10 COVID-Era Trends That Are Here To Stay

From healthcare to banking, how our lives have changed

Mar 09, 2021
Accounting and Information Assurance
Finance
Logistics, Business and Public Policy
Management and Organization
Marketing
Decision, Operations and Information Technologies

SMITH BRAIN TRUST – The coronavirus pandemic has changed so much about the way we live and work. And some of those changes are here to stay. Maryland Smith experts explore a few of them.

“In the healthcare sector, two technologies, one old and one new, will remain sticky post-COVID: Telemedicine, and Artificial Intelligence (AI). Pandemic restrictions and a growing patient volume necessitated a quick pivot from in-person healthcare visits to ones enabled by telemedicine. Now patients are more comfortable with telemedicine and providers are learning to use it more effectively. This can reduce costs, mitigate inefficiencies, and perhaps make healthcare more accessible for vulnerable and underserved populations. AI, meanwhile, may enable greater leverage of one of healthcare’s scarcest resources: clinical knowledge and expertise, while supporting efficiencies and improving quality and consistency in care delivery.” Ritu Agarwal, senior associate dean, distinguished university professor, Robert H. Smith Dean’s Chair of Information Systems and co-director of the Center for Health Information and Decision Systems (CHIDS).

"Virtual meetings are a trend – or a way of life – that is here to stay. And here's the best news: Students who have been learning online since March 2020 are better prepared than any other graduating class. They navigate online platforms with great fluency, know how to virtually present team and individual contributions, and maintain composure in the face of inevitable technology glitches. This group of students will usher in a new work/life balance paradigm, in which coming home from work is as simple as shutting the door to the home office." Mary Beth Furst, associate clinical professor of marketing.

"Home computers are now handling a significant portion of work-related activities, and that will likely continue long beyond the pandemic. This change creates a cybersecurity challenge for organizations, which must figure out how to maintain the same level of cybersecurity in the new, varied work environment. Meeting this challenge likely means spending more on cybersecurity. Thus, organizations need an economic framework from which to answer the following question: If more spending on cybersecurity activities is required, how much more is appropriate? The Gordon-Loeb Model provides such a framework." Lawrence A. Gordon, EY Alumni Professor of Managerial Accounting and Information Assurance, and creator, with Maryland Smith’s Martin P. Loeb, of the Gordon-Loeb model.

"Increased use of e-bikes and scooters. People flocked to e-bikes and scooters as substitutes for public transportation during the pandemic so that they could socially distance, and the trend might well continue. Often with these services, as with any new technology, getting people started is the hard part. The COVID-era convenience trend might finally bring these services into the mainstream, like Uber and delivery services, making transportation more environmentally sustainable." Ashish Kabra, assistant professor in decision, operations and information technologies.

"A big trend will be more food preparation and dining at home. Limited availability of dining out opportunities during the pandemic forced many people to learn how to prepare food for home consumption. Sales of cooking equipment have increased and substantial learning about how to use these appliances has occurred. This won't be forgotten once COVID-19 is in check – nor will the smaller credit card bills many are receiving, during months with fewer restaurant visits. Once COVID-19 passes, far more dining will take place at home. And who knows? Maybe we won't be afraid to invite people over for dinner rather than meeting to go out." Charles E. Olson, professor of the practice in logistics, business and public policy.

"There's been a major shift to online and mobile banking during the pandemic – and it will stay long after the crisis recedes. Brick-and-mortar branches have been declining in numbers for years, given better security of and ease of access to online and mobile banking apps. Banks have invested heavily in this technology over the years, and it appears to be paying off as these companies look to wring as much cost out of their operations as possible by ditching high-cost branch offices." Clifford Rossi, professor of the practice in finance.

"Artificial intelligence (AI) has been making rapid progress in the business world and society, even prior to the pandemic. The COVID-19 crisis has only strengthened that trend, as companies seek to reduce human contact. Consumers also are seeking to reduce human contact, leading them to prefer doing as much business as possible online. Online business is profitable for companies only if AI can be used to handle the customer interface. That is most feasible today for standardized, routine interactions, but the pandemic provides even more incentive for companies to build AI systems that can handle more complex human interactions. The result of the pandemic will be an acceleration of the implementation of AI for customer contacts." Roland Rust, Distinguished University Professor and the David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business. Also, executive director of the Center for Excellence in Service.

"Business communication was forever changed with the COVID-19 pandemic. In-person meetings around a conference table were flipped overnight to video screen engagement from kitchens and home offices. The ability to privately connect with a colleague as you walk down the hall vanished without warning. While we will eventually get back to in-person conference room meetings, this new way of virtually meeting is here to stay. Video meetings enable a visual communication connection that allows meeting participants to read facial expressions and reactions – things that don’t always convey in phone conversations. Companies have used virtual meetings for groups in the past, but the COVID-19 era has brought virtual meetings to the personal one-on-one meeting level." Christine M. Schaaf, marketing lecturer.

"It’s the final nail in the coffin for the antiquated idea that employees are more productive in-person than remote. Office space in many metro areas has become prohibitively expensive. Even before the pandemic, several large employers in the D.C. region were downsizing offices and telling employees to expect more remote work. This trend will happily also require a shift toward evaluating the quality of employee output, rather than the quantity of hours spent in cubicles. In retrospect, it’s odd that anyone ever thought that the benefit of seeing coworkers’ faces in 3D instead of 2D would justify requiring people to dress in a suit, drive 40 minutes in traffic, pack and reheat their own food, and use public restrooms all day. What’s ‘productive’ about that?" Nick Seybert, associate professor of accounting and information assurance.

