The Future Is Now: How the COVID-19 crisis has pushed us to rethink the way we work

The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted all aspects of people’s lives, disrupting both short-term plans and long-term prospects. Around the world, people have had to adapt their day-to-day routines, adopting new “normal” behaviours that require a thorough re-evaluation of the way they spend their time, energy, and money.

This is especially true in Southeast Asian economies, where the use of innovative devices, platforms, and services has allowed new consumption patterns to emerge despite the overall economic slowdown. And as consumers’ needs, habits, priorities, and preferences evolve, so do the market dynamics that they drive.

What are some of the key trends observed in the region? And how can businesses leverage this knowledge to stay ahead of competitors?

To answer these questions, Blackbox Research, Toluna, and Archetype have published Into The Light, an in-depth study that reveals the emerging patterns, trends, and dynamics across six key ASEAN markets – Indonesia, Malaysia, Philippines, Singapore, Thailand, and Vietnam.

This article is the fourth in a series of blog posts devoted to examining some of the major findings and implications of the study. It focuses on how the COVID-19 crisis has transformed the way we work – from the platforms we use to collaborate to the spaces we use to interact – and how these new habits impact B2B marketing.

Click here to read the first instalment on consumers’ rising preference for local brands; here to read the second article on consumers’ growing appetite for fun, uplifting entertainment across social channels; and here to read the third article on how consumers are actively prioritising safety when making purchasing decisions.

To meet or not to meet

The COVID-19 pandemic has left an indelible mark on workplaces across the world.

Whether in Southeast Asia, where at the time of writing most countries have managed to curb the number of infected, or in Europe, where a major second wave is already wreaking havoc, working from home is set to remain a key social distancing measure for the better part of 2021.

Two major questions emerge for both employers and employees: First, will working in an office ever go back to the way it was before? Is the traditional office workspace a thing of the past? Second, are we even sure things should go back to the way they were? Are people really excited to going back to commuting, meeting clients in person, or having lunch with colleagues?

Across the region, close to six in 10 surveyed professionals state that they are reticent to return to the office. Among the reasons cited are the need to be assured that the virus was eliminated (through the development of a vaccine) and wanting to wait and see how the situation plays out before making a move back to a crowded office.

Over a third of workers (37%) state they will miss the ability to work exclusively from home once life goes back to normal. This is most pronounced in Malaysia (42%) and the Philippines (40%). And no one really missed the office – only 8% of ASEAN employees state that they missed going to the office during the lockdown period.

These findings suggest that a flexible working environment is something that employees will increasingly value and demand, even if working from home risks making it harder to divide personal and professional time.

Is the office dead?

However, this does not necessarily mean the end or the death of the traditional office. It may in fact point to a significant cultural shift for office cultures across Southeast Asia.

Indeed, companies in the region have long held more traditional work cultures, ones that value face-to-face interactions (for collaboration) and prioritise physical presence (for supervision). Decades of research provide important insight into how effective work relationships are built. We know that they require mutual trust and cooperation, and that physical proximity is critical to fostering trusting and cooperative relationships.

Today, video-conferencing channels are increasingly accepted as not just a communications tool, but as a full-fledged productivity platform – giving the act of going to the office a whole other dimension.

Some companies, for example, are using teleconferences as the default mode of communication – to meet clients, host events, or even just share files. Meanwhile, more important (and much more purposeful) interactions are pushed to physical meetings in the office, with specific objectives and outcomes tied to the act of meeting in person.

Overall, the traditional office space may not completely die off, but it will change. From enormous open spaces to smaller, compartmentalised and multi-purpose workspaces, the office will contribute to keeping trust levels in the modern organisation by ensuring work relationships run smoothly and with purpose.

What this means for B2B Marketing

The fact that more people will stay home in the future is proving to be a challenge for B2B marketing. Many of the touchpoints in the B2B sales cycle rely on in-person interactions (events, trade shows, meetings, workshops).

While many have pivoted to virtual events such as webinars, there is a rising wave of online event fatigue, as too many brands have jumped on the bandwagon. Indeed, the success rate of online events seems to have taken a hit. For many, it is the absence of the networking aspect that makes online events much less interesting than physical events.

Additionally, telemarketing forms a key part of the B2B marketer’s arsenal. During lockdown, telemarketing programs saw their efficiency decrease by almost 80 to 90% in certain cities due to the difficulty of reaching people who were working from home. Pivoting to LinkedIn for prospecting helped improve the success rate due to the attention that the InMail product gets, but it further increased the cost-per-lead from the program.

Research from McKinsey suggests that it is not that people are not buying, but more that reaching and nurturing prospects is proving more difficult. Data shows that 70% of B2B decision-makers say they are open to making new, fully self-serve or remote purchases in excess of USD50,000, 27% would spend more than USD500,000, and 15% would be willing to spend more than USD1 million.

Looking ahead: Time to engage

For marketers and communicators, the fact that B2B buying is making a pivot to an online model means that investing in building visual, video, and interactive assets will bring more value to your organisation as long as it is built with sales enablement in mind.

At the same time, investing in content marketing and a long-term content strategy will ensure that your brand’s thought leadership stays present in the minds of your audience.

The key pivot here is to shift away from depending on a highly event-based or field marketing model to an approach that prioritises content and ongoing customer engagement wherever they may be.

Written by
Yashan Cama
Written by
Julian Chow