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2020-04-21
Covid-19

The After-Break: A Consumer and employee’s reflection

We are truly living one of the greater pauses of history. Its extent is beyond historical memory and its term, still unknown. Nevertheless, In the hopes of going forward, we have to embrace the challenge and prepare for the upturn. Because there will be a rebound, they say. Indeed, we'll all go back to work and consumer everyday goods and services.

But fundamentally, everything is about to change.

The great pause will inevitably follow with more enormous behaviour changes, initiated both by the consumer and the businesses themselves, but also by people they contract. Today is the time to reflect on it and predict.

This article is dedicated to the two key drivers of most businesses.

On one side, we have the consumers and their buying power, and on another, the employees and their mobilizing force.

If the COVID-19 crisis can raise essential facts and considerations on both of them, it will undoubtedly be the center of many companies' preoccupation.

  • From one side: companies are dedicating the major part of their efforts in pleasing and responding to the customer's needs.

  • From the other, some employees are taking more and more part in the business's life, in a decision-making point of view.

In many industries, the era in which the executives were exercising total authority is long past.

The question we are now asking is this one: what will happen after the crisis in the heads of consumers and employees?

Part 1: The consumer's footprint

Let's take Jocelyne (my mother) as an example, a public function worker in the last moments of her career, that I would qualify as an aware consumer. She is a part of this generation that does everything she can to make a difference on the planet, mainly through individual decisions; she recycles and has been doing so for a while, validates the origin of the food she buys, and purchases local products with great pride.

She applies from the best of her knowledge the significant eco-friendly and socio-friendly trends, from which she picks the precepts within a few articles, popular tv shows and us (her children) that are dispensing ongoing training.

She also stays faithful to the brands that convey values and passions similar to hers, but without going through significant and laborious impact studies.

A brand tells her: "Jocelyne, you like the art of living, the great outdoors, green areas? Look, me too", and because of this, she'll buy.

In short, Jocelyne is full of goodwill and willing to put in the efforts, but thus far, she was still not expecting much from the brands she purchases from.

She could allow points to eco and socio-friendly companies, but she didn't apply a favourable evaluation technique to all of them. In the end, we would still find everything and nothing in her shopping cart.

Not coming from indifference, but because she does not feel any social pressure on her buying decisions, and she did not measure the significance of her choices henceforth.

On her Ipad or through television, Jocelyne reads and listens to various publicities that project messages of love and hope.

But everything she reads equally, and what she listens to on the daily, is everything related to supply chains, food sovereignty, local commerce, social safety net and limits of globalization. All these subjects will still be current for a good moment.

Bound to slow her usual consumption pace, she additionally realigns herself with her actual needs and begins a profound reflection on her buying power. Which values does she want to endorse with her dollar?

Will Jocelyne consume differently after the crisis? I think so, in several aspects.

Local, local, local! She will buy local more than ever, not only because our government will encourage us to do so, but because a good number of businesses will take the opportunity to revise their practice and their supply chain in the hopes of responding to the new demand. Buying Raspberries from California was not a problem for Jocelyne until she feared the shortage of medical material in Quebec. Until she realizes that, in times of crisis, right or wrongly, many companies would prioritize supplying their local population before any other faithful customers.

Quebec trade balance was not a matter of public interest, but sometimes fear can be a powerful trigger.

Jocelyne will, until now, be more demanding regarding the companies she supports. She will keep an eye on the origin of her buys and will be willing to pay more for local products. If the change we're all expecting proceeds quickly, Jocelyne will even be ready to change her buying habits to substitute local products to the foreign ones we can't produce.

By spending more in businesses that reinvest their profits locally, she will contribute to job creations and a generation of wealth.

Social distancing- social solidarity! This pandemic will have changed us in complex ways and on various degrees. From the most anxious to the most zen person, key actors in the front line of temporarily discharged employees, everyone will remember the social solidarity. Coming back to Jocelyne, she'll continue to be shaped by the pride she felt when associated with the social distancing movement and will want to make it a continuous thing by taking concrete actions.

