COVID-19 Crisis Perspective: The Advent of Forced Mass Decentralisation and its Effect on Working Life
Using London as an index, we can say accessible, fast internet connections and widespread portable computing device ownership had broken the traditional barrier of effectively working away from the office a while back — entire industries were able to work from home since 2016. So what’s been stopping us?
First and foremost, the notion of going to a workplace is ingrained in modern human civilization. Evidence of the first office space dates back to the Roman Empire and has since become an inalienable stalwart of official working practice (speaking mainly to desk-based trades). Nowadays, office spaces are revolutionised by tech giants sporting sprawling facilities equipped with gyms, sleeping pods, in-house restaurants, and terrariums.
If this wasn’t enough, office spaces were recently made even cooler when pioneering WeWork ignited the co-working space revolution, sparking a cacophony of ensuing co-working companies producing their own work/life mantras and sprouting complexes across the world.
And, at the end of the day, as wholesome as it might be to fill up a single-use coffee cup with a double shot of fair trade coffee after an early morning in-house yoga session, being at a workplace instils a level of accountability and purpose to our work-lives that is incredibly difficult to replicate at home.
At a time where COVID-19 is tearing through the global population, devastating the vulnerable, and stripping us of our civil liberties, many of us start to settle into our new realities… and going to an office is no longer an option.
So how are we adapting? What are we learning?
A workplace affords us separation from other aspects of our lives. Even when we are working late, many of us prefer to stay in the office rather than take our work home. This comes from our human drive to compartmentalise. Cue the home workstation!
Because whilst there’s no one over your shoulder, our clients and our coworkers need us now more than ever. Those age-old working values of originality, grit, and teamwork need to shine through to ensure successful transition through the COVID-19 crisis.
When the racy day-to-day is so immensely minimised to physical standstill, we have a lot of time to reflect on our personal journey to this point. Reflection often leads to action-motivating conclusions, and we are certainly starting to see this throughout shifting digital behaviours across the world.
We all know digital platforms, services, and methods are not only continuing to skyrocket in terms of adoption, but they are now also diversifying into ever-increasing divisions of specialisation. There is an app, forum, show, and game to suit the broad to the very niche. Here are just a few of the trends we are starting to see:
Established apps like Facebook, Twitter, and Instagram are taking social responsibility by pivoting UIs to prioritise verified public guidance and stemming the spread of misinformation.
Emerging apps like TikTok, Zoom, and Houseparty are seeing huge surges in downloads and activity as people look for virtual ways of staying connected.
Messaging apps like Whatsapp have become a new hot-bed for sharing unverified news and media at scale amongst an engaged and trusting audience.
Streaming services have seen a huge boost as people seek a break from the news; most services are now having to respond by downscaling the quality of the streaming to cope with high volume.
Music streaming has taken a dip; usually the go-to (passive) activity whilst in transit or commute has been replaced by video streaming since everyone is at home.
Podcasts enjoy a sharp rise in streaming as people look for content related to COVID-19 from their favourite podcaster personalities, but also as an escape or distraction from current events.
Email is being rediscovered as the direct communication method of choice by brands to consumers regarding COVID-19 updates. This is likely to continue along with messages of solidarity for those on the frontlines.
Video gaming has taken a sharp rise in adoption and overall time-spent as new gamers and
In conjunction with this, esports and gamer streams are rising in popularity. Some mainstream sports channels are even incorporating live gamer streaming into their prime time content (Sky Sports drafted in a few F1 drivers and top gaming streamers to stage a virtual Bahrain F1 race as a substitute for the opening race Sunday Australia Grand Prix that was canceled).
It’s clear that brands understand this exponential. AdAge reports 48% of surveyed brands are increasing their spend on Facebook, and 37% are increasing their spend with Google. On the other hand, 41% are reporting an immediate decrease in TV spot buying.
During this time, opportunism can be a good thing for businesses and consumers alike. But one thing we can all agree on is that there is a moral and appropriate way to create effective business opportunities. Unfortunately for some, selling toilet roll for 500x RRP out the back of a van is not one of them.
Looking through the digital lens, social media platforms have surged in user activity as people look for ways to stay connected and informed. In view of this, many social media platforms have taken a markedly responsible stance during this crisis, responding to the lambasting they endured during 2016. Redesigning their UIs to push clear and verified information and committing teams and technology to oust misinformation are both clear and effective areas of improvement, contrary to the passive approach taken a few years ago.
However, despite these efforts, there is still an immutable furore of conflicting information coursing through the veins of the internet, one more voracious than the spread of COVID-19 itself. To name a few, speculation surrounding treatments and vaccines are rife amongst conspiratorial rhetoric on social media with users’ engagement, post volume, and time-spent at a peak.
These platform and user behaviour shifts can make social media advertising feel daunting and unpredictable. But brands supplementing their advertising strategies on social media by reinforcing public guidance and pushing their own COVID-19 support initiatives are maintaining credibility and building trust with their consumers. Here is an example of the Team GB Olympics Twitter account promoting their #IsolationGames initiative in partnership with the Red Cross and TikTok, one of many messages of solidarity they have been promoting.
