I just read a fascinating column by Rob Duncan, chief operating officer at TMCnet.com, in which he explores the phenomenon of what BusinessWeek calls “The New Normal.” Specifically, this refers to how the “Great Recession” has irreversibly altered the country’s business and economic environment.
Taken to a much more basic level, I think of it as simply adapting to a new way of doing things when outside influences necessitate a change. Eventually that change takes hold as perfectly normal. We do these things everyday, and eventually don’t even think about why or when we started. Taking off our shoes on an airport security line or squeezing as much as we can into one carry-on bag are now part of everyday life. So is working from home.
Although Duncan is writing for a different audience than we are (TMCnet.com is aimed at operators of call centers and CRMs), many of his facts bear repeating for you. You are, after all, pioneers in “New Normal”-type situations—many of you became home-based travel agents after Sept.11, 2001, when the bottom dropped out of the travel business, or perhaps a few years before that when the carriers dropped their commission structure. Obviously the subsequent growth of the Internet sent another wave of travel agents into home offices as well—some lost their jobs because of competition from Expedia, Orbitz, et al., and others who saw the opportunity being created to give them the ability to work from wherever they wanted.
Forrester Research estimates that the number of people working from their homes will increase to 11.7 million workers in the next five years as Americans trade in long commutes, high gas prices and the stress of office politics for the cost savings and improved work-life balance that legitimate work-at-home opportunities provide. We can expect that at least some of these workers are or want to be travel agents. This will increase competition, but also add strength in numbers to what is still regarded as a fledgling business model. (At the same time we can also expect a mini-boom in less than reputable “travel agent schools” and card mills waiting to exploit them with promises of free travel and high commissions.)
With 14.5 million Americans unemployed, we are seeing incredible changes in industries across the board. Now we all have to adapt.