Our Post-Pandemic Future: How People See Their Lives Ahead

Looking at Day One and beyond

Editor's note: Maximilian Weigl, strategy director at 72andSunny Amsterdam, collected several hundred personal perspectives about what our post-pandemic future will look like on Day One, the first day after the crisis. Here are some excerpts from that project.

• "The way we were forced to stay inside, and it didn't immediately work out, is the same way will I come out of this. Treading lightly and carefully. We were asked to avoid people, now we can hug again? It will be weird. I think on the first day I might go and eat at a restaurant. And then go home again to cope with everything in reverse." [respondent 12]

The answer is out there

2020 doesn't quite seem to be the year people had expected. The spread of the novel coronavirus and the corresponding official countermeasures have put the world on halt and disrupted the lives of billions of people. The new decade started off with a "social experiment" of unheard-of proportions, challenging people, governments and businesses in every part of the world. 

In no time, consultancies and agencies jumped to the helm with predictions about the future of businesses and brands. While a bigger, more important question remains unanswered still: What does it mean for people?

The people who will make or break your business in the new reality that awaits us all. The people who will decide whether your socially distanced logo really made a difference and whether your hastily adjusted campaigns made their lives any better.

This article will not give the ultimate answer, but more than 200 responses from people around the world to a simple question give a glimpse of what people think lies ahead for them: What are you going to do on the first day after the crisis?

Their thoughts? The world had better brace itself for an intense immersion into familiar life—before we might see a hopeful shift towards incrementally changing, and improving, personal lifestyles.

The day after

By the time of this writing, governments around the world are starting to more or less carefully lift the restrictions confining the movements of half the world's population. There's light at the end of the tunnel—and people are itching to move again. Judging by the responses, people are mentally gearing up for what can only be described as an intense immersion back into their familiar lives.

Going all out.

People can't wait to leave their shelter. They crave a change of scenery, describing a big break out away from the four walls right into nature: hikes and walks in parks, runs and swims along or in the ocean. People are looking forward to spending time outside without any feelings of guilt or caution.

• "Run outside naked. Kidding. Not Kidding. Hug my friends. Host a big dinner. Order a martini at a bar. Go surfing." [r85]

Getting back in touch.

More than just seeing people again, respondents can't wait to get physically close again. Hugging and touching their friends and families is high on the list, showing that being in touch can't replace the power of a touch. From visiting parents, to hanging with friends, to diving back into intimate encounters, the world is ready to be close again.

• "Probably meet up with key friends, sit outside somewhere in the sun and drink and celebrate being able to be together again." [r5]

• "Have a dinner with my friends and book a ticket and go see my family." [r10]

• "Spend time (OUTSIDE) with the people I love that I haven't been able to see during this period. Get a haircut. Have sex." [r42]

Feeding the soul.

Even though respondents claim to have significantly improved their cooking skills, they also can't wait to indulge in big meals at their favourite restaurants with their loved ones. Beers on outside patios in L.A., picnics in parks in New York, or borrel on boats in Amsterdam—people see themselves indulging in their different culinary rituals again once the crisis is over.

• "Visiting my friend's restaurant for a beautiful indulgent meal." [r49]

Becoming yourself.

Weeks of isolation and confinement have left a mark on our social life—and people feel them on their bodies, too. Many respondents can't wait to get haircuts, facials, waxes or massages to get back a sense of control over their bodies. A proper cleanse and trim to feel ready for the world again. Home workouts might have helped them stay in some sort of shape but to feel properly well in their skins, they crave a proper cleansing experience.

• "I'll be going straight to the nail shop, then the hair shop, then to get waxed, then to a massage, followed by dinner and drinks with all my girls." [r40]

Back to work.

For some it is out of financial necessity, for others out of psychological sanity: Many respondents expect their first day after the crisis to be spent at work. And with that, the need to pick up the well-established routines from the past picks up again: From organizing child care to braving the commute, many things seem a lot like business as usual. Which is not to everyone's liking.

• "I will be going back into the office—and I look very much forward to some social interaction that isn't with my partner. And oh boy, I am looking forward to going to my local coffee place and have someone else make a good coffee for me." [r101]

The life after

Many respondents seem to be aware and hope that Day One will be a rare exception from a new normal that is yet to be defined. The second question of the survey, therefore, asked about the changes people were anticipating moving forward. Wven though many seem to hope to go back to some sort of pre-pandemic status quo, there is an overwhelming sense of optimism that things will change for the better in a phase of incremental improvements.

A new smallness.

Over the past weeks, the physical world for many people has shrunk to the size of their apartment—or maybe their direct neighborhood. Yes, the first thing people want to do is to break out of this confinement. However, they also have started to appreciate a certain smallness this has brought to their lives. They seem to value the slower pace the global pause has brought along, and they intend to maintain it as much as possible.

• "I'd like to keep a slowness and a smallness to life that i'm only just now starting to appreciate. To be more intentional and thoughtful about travel. To work less and be with my family more." [r49]

A new selfishness.

