A View of Life After the Pandemic

Among the forecasts: The work-from-home trend will last, and we’ll welcome more robots.

Remember when your home was the place you went to relax after a long day at work? Now, that idea seems as quaint as June Cleaver’s habit of donning pearls and high heels to vacuum before Ward returned from the office. Since the COVID-19 pandemic has forced millions of people to hunker down, homes have become the place where we work, exercise, educate our children, enjoy (virtual) happy hour and catch a movie. And that trend is likely to linger long after the pandemic is under control, according to a forecast by Euromonitor International, a global market research firm.

Euromonitor International released its forecast of the most significant trends for 2020 at the beginning of the year but felt compelled to update it after COVID-19 upended the way we live and work. Some of the trends in the firm’s original forecast have accelerated, particularly the development of what Euromonitor calls the “multifunctional home.” While many young professionals were already moving away from traditional workplace culture, the pandemic forced millions of others to turn their homes into remote offices. The shift is expected to linger long after it’s safe to leave the house, says Alison Angus, head of lifestyles at Euromonitor.

Managers that resisted telework have discovered that employees are not, in fact, watching Law and Order reruns when they should be working, and many employees have discovered that they don’t miss going into an office every day. A Gallup survey conducted in April found that three out of five workers who have been working from home during the pandemic would like to continue working remotely even after public health restrictions are lifted.

The shift to teleworking for large numbers of workers has far-reaching implications for everything from coffee shops to retail sales. For a remote workforce, every day is casual Friday, which could lead to more demand for comfortable clothes and a decline in sales of suits and dresses. If employers decide they don’t need as much office space, office rents could decline, depressing earnings of commercial real estate firms. Even after they reopen, restaurants that rely on traffic from office workers could also see a decline in business, Angus says.

Friendly robots. In a moment captured on a widely shared video earlier this year, a man in Cyprus enlisted a drone to walk his dog. While most of us are expected to continue walking our pets ourselves for the foreseeable future, consumers are increasingly turning to robots, drones and other remote technologies to provide “contactless delivery” of products and services, Euromonitor says. “The pandemic could propel robots into the mainstream, moving them from novelty to essential,” Angus says. Consumers have also increased their use of smart speakers, voice control and other technologies that reduce the need to touch potentially contaminated surfaces.

Privacy concerns put aside. While the pandemic expedited some trends, it stalled others, including concerns about privacy. Before the pandemic, consumers were increasingly skeptical of the way their personal data was used and demanded more transparency from technology companies. Now, they’re much more willing to give up personal information if they believe it will protect them and their families from the coronavirus. A survey by the Pew Research Center found that 52% of Americans believe it would be acceptable for the government to use individuals’ cell-phone data to track the spread of COVID-19. Still, tech companies shouldn’t become complacent. Euromonitor predicts that once the pandemic crisis has passed, consumers will continue to demand more information about how their data is packaged and sold. And the Pew study shows there are limits on the amount of privacy Americans are willing to relinquish. Nearly two-thirds said it would not be acceptable for the government to use cell-phone data to determine whether they were complying with social distancing guidelines.

Buying local. Finally, the pandemic has compelled consumers to reexamine their shopping habits, Euromonitor found. Consumers want to know the origin of products, and they’re more comfortable buying things that haven’t traveled far.

Social values are playing a role in shopping choices, too. “We’re looking out for each other,” Angus says. “And because we have this more caring or collective attitude, we want our local businesses to survive.”

Kiplinger's Personal Finance

Illustration by A. Richard Allen

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