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Are we really as busy as we like to think we are?

As a society, we measure time in seconds, minutes, hours, days, months and years. As individuals, we measure time by our experience of it. That has been most evident during COVID-19 when, at one point, 93 percent of the global workforce lived in countries affected by workplace closure. Within the 36 member states of the Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development, an average of 39 percent of employees took part in what the World Economic Forum described as 'the largest experiment in remote working in history.'

Before COVID-19, 'time poverty' was a common complaint. Although OECD figures show that average hours worked per person per year across its members fell from 1,807 in 2000 to 1,726 in 2019 , many consumers felt they had more to do and less time to do it in. Hours spent commuting to work, the need to do more with less when they got there, our digitally-enabled 'always on' lifestyle, all contributed to the feeling that life was proceeding at a frenetic pace

The great reset

COVID-19 and the various lockdowns have distorted, disturbed and disrupted our sense of time, changing the way we look back – and look forward.

Life before COVID-19 already seems like a historical construct. Facing a future that looks uncertain, discontinuous and perilous, many consumers, especially those on middle to higher incomes, have adopted a 'carpe diem' (seize the day) mentality, concluding that now is the time to move house, extend it, build a home gym, splash out on a swimming pool, change career paths or buy luxuries not considered before. This attitude has created 'Zoom towns', small towns near major public lands or ski resorts, which are becoming hot spots for remote working.

of consumers say they work because they like their job – and 25 percent say they work because they have to

There is always a tendency to overestimate change in the short term – and underestimate it in the long term. There is nothing new about working from home or flexible hours but surveys show that six out of ten people who have been compelled to work remotely this year want to keep doing so. Adjusting to this new reality, urban planners are accelerating development of the '15 minute city' where everything a resident needs is accessible, without a car, within 15 minutes.

of consumers say they have decreased their use of social media in the past year

Industries that derive much of their revenue from people spending two hours or more a day commuting – not just retail, but infrastructure, advertising, the media, energy, property, hospitality and the automotive sector – will need, at the very least, to reappraise their business model and test a variety of scenarios.

If COVID-19 changes where people work and how they work, it is likely to also have an impact on why they work. At the moment, employees' motivations are mixed: 25 percent work because they have to, 22 percent say it gives them a sense of self-worth and 19 percent like their job. Will consumers prefer to spend their working days doing something they actually like?

The global economy is already fragile – almost one in seven consumers say they would like to work but are unemployed – so, in the short term, economic necessity will likely prevail. At the same time, the disruption to existing patterns of business and work has been so widespread and profound that it is hard, in the longer term, to see the world returning to a system that many felt was already becoming obsolete. The global remote workforce increased by 140 percent between 2005 and 2019 and it is forecast to rise by 77 percent between 2019 and 2022.

of consumers say that day-to-day spending is their top financial priority


Consumers' time is precious

Although people across the world have had to queue to make essential purchases during lockdowns, one aspect of consumer behavior that is unlikely to be reset by COVID-19 is their impatience with organizations that waste their time.

of consumers say their children spend more than three hours a day on their mobile phones

Six out of ten Gen Z consumers say they will not use an app or website that takes too long to download. Across the generations and regions, consumers expect companies to take friction out of the entire purchasing process – and out of delivery – with 55 percent also saying that resolving issues is 'very important'.

COVID-19 and the lockdowns are changing the way consumers spend time online. It is interesting to note that 13 percent of consumers have decreased their use of social media in the past year, possibly because they are doing so much else online – participating in virtual meetings, shopping, learning and watching videos or movies. At the same time, there was a surge in consumers who said that their children spent 3-4 hours a day on their mobile phones – from 34 percent pre-COVID to 46 percent in July 2020.

Continued lockdowns around the globe may raise consumer expectations. Given little option but to shop online for many goods and services, they are growing accustomed to the convenience, speed and ease provided by digitally native businesses - and indeed businesses that have swiftly adapted their business models to be digital first.

of consumers want organizations to take the friction out of the purchasing process

There are lessons here for organizations embracing emerging technologies with the goal of achieving a step change in their customer service experience. Chatbots appeal to early adopters of technology, but there is already conflicting evidence about their impact on customer satisfaction. To be truly transformational – and offer more than novelty value – chatbots, augmented reality and virtual reality need to be embedded in a structure, system and culture focused on achieving excellence in customer engagement.