8 minute read 30 Sep 2020
Thoughtful freelancer looking at computer while working from home office

How have human behaviours and service purpose changed during COVID-19

Authors

Peter Neufeld

EY EMEIA Financial services Digital Customer Experience Leader

Experienced digital executive. User-centered design champion. Emerging digital trend analyst.

Joel Bailey

EY Seren Director, Experience Led Transformation

A passionate Director. Uses good research to bring business and operational teams closer to customer needs, driving innovative and empathetic thinking to create commercially viable solutions.

8 minute read 30 Sep 2020

Exploring emerging human behaviour and purpose to track today's challenges and to find tomorrow's solutions.

In brief:

  • Discover the insights and themes being explored in our research.
  • Suggestions on how to look back and assess your COVID-19 pandemic response to-date.

The EY Seren team started a week before lockdown and haven’t stopped since, running fortnightly sprint cycles, across five streams of research, to publish four editions.

We ran a quantitative survey with 967 people to bring statistical validity to our research. We wanted to prove or disprove our qualitative and secondary research findings. We deep dive into four trends; loss, homification of work, digital everything and trust. Download Human Signal Edition 4 to read the details of this research.

Through our research we explore four insight themes:

  • An era of design hacks

    Insights:
    • As lockdown continues to ease and we emerge from our homes into an unfamiliar low-touch, socially-distanced way of being, each of us is having to adapt how we interact with our surroundings.
    • Although the spaces we are re-entering may be familiar, our behaviour within them has to change. And with this comes confusion and anxiety — fear of doing the wrong thing, bewilderment around what is right.
    • To guide us through this maze, a myriad of design hacks has popped up to encourage us adopt the correct behaviours. Hastily pulled together at the height of the crisis, typed signs on shop doors, strategically-placed traffic cones, floor stickers, plastic barriers, webs of hazard tape.
    • It’s overwhelming and will take time for us to process these changes and adapt our behaviour. But these design interventions have a critical role to play in keeping us safe.
    • We are starting to see these evolve beyond the initial hacks into interventions that are clear and unambiguous. More considered digital hacks are now emerging, to help us make this shift to a low-touch society — for example, no-touch menus via QR codes in restaurants.
    •  It’s vital for our sense of well-being to spend time in social spaces — but to do this we must feel safe and trust that others are looking after their (and our) safety too.

    Implications today

    • The priority for any wayfinding is for it to be clear and unambiguous. This is more important than it being polite or branded.
    • Design for inclusivity, taking into account the needs of those who experience our environments in different ways, whether that is physically, cognitively or socially.
    • Step back and review how well the design interventions are helping your customers and colleagues adopt these new behaviours, ideally in trial conditions. Be ready to refine and iterate.

    Implications tomorrow

    • The myriad of solutions may have been fitting in response to a crisis situation, but given the potential longevity of the situation, the need for consistency of approach and language is going to become ever more important to build behaviours that become second nature to us all.
    • Make your signage and wayfinding adaptive, to accommodate any new learnings about the virus.
    • Take the opportunity to re-imagine the way we design our shared and public spaces. 
  • Physically distant, socially intimate

    Insights:
    • The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we engage socially. Physical distancing and separation has forced an embrace of new formats and digital technologies so families, customers and fans can maintain some level of social intimacy.
    • Brands with high street locations have switched staff to video conference channels, to reach out one-to-one to vulnerable customers in new ways. Small businesses have been using Facebook and TaskRabbit to set up same-day local home deliveries.
    • Similarly, one-to-many online events have proved effective stand-ins, with concerts, exercise classes and church services moving online. Though with one survey finding that “55% have not watched a live online event during this pandemic” there is evidence of untapped potential. At the same time, the perceived ticket value of online events is lower than offline.
    • Elsewhere, physical events have also been forced to diversify, with drive in concerts, films, operas, church services and even raves growing in number.

    Implications today

    • Up-skill front line staff in the appropriate use of new virtual channel, in line with latest regulatory advice.
    • Design virtual channels with human interaction clearly in mind, to avoid slipping into the ‘uncanny valley’ where interactions feel strained and uncomfortable.
    • Consider creative ways of blending virtual technologies within physically constrained locations, to create new service experiences.

    Implications tomorrow

    • As we shift to a more blended use of digital, physical, virtual, and voice channels, measuring customer sentiment, business performance, and cross-channel demand will become critical in creating the future customer journeys that will drive engagement with customers and create new opportunities.
    • Not all teams will have the aptitude to engage confidently across this new, permanent channel. Effective performance management, training, and coaching will needed to encourage not just adoption, but adeptness at virtual relationships.
  • More time, less energy

    Insights:
    • As the crisis plays out, a new pattern is emerging. Many (though certainly not all) are experiencing a confusing new reality of having more time than before, yet simultaneously having less energy.
    • Much has been made of the return to productivity from initial lockdown, but the real impact of coronavirus is not on productivity, but happiness and creative reasoning. In one study, although productivity in a work from home group increased by 13%, half the participants wanted to return to the office, mainly for reasons of loneliness.
    • If your home environment is unsuited to work, the office can provide space to share ideas, socialise and maintain a work-life divide. Equally, home workers can be prone to spending more time indoors, leading to less daylight and consequent effects on melatonin and alertness. Add to all this the loss of routine, sense of uncertainty and back ground anxiety, and you have a recipe for burn out.
    •  With the threat of a second wave lockdown, amidst ongoing disruption of precious summer holiday escape plans, we expect energy to dip further as time at home expands. If left unchecked and unmanaged, some are predicting a second wave of absenteeism in late 2020, which will destroy any early 2020 productivity gain

