% of Americans worked from home.
  • 57% are unwilling to go to a business conference until there’s a vaccine.

2. How we shop

  • Distributed technology and security will be competitive advantages. Remote work will be highly tech-dependent requiring mobile collaboration and virtual conferencing tools.
  • Employers will need to develop new ways to manage distributed workforces, including for employees who don’t have tools, space or comfort to work actively from home.
  • Employers and office landlords will need to invest heavily in workplace PPE and office reconfigurations.

+ Up

  • Technologies for remote collaboration. Video conferencing, digital white-boarding, communications/chat platforms.
  • Home/office technologies. Smart speakers, coffee makers, fitness equipment.
  • Flex and neighbourhood service providers. Day care, cleaning, coffee delivery.

– Down

  • Conferences
  • Co-working spaces
  • Office equipment providers. Photocopier rentals, paper.

1. How we work

  • Nearly 5 million more Canadians (~40% of work force) are working from home. WFH-ers are likely to be highly educated and concentrated in Finance, Real Estate, Professional Services, Management, Wholesale and IT.
  • 75% of Canadians would prefer to work from home a little or a lot more often once restrictions ease.
  • 37% of U.S. jobs could be done from home. Pre-pandemic, only 4% of Americans worked from home.
  • 57% are unwilling to go to a business conference until there’s a vaccine.

2. How we shop

  • Distributed technology and security will be competitive advantages. Remote work will be highly tech-dependent requiring mobile collaboration and virtual conferencing tools.
  • Employers will need to develop new ways to manage distributed workforces, including for employees who don’t have tools, space or comfort to work actively from home.
  • Employers and office landlords will need to invest heavily in workplace PPE and office reconfigurations.

+ Up

  • Technologies for remote collaboration. Video conferencing, digital white-boarding, communications/chat platforms.
  • Home/office technologies. Smart speakers, coffee makers, fitness equipment.
  • Flex and neighbourhood service providers. Day care, cleaning, coffee delivery.

– Down

  • Conferences
  • Co-working spaces
  • Office equipment providers. Photocopier rentals, paper.

John Stackhouse is a nationally bestselling author and one of Canada’s leading voices on innovation and economic disruption. He is senior vice-president in the office of the CEO at Royal Bank of Canada, leading the organization’s research and thought leadership on economic, technological and social change. Previously, he was editor-in-chief of the Globe and Mail and editor of Report on Business. He is a senior fellow at the C.D. Howe Institute and the Munk School of Global Affairs and Public Policy. His latest book is Planet Canada: How Our Expats Are Shaping the Future, which explores the untapped resource of the millions of Canadians who don’t live here but exert their influence from afar.

This article is intended as general information only and is not to be relied upon as constituting legal, financial or other professional advice. A professional advisor should be consulted regarding your specific situation. Information presented is believed to be factual and up-to-date but we do not guarantee its accuracy and it should not be regarded as a complete analysis of the subjects discussed. All expressions of opinion reflect the judgment of the authors as of the date of publication and are subject to change. No endorsement of any third parties or their advice, opinions, information, products or services is expressly given or implied by Royal Bank of Canada or any of its affiliates.