Of course, this sanitary crisis will leave permanent marks on many, both on a personal and a business level. It might decimate, despite our collective efforts, smaller and bigger companies. However, as people, we'll be more than ever aware of the social solidarity's strength. Canadians are resilient, indeed, but once the shock is over, they'll want to rebuild. The after-pause is now the center of many initiatives, and as a society, it is the moment we all decide to unite in order to make a difference. The strengthening of such a wave, perceptible on social media, in the journal, on television and in-between shorts discussion from one balcony to the other will profoundly challenge Jocelyne - in a right way.

On her part, there will not be a doubt that, if individually, we switch our life and buying habits, we can reach a high level of success.

And when we believe in something, we invest ourselves with better confidence. We speak louder, make things happen and influence. Our results become superior to the sum of our actions; we attain a real synergy.

More transparency, please! From now on, Jocelyne will expect more clarity coming from the brands she buys from. She'll also want to know what the companies she likes are doing as a collective effort. Because consumers will ask better questions, but also because brands would have become more citizens than ever during this time of crisis. A return back to square one cannot occur without consequences. It is a better time to continue building following that accelerated turn of events. In that sense, the greater-pause will have permitted a marketing approach acceleration based on social capital, which is at the very heart of Republik operations since November 2018.

Be careful; both for brands that illustrated themselves during the crisis than the ones a little less out there, they will have to come back in time to address their history, mission, values and aspirations.

Numerous consumers already are anticipating- and criticizing- the return to normality. Brands will have to be careful in finding their way to advertise their products post-crisis. Creating social capital appears to be the best vehicle of communication to answer this enormous challenge.

National brands. With time, brands that will have the upper end in this crisis, and are more equipped to face future hazards are the ones who will benefit from an authentic change. The ones that won't try to hide a few opportunist marketing decisions and that will put their ideas to the table in order to understand their roots and utilize them in durable initiatives. Jocelyne is not a dupe, and many pitfalls are to avoid. Social impact is not only supporting a foundation or putting forward a reason to exist. It is to bring a systematic change. Businesses will have to re-think and re-evaluate their ways in order to respond and contribute positively to the communities and the environment around them. Jocelyne will no longer be easily seduced by an advertising campaign trying to mirror her lifestyle to the brand. She'll be more intrigued by the concrete actions of this label, and do more research before buying a product. In the long run, Jocelyne will expect more from businesses she supports. More than ever, consumers will vote with their wallets and companies will have to perform real, concrete actions.

E-commerce. E-Commerce was then a growing market. We can expect that the sanitary crisis accentuates its rise since many new costumers are trying it for the first time, for lack of freedom. Jocelyne was not buying online before social isolation. She has no interest in it, was ambivalent towards return policies and her banking security. In that sense, what is stopping most people from online shopping is simply- to try it once. After, we get comfortable et it unveils. Jocelyne will not go for a dramatic turnaround, but she will be more open to online shopping, by simple convenience. E-Commerce might experience an absolute boom, and brands certainly have to reevaluate their online sales strategies.

Amid the buy-local movement, many platforms are emerging, with the mission to value and make known local products. We can expect that the outreach of these platforms will also bring more consumers to shop online and buy local.

Part 2: The footprint generated amongst employees

The repercussions of this pandemic for the employees are still uncertain medium-term but are for the present moment, evident and significant. Only a few weeks ago, we were talking about a labour shortage, and businesses were openly fighting over qualified workers.

To comment on the issue of workers, I decided to speak about Manny (an old-established employee at Republik).

Manny is part of this generation that started its career after the 2008 collapse.

The same generation as mine. We never experienced a recession while on the job market, and even contrarily, we shattered the job world with our requirements. Some challenging requirements were coming from many fronts: working conditions, corporate culture, business values. As an entrepreneur of 7 years now, I can attest to the turnaround of roles, especially coming from any human resources aspects.

We sometimes were under the impression that the opposite direction held interviews. Many candidates were not coming to sell themselves, but rather to confirm if our business was good enough for them.

There is some good and some bad to this, however, the wind has changed. How to not forget this duality and leave to the employees what belongs to them? Which lessons can businesses draw from to keep an outstanding position when the scarcity of good working force is daily news again? How can they simply benefit from it now to set them apart and seduce the best?

So far, Manny was well aware of the lack of good employees and has never presented any signs of doubt regarding his period of employment. With reasons, because he is good at what he does and that he does it for the right reasons. But also because Republik was in constant expansion since its first year and was hiring more people than not. Minimal risks for a veteran in such a context. And boom! The pandemic, a recession within sight, and half of his colleagues laid off temporarily- which was one of the hardest decisions I ever had to make as an entrepreneur.