    Implications today

    • Consider your ‘return to the office’ strategy through a dual lens of productivity and mental health, rather than overly focusing on the former
    • Model what proportion of colleagues are at risk of burnout over the second half of 2020 and put in place support mechanisms for them
    • Ensure all communications balance a focus between productivity and wellbeing, and the long-term value creation that will sustain

    Implications tomorrow

    • Consider moving from large single HQs to more flexible hubs, where colleagues can gather an work together as-and-when required.
    • Develop Phoenix Recovery Models for colleagues who have burnt out and need help recovering ‘from the ashes’. Remove stigma from taking these programmes on
  • Cultural ambidexterity

    Insights:
    • The role of culture in handling the outbreak has been put centre stage. At the outset, many anticipated a wholly rational and data-driven approach to decisions. However, culture has played a more significant role, with countries, organisations and households all responding in markedly different ways, based on internal culture.
    • One way to assess this situation is through the work of cultural psychologist Michele Gelfand. Author of Rule Makers, Rule Breakers. According to her team’s study of culture, countries sit on a spectrum from tight to loose. Tight countries enforce a wide range of rules and citizens are used to obeying them. Loose countries have laxer rules and are more tolerant of dissent.
    • At organisational levels, many have described a rapid ‘loosening up’ of decision making and pushing back of tight constraints, championing the move to agility, adaptability and looseness. However the research indicates that loose cultures have performed poorly during the coronavirus outbreak, with higher infection and death rates.
    • The key learning from the research appears to be that a combination of both tightness and looseness is required — a cultural ambidexterity — tight controls and measures, combined with loose controls for individuals and teams so they can respond quickly.

    Implications today

    • Don’t throw out the baby with the bathwater. Control frameworks and governance have an evolved value, and need to be optimally balanced with newly discovered agility and pace.
    • Rather than simply following local, national COVID-19 guidance, or following competitors, instead interpret your response in terms of your local culture, and what that decision reinforces or shifts.

    Implications tomorrow

    • Ask yourself whether you’re inherently tight or loose as a culture and whether that is an inherited reality that’s appropriate for today, or something to be consciously moved away from.
    • Explore whether a two-speed operating model is right for you — with a tight established business, and a looser ‘challenger business’ able to perform in a more agile way.

Mindsets and sector views

The EY Seren team often explore mindsets before producing personas, so thought it would be useful to share a set of customer and colleague mindsets here. These have emerged from all of our COVID-19 pandemic Human Signals research to-date, as pretty consistent clusters of preferences, shared by relatively distinct cohorts of people.

At EY Seren, we’re privileged to work with clients across sectors, which include healthcare, life sciences, accountancy and finance, financial services, public services and utilities. Download Human Signal Edition 4 to view some of the things our sector-specialist teams have learnt on COVID-19 in different sectors.

How to look back and assess your COVID-19 pandemic response to-date:

Looking back to look forward is useful Assessing your response to this first wave is key to delivering durable change should a second wave hit, and we suggest considering the below.

  • Crises drive change: With crises past, we’ve seen that even as things recover, each crisis leaves behind permanent behavioural shifts in individuals, businesses and societies. The 1918 Global Flu Pandemic toppled empires, the Global Recession of 2007-2009 led to the formation of the largest startups of today and this crisis will be no different.
  • Transformation is underway: Some businesses are reporting having made more transformational change in the matter of a few weeks than in the past ten years. The case for adopting some of these innovations beyond the COVID-19 pandemic is clear, but the first step must be to identify the ways in which your business has changed and assess their relative merits.
  • Seize the opportunity: By understanding what processes, behaviours and risks changed during the pandemic; what worked well and what didn’t; organisations can seize this opportunity to create a simpler, leaner and more efficient new normal during and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic

Our approach is a rapid hypothesis-led approach to minimise the uncertainty around the COVID-19 pandemic, enabling you to respond with agility and confidence.

Working in series of sprints and using a hypothesis-led approach we will take a look at your business through each lens and provide recommendations for you to implement within the business. Then the implementation of our recommendations will have varying levels of success. Working in a series of accelerated sprints we will evaluate the performance of the business against our recommendations for you to feedback into the business.

Summary

This article highlights key findings based on EY Seren’s research exploring human behaviour and service purpose changed during COVID-19.

We make recommendations on how firms can look back and assess the COVID-19 pandemic response to-date.

About this article

Authors

Peter Neufeld

EY EMEIA Financial services Digital Customer Experience Leader

Experienced digital executive. User-centered design champion. Emerging digital trend analyst.

Joel Bailey

EY Seren Director, Experience Led Transformation

A passionate Director. Uses good research to bring business and operational teams closer to customer needs, driving innovative and empathetic thinking to create commercially viable solutions.