2020 has been a year unlike any other. It can often feel like there’s solely bad news. It’s why the average Tik Tok user now spends 52 minutes per day on the app: People are seeking good news and an escape.
There are silver linings amid all this chaos. The obvious ones are an uptick in people using videoconferencing tools. If you told me at the beginning of the year Zoom meetings would be so culturally significant that they would appear in half of all commercials or be the basis for an entire new episode of Parks and Recreation, I would have laughed and given you a Ron Swanson stare.
Still, some things have gone back to “normal.” We saw an uptick in grocery delivery services like Shipt and Instacart this spring during stay at home orders, but those numbers have dropped back to pre-pandemic levels. Their popularity seems to be tied to consumers’ mobility.
The real question is, which changes will be lasting? Every person in business should be paying attention to how the landscape is shifting. Even if you can’t predict everything, it’s clear some changes are fads and others are trends.
Changes that appear to be temporary
To tell what’s temporary, the best approach is to look at people’s habits. Hair salons are opening back up, and grocery stores are bustling again. There’s no digital alternative to haircuts, while brick-and-mortar stores are counting their blessings that many people prefer to shop for themselves.
The dip in entertainment spending is also likely to be temporary. You can expect pent-up demand to supercharge spending at venues like movie theatres and sports arenas once it’s fully safe to do so. People will miss those experiences and want to support them.
Trade shows and conferences are an unknown. Large companies that put those on will be hesitant to take the risk of bringing them back too soon. What’s more, companies are learning that all the business travel they were doing pre-2020 may have not been the best use of their resources.
Still, expect people to seek out human interaction with a passion once they get the green light. That will be a huge commerce opportunity for large-group entertainment businesses: While you can expect some small theaters to close because they can’t ride out a shutdown, larger ones are likely to stick around even as streaming video gains in popularity.
A good test of this will be the $30 streaming release of Mulan to Disney+. If that model works, expect a big push from studios to cut out the middleman. And that’s just the start of how industries might shift.
Changes that seem here to stay
The approaching school year is a reminder that there are no perfect answers in this pandemic. Sending kids back to school is likely to worsen the virus’s spread. On the other hand, the economy is going to take a hit if kids stay home.
The good news is, both the business world and the wider one have proven to be pretty adaptable. Preparing kids for change, which will be constant in their careers, is critical.
Many of the digital adaptations ushered in by the pandemic will remain, regardless of whether schools re-open. Currently, 31 million students use Canvas, an online learning platform. Either way, that number is sure to increase.
Digital education has clear benefits, even if it’s mixed with in-person classes. The ability to personalize lessons, reach kids anywhere and avoid buying instantly outdated textbooks all come to mind.
We expect our phones to instantly update their software; the pandemic may cause us to expect the same from education. Karen Freberg, an associate professor of strategic communication at the University of Louisville, put it this way:
“Digital literacy is becoming a required skill for everyone—from kids to adults—to master. Having the ability to learn, create, and engage in a community in a virtual space will help prepare students for the growing expectations they will face beyond the classroom. Developing this mindset will enhance new skills like remote agility and adaptability that will help prepare students for new challenges and opportunities in the future.”
Education encourages innovation. It seems like a no-brainer that we’ll transition to a cheaper, more efficient, constantly updating, digital curriculum. Although it won’t replace teachers, it will just give them the tools they need to be more effective—and hopefully not have to buy their own supplies at Staples.
There’s another change that seems permanent and very exciting: the death of hustle culture. You know what I mean: In an up economy, you see people drinking seven cups of coffee and getting two hours of sleep a night because they think it’ll help them beat the competition.
The pandemic broke us of that habit. We all had to slow down. We had nowhere to go. We became more efficient, and we learned that hustling isn’t a sustainable way to get things done.
The end of hustle culture is trickling into industries like video games. Many game developers have been stressing, literally and figuratively, that their employees work 14+ hour days to complete updates and meet deadlines.
Conventional wisdom in the video game industry says that gamers expect immediate gratification and won’t tolerate delays. But it’s the opposite tack that’s working for Gearbox. They focused on culture and acceptable work hours, setting users’ expectations that games like Borderlands might take a little longer to develop. Gearbox promised its employees will be happier, the games will be better, and everyone will enjoy their experience more. And it worked: Gamers not only accepted but appreciated it.
All that boils down to a simple reminder of what business leaders already know about times of uncertainty: Don’t assume what your audience wants or will accept.