Business as unusual: changing behavioural norms

- June 26, 2020 3 MIN READ

There will come a time in the not too distant future that life once again will continue, post coronavirus. Many have come on the record to say that whilst it may all seem familiar from a distance, there will be small but significant changes to the way we work and live, writes Katja Forbes International Director on the Interaction Design Association Board and MD of Aus/NZ Designit. 

Many sectors will retain the increased trade they experienced over the weeks and months when the world locked down in isolation, and others will not (think toilet paper and pharmaceuticals).  Others that struggled to survive, like dine-in restaurants and tourism, should experience a lift in demand.  Stores will reopen after being shut for many weeks, and people can now make non-essential purposes.  Some businesses, like gyms and plane travel, may take a while to retain their usual patronage once again, whereby people may still be afraid of potential risks, where they have been deemed safe to use these services again.

In fact, business in many sectors may never return to the way they used to operate prior to coronavirus. Customer behaviour when dealing with one another will reflect some significant changes, a simpler version of how they are operating right now, to reassure customers of their safety.  Some changes that have happened include:

  • A transition to remote working
  • A preference for more space, instead of city living and working
  • Personal monitoring
  • Shift in employment relationships
  • New business models, where contact-free service is valued.

Each of these factors requires an article of their own to unpack, however in this article I will take a look at behavioural norms which includes elements from many of these areas. This spans across both personal and private lives.

Currently, we are required to not come within 1.5 metres of anyone else, unless we are living with them in our ISO bubble.  Here is a simple example of behavioural norms being interrupted:

Right now, we have all been required to maintain a 1.5 metre distance when meeting with someone physically (and we are not living with them). This means that the universally accepted way of greeting or departing from someone, either for business and often a social acquaintance, a nice firm handshake, is not acceptable right now.   Everyone is on the same page with that. However, when we have a vaccine for coronavirus and that ship has long since sailed, we will find that some people no longer find this way of greeting (a handshake) acceptable, safe or comfortable. As a result, we will experience someone standing awkwardly with an out-stretched arm expecting the old behaviours to still hold true, which is not a pleasant position to be placed in. During this time I’ve even seen an EFTPOS terminal attached to a pole and held out to maintain social distance. It feels very weird as a customer to be held at a distance. Almost like we are untrustworthy.

Another more serious behavioural norm due to change is that of retail and buying habits. As we have all become used to making purchases online, bricks and mortar stores may find it difficult to pay rent and staff. On the other hand, their online store, together with others, may do a roaring trade. Delivery companies and commercial flights will be affected accordingly and may need to consider more delivery rounds as they try to keep up with demand.  Furthermore, gyms that had been holding training sessions online to keep their clientele engaged, may find they need to continue to offer this as an option because many clients realise they like this form of training as well as, or even instead of, training with others at a gym site.

At a time unlike any other, organisations need to create the ultimate customer experience. They need to keep security and assurance at the forefront, so that customers who may never have made a purchase online before, feels that their privacy is valued.  Speaking of being valued, they need to create a sense of warmth and welcoming when they shop online, similar to that they may have provided instore. The Internet can be a very stark and cold place, meaning their online retail store should make customers feel special. There are a great many ways this can be achieved, including a video welcome upon entering the site, and going to great lengths to ensure the branding of the site is identical to the physical store, carrying the atmosphere through seamlessly. Are there also now new opportunities for augmented reality or virtual reality in retail that didn’t exist before?

What we understood as ‘normal’ is not coming back. When we restart our economy, it will happen under conditions that did not exist before lockdown. This worldwide experience has changed our behaviour and shifted the values. This value shift will hopefully lead to a long-lasting renewal as we seek to do things differently.  We will need the ability to manage the complexity of our world and adapt quickly to new situations. Traditional business models need to be challenged and adjusted to be more resilient and adaptable.

You can use this time to move towards a more resilient, evolutionary business paradigm. Focus on collaboration, co-operation, network thinking and a clear sense of purpose to ensure you can adapt to crisis instead of becoming overwhelmed.

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Not business as usual: the new world of work

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