"The ‘order online and in-store/curbside pickup’ model, which became prevalent during the pandemic, will continue its prominence long into the future. Retailers have ramped up their e-commerce capabilities in response to surging online demand. The challenge they face is how to deliver the enormous amount of online orders to consumers’ homes, the so-called last mile of e-commerce. Many have turned to offering free in-store/curbside pickup as a way to flatten the shipping curve and shorten the gap between ordering and receiving products. This strategy is especially effective for brick-and-mortar retailers who are looking to scale up e-commerce, because they can utilize existing stores as fulfillment centers. As consumers’ demand for online shopping continues to grow beyond the pandemic, this fulfillment model is also likely to become more popular. Jie Zhang, the Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management and professor of marketing.

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About the Expert(s)

Ritu Agarwal is the senior associate dean at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She is also the Robert H. Smith Dean’s Chair of Information Systems and founding director of the school’s Center for Health Information and Decision Systems (CHIDS). She has published more than 100 papers in top academic journals, testified before government agencies such as the U.S. Department of Health, and collaborated with Fortune 500 companies such as Cisco Systems, Johnson and Johnson and Pfizer. Since arriving at Maryland Smith in 1999, Agarwal has taught at every level and received all of the school’s major teaching awards.

Mary Beth Furst

Mary Beth Furst is an associate clinical professor in marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She teaches foundational marketing classes at the undergraduate and MBA level.

Lawrence A. Gordon

Lawrence A. Gordon is an internationally known scholar in the area of managerial accounting. His work focuses on such issues as performance measures, economic aspects of information security, cost management systems, the interface between managerial accounting and information technology, and capital investments. Gordon is considered to be one of the pioneers in the emerging field of cybersecurity economics.

Ashish Kabra

Ashish Kabra is a faculty in the DOIT. His expertise is in using developing and applying estimation algorithms to study new business models such as bike-share systems (eg: Citibike) and marketplaces (eg: Uber). He has studied topics related to "accessibility" (sufficient reach), availability (service is available when a user needs it), and that of effectiveness of promotions in scaling marketplaces. He has also studied online grocery retail models (eg: Amazon Fresh), specifically its financial and environmental concerns using mathematical economics models.

OlsonCharles

Professor Charles E. Olson is Visiting Associate Professor and Director of the Honors Program at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. From 1986 - 2000 he was president of Zinder Companies, Inc., a public utility consulting firm. Prior to joining Zinder Companies, Inc., Olson was president of Olson & Co., Inc. from 1980 - 1986. Dr. Olson was assistant and then associate professor of business at the University of Maryland from 1968 - 76. His Ph.D. is from the University of Wisconsin - Madison.

Clifford Rossi

Clifford Rossi is an executive-in-residence and professor of the practice at the Robert H. Smith School of Business, University of Maryland. Prior to entering academia, Rossi had nearly 25 years' experience in banking and government, having held senior executive roles in risk management at several of the largest financial services companies. His most recent position was managing director and chief risk officer for Citigroup's Consumer Lending Group where he was responsible for overseeing the risk of a $300+B global portfolio of mortgage, home equity, student loans, and auto loans with 700 employees under his direction. While there he was intimately involved in Citi's TARP and stress test activities. He also served as the chief credit officer at Washington Mutual (WaMu) and as managing director and chief risk officer at Countrywide Bank.

Roland T. Rust is Distinguished University Professor and David Bruce Smith Chair in Marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland, where he is founder and Executive Director of two research centers: the Center for Excellence in Service and the Center for Complexity in Business.

Christine M. Schaaf

Christine Schaaf is a Full-Time Lecturer in Business Communication and Marketing at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She teaches in the newly-formed Dean’s Office Business Communication Initative in the MS, MBA, Executive MBA and Undergraduate Programs. She also teaches Integrated Marketing Communications in the Undergraduate Program. In addition to teaching, Christine is developing the newly-formed Business Communication Initiative for the Smith School. This initiative will focus on preparing Smith students with the business communication skills needed to succeed in today’s business environment. Prior to joining the Smith School, Christine taught for thirteen years as an Adjunct Professor of Marketing at John Hopkins Carey School of Business and Loyola University of Maryland Sellinger School of Business in the MS and MBA Programs.

Nick Seybert

Nick Seybert received his M.S. and Ph.D. from the Johnson Graduate School of Management at Cornell University. He conducts experimental and archival research in financial accounting with a focus on manager personality traits as well as on investors’ and managers’ decision-making biases. His research has been published in leading journals, including the Accounting Review, Journal of Accounting Research, Management Science, Review of Accounting Studies, and Accounting, Organizations and Society. Prior to joining the Smith School, he was a faculty member at the University of Texas at Austin’s McCombs School of Business.

Jie Zhang is a Professor of Marketing and the Harvey Sanders Fellow of Retail Management at the Robert H. Smith School of Business at the University of Maryland. She received her Ph.D. in marketing from the Kellogg School of Management at NorthwesternUniversity. She was a faculty member at the Ross School of Business at the University of Michigan prior to joining the Smith School. Her general research interest is to apply advanced econometric and statistical models to study consumer purchase behaviors and retail strategies.

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