The Future of Work and Social Interaction

As vaccination rates go up and COVID deaths go down, global consumers are starting to consider what life will look like after a majority of people have been vaccinated. Will the “new normal” people created to cope with the pandemic lockdown restrictions be replaced by old routines? Will something entirely different emerge? 

In a survey of more than 15,000 adults across 9 countries in February, the IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV), most people said they are confident in the safety, effectiveness, and distribution of vaccines, which pharmaceutical companies have produced swiftly. Even as new variants of the virus have spread, more than half of the respondents say they expect the vaccine to keep them protected. 

Global mobility professionals should expect workers to have a new threshold for public interaction and expectations of personal space. A majority (52%) of respondents say they will change the extent to which they interact with people outside of their household after they are vaccinated. 

Overall, 30% plan to interact with others less, while 22% say they will interact more. In particular, people who say they were in crowds or large groups almost constantly before the pandemic want to change that lifestyle—40% will scale back interaction. 

On the other end of the spectrum, more Gen Z respondents want to spend time with people outside of their households once they get the shot; 27% of Gen Z said they will increase outside interaction, compared to 19% of Gen X and only 16% of those over 55. For their part, Gen X and those over 55 are more interested in returning to old habits. 

Just over half of those in both age groups want to spend the same amount of time socializing with others as they did pre-pandemic. When it comes to work, people are less open to change. 

Overall, 62% of employees want to keep their current work arrangement even after they’re immunized. However, this varies based on their current work arrangement. For people who work from home, 44% want to continue doing so after they receive the vaccine, while 35% want to move to a hybrid model. 

For those working in a hybrid model, 57% want to continue and 43% want to try something new. On the consumer side, people are ready to scale up their visits to a variety of venues, from restaurants and bars to salons and barbershops, as more people get vaccinated. 

Future-proofing your organization

Future proofing your organization means understanding how business operations will evolve, as well as ensuring employees can practice new methods in safety and health while in the office.

A study by CDW, a multi-brand provider of information technology solutions, points to a shift in business priorities and strategies, with a bold aim at future-proofing offices in the following ways:

Thermal screening. Thermal camera solutions are said to be effective at scanning people quickly and flagging those that have signs of an elevated temperature.

Sanitation services. A clean, sanitary office can help promote health and kill germs that linger from a sneeze, unwashed hands or any other potential spreading opportunity. CDW has partnered with ISSA and Pandemic Certified sanitation partners trained by John Hopkins in coordination with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Sanitation services reportedly utilize proper PPE thoroughly.

Occupancy tracking. Surveillance cameras equipped with video analytics software can reportedly detect and count people as they pass in and out while aggregating that data across multiple entrances and areas. This data can be displayed on digital signage in real time to indicate when it is ok to enter or when to wait for occupancy levels to fall below the maximum limit.

WFH (Work from Home) Assessment. Other than safety and health protection, companies will need to focus on 5 key areas — endpoints, collaboration tools, networking, application delivery and cybersecurity. This way, workers will be supported no matter where they’re working.

Social distancing. Not many studies have pointed out that every office, retail store, classroom and healthcare facility will have different needs. Technology should be able to administer a recommended and safe distance between employees, staff, and customers.

With COVID-19 going down in the United States, there is an expected rise in social interactions, especially in entertaining events.

Uptick in event attendance

It is already expected that venues will have many people attending live sporting events, amusement or theme parks, museums and art galleries, live theater events, and movie theaters. 

This enthusiasm isn’t shared across generational lines, though, according to another survey of 14,000 consumers. Gen Z in particular appears to find social venues less appealing than its elders. On average, 60% of 18-to-24- year-olds plan to visit venues once vaccinated—as compared with 71% of Millennials and 69% of Gen X respondents. 

This appears to be the continuation of a trend, as Gen Z also reported visiting venues less frequently than those in other age groups during the pandemic. The pandemic amplified the homebody tendencies of Millennials and Gen Z, meaning venues may need to get creative to encourage younger consumers to opt for big nights out over friendly gatherings at home.

With virtual communication largely supplanting in-person interaction for more than a year of their young lives, Gen Z may have cemented a preference for digital experiences that will outlast COVID-19.

Travel is on the itinerary 

In 2020, travel restrictions shut down airports and closed borders, decimating the travel industry. In the US alone, the travel sector lost $492 billion—a 42% year-over year decline. International and business travel saw the steepest declines, falling 76% and 70% respectively.

But there are promising signs. Roughly 1.5 times more vaccinated people expect to take an overnight trip in the next 6 months. Perhaps unsurprisingly, 25-to-39-year-old respondents are 62% more likely to travel in the first 6 months following their vaccination than people who are over 55. It seems Gen Zs are averse to crowds but not traveling.