The Journal The Authority on Global Business in Japan

In addition to representing the American Chamber of Commerce in Japan (ACCJ) as president, I also run Google Japan G.K. Words—and their ability to link and unlock content and ideas—are at the core of our business.

So, alongside the personal and business challenges we are all facing, the words and language that have defined Covid-19 have played an outsized role in my crisis experience. For a technology executive who spent his formative years studying English literature instead of engineering, this has been a not-unwelcome diversion.

Terms such as teleworking, lockdown, and self-isolation have taken on new meaning and relevance. And social distancing seems to have emerged from nowhere to become central to our personal and professional lives.

But what has most captured my imagination is the idea of a “new normal.” Almost since the crisis began, we’ve been hearing about this new normal—an umbrella term covering social distancing, teleworking, and any other aspect of navigating daily life in a time of pandemic. The term itself is meant to represent the idea that we may never completely return to our pre-crisis lifestyles, and that we may need to reset our idea of what constitutes the ordinary.

WHAT’S IN A NAME?
Normal comes from the Latin word norma (carpenter’s square). It came to mean something standard, and later something expected. So, when we talk about a new normal, we’re really talking about new expectations. And when you shift your thinking from new normal to new expectations, that’s where it gets really interesting for me.

Here is my new normal:

After proving that teams—and, in fact, entire businesses—can function at a distance, I expect workstyle reform and workforce productivity programs to take on a new sense of urgency.

After realizing, in very pointed ways, that traditional business processes aren’t simply inefficient but can actually put staff in harm’s way, I expect we’ll see digital placed at the center of business design in a way never seen in Japan.

After experiencing—courtesy of teleworking—the challenges of juggling a household and a career, I expect a generation of salarymen may approach issues of gender equality with greater sensitivity and understanding.

After seeing the world’s healthcare systems overwhelmed by coronavirus patients, I expect governments and the private sector will seek a new way forward in medicine and public policy. Imagine what a pandemic could look like if the entire population had access to telemedicine instead of being forced to overcrowd hospitals. Imagine if our policies and actions could be shaped not by selective testing but by taking the nation’s temperature in real time?

After being confined behind borders, masks, and ultimately the doors of our own homes, I expect we’ll break with old patterns and seek to establish new ones.

For businesses, the fragility of supply chains has been laid bare, and the reliability and utility of partners has been tested. The Covid-19 crisis has exposed both risk and opportunity in the interconnectedness of our business communities and I expect we’ll see new collaborations and shared innovations that break the silos of industry sectors. And, I expect, despite the tactical moves to isolate nations, we’ll continue to make progress on the regulatory and trade front toward level playing fields that support global collaboration.

Finally, having been kept from in-person meetings for too long, I expect to temper a technology executive’s faith in all things digital with a renewed appreciation for the value of real human interaction. For a while, at least, the lament “this meeting could have been a memo” will feel more like appreciation for not missing an opportunity to connect.

That’s my new normal. What’s yours?

Peter Fitzgerald is
ACCJ President.
When you shift your thinking from new normal to new expectations, that’s where it gets really interesting.