For the first time, Manny and I were living the same thing, with different perspectives. We were experiencing a great moment of uncertainty, where the knowledge acquired appears in a mined area.

The first days- still in choc, my associate and I were not asking ourselves how we were going to be able to pay our employees, we were wondering how we would survive. We then learned that there is life in confinement, that we are not defeated and that our work was still justified. But we remain alert, worried at certain times, and realistic looking at what's to come.

Will Manny change his perspective as an employee? I think so, for many reasons.

  1. Increased gratitude for his work. The last recession happened in 2008. Then, between 2008 and 2020, we had some time to forget we were not indestructible. It is an exceptionally long economic cycle (one of the longest in history), and the pandemic reminded us that not one business, one job was immune, excepting the essential services. Manny will probably remember that this economy can be shattered in one day and that it can change the course of many things, himself included. The satisfaction of a job well done will then hold a new meaning.

  2. A better appreciated corporate culture. More and more, companies are investing time and money to offer their employees activities and occasions outside of the business hours. Still, this becomes a normalized situation for employees. Even if entrepreneurs and managers are creatives during this time of isolation, confinement has its limits and workers are suffering from this forced lack of human contact. Coming back, we can expect Manny to enjoy with enthusiasm the many occasions in which the business will allow him to interact with his coworkers. For any companies that were not up to date regarding socialization, it is an excellent opportunity to start investing in your corporate culture. Where we work is also where we experience life, and must be treated so, beyond any economic or operational imperatives.

  3. Telecommuting. Companies that thought they were different or couldn't offer to telecommute will have to think twice. Employees have proven during the crisis that teleworking, and digital-everything, it works! At certain times, it may even be more productive. Working from home while having young kids at home has undoubtedly been a logistic challenge during confinement. But telecommuting remains a vital tool (on several occasions) to improve the work-family conciliation. As an example, an employee that commutes for 45 minutes, day and night, will stay more productive by working from home on any day that he has a medical appointment. Instead of losing an insane amount of time in public transportation, he could retrieve it with teleworking. On a bigger scale, this forced immersion to telecommuting could also bring more businesses to adopt better-teleworking politics and reduce the time spent in the office. Numerous companies are already operating on this model in order to reduce their rental space. Bet this trend will shortly be on the rise.

  4. A confinement lesson for corporations: forget the useless travel meetings. For employees that are or were working for more traditional companies, the pandemic also changed various obligations. These businesses mostly have ingrained habits and are choosing aspects on which they want to innovate. Outside their decision-making circle, they usually are pretty closed to changes. But the confinement challenged many corporations, sometimes violently. We cannot deny that in between these turmoils, specific ways will change for the best, for the benefit of the employees. Businesses that required their staff to travel from Montreal to Toronto two times a week to assist certain meetings can review their requirement. During the crisis, we became aware that the industry still lives, even from a distance, and that it can save time, energy and money.

In other words, the working space will undoubtedly hold a few permanent changes, coming from the employees and the employers.

We can expect that certain temporary situations will transform into permanent politics and that the employee-employer relationship will experience a turnabout.

Coming back from the greater-pause, employees and employers must maintain excellent communication to address their preoccupations and individual needs. Transparency is also required. There is a unique opportunity for businesses, including discussions based on trust, to strengthen the ties with their employees. Circumstances are favorable to innovate and rethink the ways of our partnerships. It is additionally the perfect occasion to revisit our social and environmental impact. The B-Corp approach adopted by Republik in 2015 will grow in popularity, and we will be here to assist any businesses who wish to take the turn.

We can also note that the population is carefully listening to our politicians and that they are benefiting from a powerful platform to mobilize citizens towards a shared vision.

The government's different tiers could also benefit from the crisis by accelerating the societal changes necessary to the survival of future generations.

As an example: climate change, equality of chances or women's status.

The greater-pause maybe is the main event that will change the face of our planet (and let's hope, for the best!).

Either way, we know it will have transformed Jocelyne's and Manny's perspective.

About

Thanks to his HEC degrees in finance and accounting as well as his 10 years of experience in sales and marketing, Vincent has developed a solid management expertise.