How the pandemic has changed work and consumption for good

Celia Romaniuk
By Celia Romaniuk | 8 April 2022
Celia Romaniuk

Celia Romaniuk, Accenture Interactive’s ANZ Design Lead

The COVID pandemic has forever changed our relationships with work, technology and how we consume, causing businesses to fundamentally redesign how they operate to stay in touch with customers and employees.

More than two years living with a pandemic has led to more people reflecting on their purpose and priorities, and many have re-thought their relationship to work and the workplace itself. The Great Resignation and the growing popularity of "side-hustles" are indicatives of this shifting mindset.

We also see customers considering their impact on the environment at the checkout. Businesses will face significant challenges around responding to their customer's changing attitudes and behaviours, but these can be seen as opportunities to create positive customer relationships, shaping a new way of living and working those benefits everyone: customers, businesses and the planet.

Here are some trends that have been accelerated by the pandemic that businesses need to know about:

Shifting workplace dynamics
The smartphone had already meant fewer boundaries between work and home: but when pandemic lockdowns hit, office workers became participants in a sudden global experiment in remote work. While this has led at times to fewer boundaries between work and home life, it has also meant we have been able to carve out time for ourselves, such as taking time to exercise during the day. Many have developed a stronger sense of agency and will place more value on freedoms, such as defining when and where they work.

This translates into a less regimented and more fluid approach to work. Those who impose traditional ways of working (time-clocks, one-hour-for-lunch etc.) will increasingly struggle to attract and retain talent.

The end of abundance
Empty shelves and broken supply chains have reminded us that abundance isn't a given. Consumers are also increasingly aware of the impact of our actions on the planet's health – and they want brands to help them make good choices. The sustainability movement is growing and becoming more about "doing good" rather than just "doing no harm", moving towards planet-positive and regenerative initiatives.

There is a significant opportunity to use innovation to make not just more, but better: to find new sources of growth and relevance through "circular" value propositions which allow people even more benefits than the old products and services. For example, circular business models in fashion retail are booming as consumers discover that resell and rental can allow them to get great fashion, at reasonable prices, with far less impact on the planet.

The new universe
The term "metaverse" was coined in a 1992 novel, Snow Crash, but came into prominence last October with Mark Zuckerberg's announcement to change the name of Facebook to Meta and pivot to the metaverse. Since then, many companies have announced plans for the metaverse. It is still not clear precisely what the metaverse will end up being. But as the next evolution of the Internet, we believe the metaverse will be a continuum of rapidly emerging capabilities, use cases, technologies and experiences. It will be a spectrum of digitally enhanced worlds, realities and business models that will allow people to shop, work and socialize through digital avatars.

This will be an area of investment, experimentation and excitement in the years to come. Companies can learn a lot from what already works in gaming, where many of the metaverse's attributes already exist: people spend $80 billion on virtual goods in games. And there is an opportunity to ensure that the metaverse is an inclusive and diverse space, which will require that those working on it are part of inclusive and diverse teams.

Take care
The pandemic has shone a light on the devastating impact of two years of lockdowns on our mental health. We're all more aware of the needs not just of our nearest and dearest but colleagues, casual acquaintances and communities. Employers are investing in the health of their employees more than ever before. For example, some companies, such as Accenture, have appointed a Chief Health Officer to put well-being front and centre.

We are also seeing that there will be a new emphasis on accessibility of digital services: 15% of people have some disability, but only 10% of digital services are properly accessible. Accessibility of services to ensure inclusion and access for all is an important part of caring for each other.

The pandemic's impact on how we work, consume and relax will continue to be felt even after the worst effects are over. As people begin to take more agency over their lives in the wake of the pandemic, businesses must pay close attention to the rise of conscious consumerism and its influence on buying decisions.

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