It’s probably de rigeur by now to claim the pandemic has accelerated trends which were already underway. And the result of all this acceleration? A period of mass reflection, in which workers and consumers have questioned established living habits and wondered whether those habits have any place in a post-COVID future.
While there are numerous ways to illuminate how our working habits have shifted over the past six months, the Q2 results for fiscal year 2021 published on Monday by Zoom, the video-communications company, are a good way to drive the point home. Total revenue for the quarter was $663.5 million - that’s a 355% increase year-on-year. Its customer figures are even more staggering - it reported around 370,200 customers with more than 10 employees, an increase of approximately 458% on the same quarter last year. 12 months ago, few had heard of the video-calling service - now, it’s so well entrenched in our working lives that workers book in a ‘zoom’ rather than the dreaded ‘meeting’.
The advent of Zoom has helped companies manage the migration to remote working imposed by lockdown - and its popularity may cement its status as the default modus operandi going forwards. For many workers, a daily commute to sit in a couple of meetings and check their emails never did make sense - in a world where alternatives have proven to work just as well, what makes sense holds more sway than what went before.
For young people, such shifts are of particular significance. Before, many believed they needed to move to large cities to secure good-quality jobs, and have to stomach high rents for cramped flats in order to do so. But with remote-working now the norm, it’s another move which people have realised makes little sense, and one which bitter millennials are unlikely to revert back to.
Which companies will survive?
Changes like these will have far-reaching effects on the UK consumer economy. Certainly, companies like Pret a Manger, which are built to capitalise on commuter trade, will despair at the prospect of a permanent shift to home working. But while headlines have chosen Pret as an emblem of the death of the city, Pret’s model is almost uniquely suited to pre-pandemic working habits. Fellow high-street chain Greggs has the majority of its shops located in towns and suburbs, and local cafes and restaurants are likely to profit from the “polo mint” effect of hollowing city centres and movement out to suburbs and towns. Outside of cities, many businesses are well poised to attract homeward bound workers looking to spend the cash they’ve saved on travel.
Another clear beneficiary of the new economy has been supermarkets offering home delivery - again, for many consumers who have grown accustomed to having food delivered straight to their doorsteps, it’s a habit which looks likely to stay post-pandemic. In this new economy, where efficiency and ease are top of buyers’ shopping lists, there’s even less room for error. The first fleets of Ocado vans delivering Marks & Spencer groceries were unleashed yesterday, and despite a year of publicity and planning, many households weren’t impressed with the results. Veteran Ocado users took to Twitter to complain about order cancellations, with many threatening to turn to Waitrose.com in the future.
Shifts like these tell us why people say the pandemic has ‘accelerated’ trends. Ocado’s partnership with M&S had been agreed long before COVID, but it takes on an added significance and scrutiny in a post-pandemic world. Ultimately, people’s expectations have changed just as much as the world they live in. It has brought to the fore home truths about what we’re willing to tolerate - in terms of working habits, living circumstances, and methods of consumption.
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