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Shifting to the New Normal: Changing Perspectives and Behaviors

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What have we been doing these past two and a half months in restricted living? How is quarantine life changing us? How ready are we to go out there again?

Having more free time than usual is certainly getting us doing more thinking and asking, yes, than usual. When done with WFH duties, in between Skype, Viber or Zoom meetings, after exercising, meditating, reading, gardening, writing, binge watching and all the other new hobbies we’ve developed, we find our thoughts moving to all sorts of directions and raising questions, mainly about what life would be after quarantine. These random thoughts attack with more intensity on weekends and all chores are done and we just sit in front of the TV or computer counting the hours away.

Riding the roller coaster of thoughts and emotions while stuck at home, we’ve certainly realized the advantages and disadvantages of this temporary quarantine life. Even as we get bored or feel anxious about our health and finances, we have more time for ourselves and with family. We are able to catch up on things and activities we have put on the backburner for so long. We can think more about our plans for the future: Students can think about what they really want to do. Young professionals can reflect on where they want to take their career and how. Businesses and organizations can assess their strengths and weaknesses and start working on whatever necessary changes they need to secure long-term viability.

But then our thoughts turn again to when returning to normal would be, if at all. When all this is over, how different would post-lockdown life be?

First off, what is normal really? Normal is relative, isn’t it? Although there is a general, albeit loose, notion of normal, the idea of normal differs from one individual to the next and the state of things is challenged every day. A sickness at home, a reshuffle in the office, a friend relocating elsewhere, even coding window hours changing can disrupt one person’s “normal.” But since we are designed to evolve, we adjust to all the little and big changes in our daily lives, the same way we are coping with the changes this pandemic brings. Which leads us back to the earlier question: What would post-quarantine normal be like?  

Alcohol, hand sanitizers and wipes, disinfectants, face masks will be part of that, with health and wellness being top of everyone’s list. Commuting, traveling and even religious gatherings will take new forms. People will be mindful of huge crowds: No movies, parties, concerts and sports events. Forget about catching up with friends in coffee shops or dining out with family. Grocery shopping and going to the market have already changed these past months; so will malling differ. Filipinos will still go to the malls as seen when people flocked to malls when Metro Manila shifted to modified ECQ – and this will help the economy recover – but malling will now be a different experience. For even more people, in fact, shopping no longer requires going out. The online option gained more popularity during quarantine and this will likely continue, pushing e-commerce further along in the process.

Indeed, more of our daily activities will be done in the online world, including the education of our children. This surely widens the already big digital gap, but hopefully it will urge the government to actually do something about improving the country’s digital infrastructure.

As for consumer behavior, already this has changed significantly. Buyers’ purchase decisions and consumption will be influenced by reduced incomes caused by work suspensions, pay cuts or layoffs. As during the quarantine, consumers will prioritize needs over wants. This means continued strong sales for basic necessities such as food and supplies and weaker demand for gadgets, appliances and luxury items.

In the workplace, when workers return to their jobs, they would find a world different from what they left months before. Good bye to common workspaces and group lunches and hello to work stations with plastic dividers and quiet lunches alone on one’s desk. Better hygiene practices and fewer or no face-to-face meetings would be the rule of the day, especially with more employees now used to having online meetings. Those who can’t avoid personal meetings will certainly think twice about handshakes. Business travel will be put on hold not only to cut costs but also to avoid health risks.    

Employees who have had the time to reflect on their career will revisit these career thoughts once they return to work. As people gauge the performance of political leaders this time of crisis, many employees will consider how their company leaders acted in evaluating their long-term prospects in the company. Many previous surveys have revealed employees — and consumers alike — rely on brands or their companies more for updates on social developments and issues than the government. Edelman’s recent Trust Barometer Special Report on the role brands play during this pandemic indicates the huge trust consumers place on brands, which they see as playing a critical role in addressing the global problem. Indeed, brands’ reaction and efforts during this time could impact consumer loyalty for the long term.

Companies looking to gain consumer trust must show reliability and adaptability. Businesses and organizations able to adjust and respond quickly show they can be relied upon by their employees and the public. Many companies are being honest enough to admit they too are facing some challenges and need to make adjustments. But this adjusting to public needs requires studying and listening to consumers. Many brands made changes to their operations to meet consumers’ needs during this quarantine period. Banks and utility companies extended payment periods. Restaurants and groceries previously without online order option, much more delivery, started offering both services. Fast food companies sold ready-to-cook items and liquor brands turned to producing disinfectant alcohol. Even some international luxury brands switched production focus to face masks and PPEs.

Empathy is another thing consumers will expect from brands they can trust. That is, brands that make sound business decisions but empathize with the public. These brands resonate with consumers, and Filipino consumers remember brands that show genuine concern in times of need.

Conscious consumerism and sustainability will be bigger issues post-COVID-19, especially among consumers that view the pandemic in relation to human actions harming the environment. Brands with a purpose will remain a big catchphrase.

With almost all industries likely to feel the brunt of the pandemic, business and organization leaders need to define what will work for them and their publics in the new normal. If it’s WFH for a greater percentage of the workforce, set the system in place to make remote work successful. If for retail and service businesses it would mean going full blast on e-commerce solutions, so be it. PR and marketing professionals will have to think of other more creative ways to work with clients, especially with budget cuts and all forms of events and similar activities deprioritized. Communication programs will need to show not only how organizations are responding to crises but also, and perhaps more importantly, how they are serving the society and their stakeholders during this time of need.

This pandemic has forced everyone to pause. It has disrupted the entire world, now forcing governments and businesses to reassess long-term goals. It made everyone go back to a simpler life within the confines of their homes and rethink priorities – family, health and basic needs first, forget about career, hanging out, shopping and all those designer brands. Maybe this temporary pause imposed on us is an opportunity to think about what should be normal for us, our family and the world. Should the new normal be healthier living and families being more connected? Should it be cleaner air, less congestion on our roads and a more sustainable environment? Should it mean better future-proofing initiatives from government and private sector leaders? Perhaps the old normal isn’t the best normal and it’s time we created a more sustainable new normal.

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