Never have people been forced to spend more time with themselves. Lacking the usual (physical and mental) distractions, people had to turn to their thoughts and their selves and discovered revealing things. They describe how their priorities have been shifting, how they identified what really matters to them and that they became aware of different ways in which they want to contribute to the world. People want to bring that newfound focus into the next normal, to stop external forces from setting the pace for them. And yes, they are aware that this might conflict with their previous lifestyles.

• "When this is over, I want and need to keep my priorities that have come to the surface during this time, active and at the forefront of my life. Because I feel like it's making me into a more present and open person, rather than just rushing out the door early, jumping on the freeway to beat traffic and make it to the office early. I feel I have more focus and more drive now ,and I want to continue that in my life when this is over." [r61]

• "I have spent more time with family over the last few months, and that has made me question whether I want to be living far away from them. I'm also more driven to change my career." [r105]

A next-level self.

In search of distraction and entertainment, many people have turned to online classes and tutorials to learn new or improve existing skills. From cooking skills, to arts and craft classes, to music production, people have reached new levels of (self) sufficiency. Bragging overachievers touting their new business skills might have pissed off the Twitter and LinkedIn communities, but plenty of people are using the big pause to level up on their personal skills.

• "I'll be cooking more at home because I've learned a ton of new recipes and even how to rehydrate frozen meat to make it cook as if it was fresh. I'll also probably be staying in more because it's more relaxing and I waste less money on stupid stuff." [r66]

• "I've become a lot more self-sufficient when it comes to my day-to-day activities. I'll likely cancel my gym membership and solely pay for ad-hoc classes, as I've realized I can do a great workout from home. I'll likely cook more in my home as well, so i'll rely less on eating out and more on local grocery stores." [r75]

A new responsibility.

People expect to be more mindful of their habits and choices when it comes to traveling and consumption. They expect their newfound skills to allow them to consume more consciously and responsibly, whether that is fewer meals out and more cooking at home, or a new proficiency in remote working allowing them to skip work-related travel as much as possible.

• "I hope I look back and am able to see this time as an amazing opportunity to focus on what's truly important: family, humanity and health." [r14]

• "I will be consuming less, use what I have or repair/paint it, be more conscious about food, appreciate the moment more, maybe work less hard." [r98]

A new sense of pragmatism.

A few careful respondents voiced a more pragmatic approach to everyday life and personal finance. Many have been caught by surprise by the crisis inflicted by the pandemic and they expect themselves to act more financially responsible in the future. Saving money on unnecessary expenditures, going out less, all to make sure to be prepared should there be another crisis.

• "I imagine I will continue to be careful when it comes to spending money because things still seem to be unstable. Though I had planned on traveling a lot this year, I'm not sure if any of my travel plans will be allowed or if I'll feel comfortable doing so." [r82]

A new closeness.

Over the past few weeks, many respondents have found new ways of being in touch with friends from near and far. Not being able to be close made many of them realize how important it is to them. From having been able (and having been forced) to spend more time with children and significant others, to maintaining contact with people far away—many hope to maintain that newfound social routine. And that they will be able to keep being close to their kids and spouses once they go back to their previous lifestyles.

• "I will miss being at home with my kid in some ways. Even though its been so hard, I've been grateful for the extra time I get to see his face." [r50]

• "Honestly, I think I've been taking the people in my life for granted, and this pandemic is teaching me what it's like without these people around. Video and calls are nice, but there's no substitute for the real deal." [r92]

A new sense of space.

People expect it will take them some time before they can be close to strangers or expose themselves to larger groups of people again. Being (made) hyper aware of the acceptable and safe distance between people, people will require time and space before they let other people come close again.

• "I'll continue to wear gloves, masks and cleaning like crazy. I'll likely go out less." [r43]

Opportunity for cautious optimism

The more than 200 answers to this survey capture an interesting tension. On the one hand, there is a big desire for an intense immersion into full life on the first day after the crisis. The need to feel some sort of contact, to get back in touch with their previous lives, and regain control is palpable. 

On the other hand, there seems to be a big hope for overarching change that can bring incremental improvements to their lives: more consciousness and more responsibility in our relationships to ourselves and others, our consumption habits, and our professional lives.

• "Won't work the same: five days in the office is unproductive and obsolete. Won't consume the same: trying to be more mindful of the planet. Won't think of family time the same: will try to spend way more meaningful moments with my daughter and husband. Won't be taking a lot of things for granted." [r85]

It remains to be seen whether people will stick to their resolutions, as some of those changes require sacrifices to a lifestyle that people need to be willing to make (e.g., less travel to visit families overseas) and able to afford (e.g., shop local).

And this is where brands can play a role. Together with governments and other organizations, they are in charge of designing products and services (and communication) that help people navigate the change so they can benefit from the opportunity that is ahead of them.

• "Evil people and companies will remain evil. Good things will stay good. Everything in between will hopefully become better." [r90]

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Maximilian Weigl
Maximilian Weigl is strategy director at 72andSunny Amsterdam.

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