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Recalibrating: What Behaviors Will Stick in a Post-Pandemic World?

Author: Nancie Carollo

As Americans begin swimming to the surface after more than a year in the depths, we hear a lot of chatter about radical changes—a rebellion, of sorts, against returning to the status quo. The New York Times christened this the “you-only-live-once” or “YOLO Economy,” resembling a mid-life crisis but accelerated by the pandemic. Here at Aspen Finn, we wanted to find out more about how this urgent desire for lifestyle change might play out among consumers.

We conducted a survey among 1000 consumers living in the United States to learn which consumer behaviors are likely to stick post-pandemic. We discovered that consumers are most looking forward to being together with others in the future, in larger numbers—they don’t intend to continue staying home, maintaining high levels of technology use, or relying primarily on online shopping.  At the same time, they have also grown to treasure aspects of their time in isolation and want to hold space to carry that forward.

We also asked respondents to rate their sense of personal well-being compared to before the pandemic. Just under half feel worse overall.  To help combat this loss of personal well-being, consumers began to focus more on exercise and health, and they want to continue these habits post-pandemic. The negative impact on social life has been especially high—at least 1 in 3 say they are meeting fewer new people and socializing less with friends or colleagues. As they swim up toward the light, they want a chance to breathe when they break the water’s surface and think about what comes next. Solid strategic thinking that values and gives weight to empathy will be an important piece of the puzzle for businesses that want to retain consumers…and employees.

According to Microsoft’s Work Trend Index, 70% of employees want to keep flexible work options while 65% are seeking more connection with their teams. Increases in productivity while remote came at a high personal cost (we’re looking at you, Zoom fatigue). Employees want to work smarter without having to sacrifice the priorities they identified during the past year. With a YOLO mindset, their willingness to take risks rises. It’s become increasingly important to find an employment situation that aligns with this mindset (the same Microsoft data reports that over 40% of the global workforce is planning to leave their employer this year).

Because we are curious by nature at Aspen Finn, we wondered why the workplace doesn’t fit the bill for human connectivity. What is behind the sentiment of wanting better communication within teams but not wanting to be in an office environment? Our qualitative evaluation is that it isn’t about playing hooky—productivity soared during the pandemic. Simply put, humans feel cooped up like kindergartners during a rainy winter. This is where YOLO comes into play. A whopping 69% of participants in our research have not yet traveled for leisure or business during the pandemic. They also hope to see a decrease in their reliance on technology for connection (video calling) and entertainment (streaming services). They have pent-up energy for travel, hosting or attending large get-togethers, and attending live sports and music events.

Returning to traditional office space and hours conflicts with the urgent desire to do the things consumers missed most and a (slightly less urgent) need to keep doing the things that soothed them through shutdowns. Almost 40% intend to continue exercising while 1 in 4 intend to maintain other practices to boost their health and well-being like eating healthier or visiting their doctor. They also plan to continue strategies they deployed to say safe during the pandemic (especially online shopping) because these purchasing habits save time and add convenience—something they were already warming up to pre-pandemic.

Businesses will need to view their employees as consumers who are choosing to participate in the economy differently now than they did before the pandemic. We see potential for this shift to be positive if leaders listen closely to what their employee consumers have to say.

That’s where we come in. Our frameworks enable us to understand how people think, so we can better understand what they think. We’ll be here, listening for the cognitive cues that create authentic consumer experiences, and sharing them with all of you.

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