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Late last year we talked about the importance of embracing change, and the need to recognize that things aren’t going “back to normal” after the pandemic is over. That is a finding we believe holds true for the future.
Based on our close monitoring of consumer and business trends, as well as what we’ve witnessed in our business networks, we’re looking into our crystal ball to showcase what we think are important changes for 2021.
1. Online is growing and here to stay.
By necessity, but happily, we’ve all found out that some things work better online, saving us time and giving us a better service experience. Consistently, a strong majority of those who have received health consultations online have told us that they intend to continue with them, even after the pandemic is over.
Same with food delivery – ordering groceries online is something that is well liked among those who have done it. These reactions tell us that businesses must step up their online game as a key component of their strategies. Consumers expect it, but in addition, a third of people told us that meeting with health professionals online instead of in person was a silver lining of 2020.
Not only is it an efficient way to receive service, it’s something that people enjoy in other areas as well. One in six told us that making connections with people online was a key benefit of the last year.
Of course, at the same time, not being able to gather socially or travel during the pandemic were identified as two of the biggest negative impacts. That tells us that while online interactions and transactions are important for business, social gatherings and in-person meetings are crucial.
The key for businesses is to ensure that online offerings are efficient and deliver a great experience to customers.
2. Supporting local will have increasing importance.
This is identified as another key silver lining for many in 2020, particularly highlighted during the recent holiday season.
This increased focus on community and buying local helps small businesses and charitable organizations, and provides some direction for businesses going forward to examine corporate social responsibility practices to align with causes in the regions where they operate.
There is also an important opportunity to evaluate procurement. Are there local businesses that can provide what you need?
The important thing for businesses is to evaluate social responsibility and procurement practices, and identify where supporting local is possible.
3. Flexibility is the new norm in the way we work.
Working from home is no longer an anomaly. Before the pandemic, fewer than one in 10 worked from home, but since March, over half of employed Atlantic Canadians have worked from home. Most feel as or more productive, and many prefer working at home. Employers need to understand their employees, as well as what works for their organization, and adapt.
Ultimately, flexibility and options are likely the way forward. And with fewer people driving to offices on a regular basis, there are implications for transit and other infrastructure. Businesses that rely on office workers need to adapt to these changes in where and how people work.
There are also equipment considerations too, for ensuring home offices are set up to ensure employees are able to effectively work in whichever environment they are in, and decisions to be made about long-term commercial space needs.
Businesses need to evaluate their own needs, as well as understanding employee needs, to determine requirements.
4. Building back better is the smart move.
No shocker here, but businesses took a hit in 2020. With every challenge comes an opportunity, and the opportunity here is to build back our economy in better ways.
Our research has shown that protecting the environment is becoming increasingly important to consumers. The vast majority of Atlantic Canadians told us that they want economic recovery to also help fight climate change. This offers some insight for business as we adapt to our new context – prioritizing the environment and sustainability in everything from transportation needs, heating and lighting considerations, investment practices and procurement.
The key for business is to evaluate the environmental impact of operations, and to prioritize sustainability in decision making.
Regarding the data
Most results cited are based on an Atlantic-wide online survey conducted between Jan. 4 and 10 with 2,512 residents 18 or older from Narrative Research’s East Coast Voice panel, with additional points drawn from studies conducted by our firm throughout 2020. Data was weighted based on the 2016 census, by gender, age and region to reflect these population
characteristics in each province. As a sample where residents have joined a panel to share their opinions, and in accordance with CRIC public opinion research standards, a margin of error is not applied.
Margaret Brigley, CEO, and Margaret Chapman, COO, are business partners at Narrative Research, a national market research company based in Halifax. Their passion is digging into data to uncover insights.