Everyone at home means everyone streaming video content. Whether it’s YouTubers clamouring with new material or Netflix dropping the full Studio Ghibli movie library, streaming services are rapidly releasing new content to keep up with the incredible surge in demand. Here are how some services have responded to these new circumstances:
Disney Plus launches its video streaming service in the UK, pushing a dominant wave of launch marketing communications in earnest throughout the end of March. They’ve already hit five million app downloads in the UK. Netflix creates “Netflix Party,” enabling users to virtually share the shock-and-awe of new specials like “Tiger King” (which reached 34.3 million viewers within ten days of release) through a pop-up window alongside the video content.
Roku sees a 49% YOY increase in streaming hours in Q1 2020 and partners with Global Citizen to stream “One World: Together at Home” to celebrate healthcare workers.
All-new streaming platform Quibi launched in April, whilst both WarnerMedia and NBCUniversal look to enter the market with Peacock soft-launching early and HBO Max slated for later in the year.
And finally, have you ever imagined a catwalk in a corridor? Not even the one in your home? Well, whilst it’s not quite streaming, Burberry is one of many luxury fashion brands turning to AR to see if their snazzy new collections are hitting home with fans.
Luxury and Spirits brands all over Europe are utilising their factories’ capabilities to create sanitizer. Hand sanitizers were one of the first, hygiene-critical products to disappear from pharmacy and supermarket shelves. Brewdog, a UK-based independent beer company, was among the first-movers, but a particularly impressive effort came from LVMH, which pivoted from luxury perfumes to hand gel in just 72 hours.
Brands started to figure out how they could take their industry to cater to the needs of what people wanted. Toilet paper, hand sanitizer, and face masks to start. They may not be a fashion statement, but face masks became hot property when COVID-19 hit and prompted fashion brands H&M and Balenciaga to produce them en-masse alongside protective equipment for healthcare workers. These brands inspired the automotive industry and sports retailer Decathlon to start brainstorming how they could contribute and produce medical equipment themselves.
And it’s not just company-owned supply chains coming together, but also corporate frenemies that are joining forces during this pandemic: WHS Smith’s hospital stores partners with supermarket Sainsbury’s to offer essential items more readily to hospital workers during the crisis.
For the greater good — companies and organizations band together to support the health of the world.
Together, we are an “armed” force battling an invisible enemy who threatens our health and our loved ones. At a local level, organisations are turning to social media as a way to unite and support the community. Budweiser is launching a £1m gift card scheme to save Britain’s pubs, hoping to bring forward spending and support landlords during the crisis. UK restaurant chains Dishoom, Leon, Pizza Pilgrims are leading the charge by incentivising donations to the NHS through the #FeedNHS cause. This movement is already delivering 6,000 daily hot meals to hospitals in London to sustain NHS workers.
On the digital advertising front, WeTransfer is donating 500 million advertising impressions on its platform to good causes, equivalent to $5 million in ad spend.
And the domino effect continues. We see firms championing the national ‘Stay Home’ message, with their take on health and wellness initiatives. Adidas recently launched its virtual series, #HomeTeam that focuses on helping consumers be creative, get moving, and have fun while staying home. The series features a broad variety of content with appearances from top athletes and entertainers for endorsement. Athletic company and competitor, Nike, is encouraging users, both from a paid and an organic perspective, to download its app in a bid to stay fit while isolating.
The English Football Association is promoting physical and mental well-being from the safety of being indoors in a new campaign, “Football’s staying home,” launched with England captains Harry Kane and Steph Houghton. The campaign will be supported across the England teams and association’s digital channels with content including, motivational advice on Mondays, throwback videos on Thursdays, skill tutorials on Saturdays, and personal stories on Sundays.
And finally, a tip-of-the-hat to the modern-day British telecommunications industry — even mobile operators have waived data charges to access online NHS coronavirus resources.
We cannot and should not escape the sad truth permeating our current reality. When a day in Springtime Britain 2020 strikes 10 pm, we feel an ominous onus to tune into BBC News’ daily headlines broadcast. We all watch from the all-too-familiar settings of our homes as a particularly solemn-looking anchor delivers the headlines we already know. There is a battle against the nervous shudder as we process the stories, livelihoods, and tragedies behind the numbers on the screen.
The idea of silver linings seems distant as we contemplate the state of the nation, but we must not lose sight of the transformation at hand. A global consciousness is alive and we are sharing this experience together. As civilization has always done, we rise with inspiration, hope, and unity.
Whether it’s the heroic efforts of healthcare systems around the world, the sacrifice of individuals and families to stay home, the social media platforms cutting through their users’ noise, or the brands we love completely re-imagining what purpose they serve — we’ve all got a part to play in this world. We might not be able to see or hear this enemy, but our friends, families, and consumers can feel it.
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Let’s learn from these extraordinary policies, institutions, brands, and heroic individuals making a difference, and make sure we don’t shrink away at a time where we, as advertisers and as individuals, know we can make a difference.
9 MINUTES READ | May 6, 2020