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What impacts from the pandemic period do you think are likely to remain for clubs when the peak COVID-19 threat winds down?

It is difficult and potentially premature to predict long term consequences from any crisis when you are in the middle of it, but it does seem likely that a couple of things that came to prominence during the pandemic will stay with us for a long time afterwards and impact our clubs. While both tie to technology; one is an external lifestyle force and the other is internal to clubs. They were underway prior to COVID-19 to some extent, so the pandemic served to accelerate, not create, them. This makes it more it more likely they’ll stick around.

On the lifestyle front, remote work seems as if it is here to stay for many people. There were indications we were moving in that direction, but few companies were willing to take the big leap and close offices and encourage employees to work from home, especially large, well-established businesses with ingrained office cultures. Even major technology companies like Apple and Amazon continued to plan and build major headquarters in recent years, even though they had the most technologically sophisticated employee base of any companies in the world.

The quarantine period made work-from-home a necessity for many companies and to this point, both the employer and employee seem to agree it’s a good option. By most measures, productivity has held up and employees like the flexibility, especially in cities with major commutes like New York, Chicago and San Francisco. This has allowed employees to time shift and it is one of the contributing reasons golf rounds are up year-to-date across the country. Of course, the lack of competing alternatives helped, but it is easy to go hit golf balls or workout at the club in between Zoom meetings. Others found themselves with an extra hour or two per day since they were no longer spending it in the car or on the train. As such, clubs would do well to plan for the long haul and expect new and different use patterns as well as increased demand for remote work facilities in the clubhouse.  

COVID-19 has also spurred clubs to embrace technology. They have been reluctant to do this for reasons of culture and cost, and out of concern for older members who are not as quick to embrace electronic media. Once shelter-in-place policies forced clubs to close, they quickly pivoted to develop a virtual club to maintain connections and offer value to their members even without physical space. Everyone got on board, even the older members.

Clubs will want to maintain and grow this link no matter where they are on the reopening spectrum as it will serve both as protection should a resurgence of COVID-19 bring back shelter-in-place requirements, while also opening up new avenues for services and engagement. This technology presents  a great way to connect with members on a 24/7 basis, giving your club a presence in their lives even when physical distancing occurs, whether due to the virus or a simple lack of time.

As always, these periodic crises—think 9/11 and the Great Recession—have lingering impacts. Both the rapid adoption of remote work by corporations and employees and the increased use of technology to connect with members bode well for clubs. Both seem here to stay, whether COVID-19 ends in 2020 or lingers well into the future.

Frank Vain is president of McMahon Group, a full-service private club consulting firm that has served over 2,000 private clubs around the world. He can be reached at [email protected].