The View from the Crow’s Nest

I recently attended my first, large public event in 14 months. It seemed strange at first but it was largely outdoors—a car show in Florida. People were mingling and laughing. Sometimes within six feet of each other. Without masks. Whoa, weird. But also, wonderful. I want more. We all do.

But is it time to pop the champagne and celebrate the end of COVID? And, like the Roaring Twenties of a century ago, which came on the heels of the Spanish Flu and WW1, are the 2020s poised to be a time of dramatic economic prosperity, cultural innovation and technological advancement?

We’ll see, but I sure hope so. The signs are all there – pent-up consumer demand and an economy poised to roar once again. As a business person, my plan as we move into the recovery is to be up there in the crow’s nest scanning the horizon for trends, opportunities and perils ahead. A few things I see coming into focus at the moment:

Distributed services everywhere. Whether it is in home workouts, meal deliveries, remote education, telehealth or Netflix, the biggest winners of this new era will not require people to gather to do business. Smart companies will be developing plans for this and adapting to the new reality. I know we are!

Less business travel, more personal travel and experiences. I used to travel about 120 days a year for business. Post-pandemic, I doubt I’ll do that again. This past year has helped me realize that I can be more effective when I am rested and able to think clearly. Zoom works for a lot of things I used to travel for. But on the personal side, all indications are that people want to go do some fun travel, hear some live music or go to a car show. Whether it be a warm weather vacation, a ski trip or camping with the family, we should expect a leisure travel boom. Pack your fun bags!

More working from home. The polls are abundantly clear: Many people like it, and employers know it. A recent McKinsey poll found that 90 percent of employers see some combination of remote and on-site work, but most (68 percent) “have no detailed plan for how it will work.” For Hagerty, the hybrid approach will put a premium on gathering for the purposes of connecting and building team culture. We will de-emphasize working silently in your office down the hall. The best part of it…no pants required!

Stakeholder capitalism takes center stage. As the economy heats up, the most scalable businesses will have more than profits and shareholders in mind. Stakeholder capitalism is not just about being more “woke” or fending off scrutiny. It is about building social capital along with your business capital. In a world where the next generation of employees have lots of options and your business reputation is laid bare on Yelp or Glassdoor, this is no joke. But do not despair. It’s never about being perfect. It’s about making the right, visible steps.

Clear and motivating communication is key. As a macro-theme, for the past several years, decreased participation in civic service and religious organizations has resulted in people increasingly looking to the workplace as a source of guidance and information and to executives for larger context and meaning. COVID has turbocharged this. Working from home and increased competition for talent will put a premium on senior leaders becoming “communicators-in-chief.” Smart leaders will embrace the role, not as a way of telling people what to think or how to behave (no one likes that.) But everyone likes a trusted and wise perspective. You must have something to say. And, ideally, you should try to cheer people up with personal stories.

Compassion is still needed. But let me bring this back to today. Summer is here. The economy is strong. We are meeting with each other again. But COVID and its long-lasting effects are not gone. For many of us, people we knew have died or have been otherwise greatly affected by the pandemic. For many months, you will still find people who are mourning their losses or digging out of financial holes. You will find people who are too nervous to go out in public for a while. If you are a confident leader, be a compassionate leader. Our job is to show some sympathy and kindness whenever we can.

That’s my view of the crow’s nest. I hope it helps you bring the future into perspective.

Onward and upward.

McKeel Hagerty is CEO of The Hagerty Group.