For a country that is so focused on its history, living in China has felt like living in the future these past few months.
When the world was heading into lockdown, wondering what the next few months would feel like, we were able to tell them. And as the West now cautiously looks at removing some quarantine restrictions, we’ve had almost a month experiencing what it’s like testing the waters of life post-Covid.
Make no doubt about it, this does feel like a ‘New Normal’. As you’ll see from some learnings below, almost every action in our day, no matter how big or small, feels more considered. So what should you, as a business and as a member of society, expect?
The New Normal for businesses
Starting with the practical stuff, there’s unsurprisingly a major operation to ensure the office is an impeccably clean working environment.
During weekends, we have a professional disinfecting company come in to provide thorough hospital-standard cleaning – disinfecting, fumigating and wiping down all services. And during weekdays, we have an additional service that sees cleaners spray disinfectant and wipe down all door handles, kitchens, exits, meeting rooms and other public areas every two hours.
Almost everyone has a small bottle of hand sanitiser with them at all times. We also have hand sanitiser and disinfectant in the reception area – anyone who walks in immediately sanitises their hands and sprays their shoes and clothes. We also have disinfecting wipes to wipe down our keyboards and desks first thing in the morning.
Holmes & Marchant has provided free masks for everyone. Everyone still wears them during their commute in to work – and wore them religiously in the first week. Three weeks later and, as confidence (or, perhaps, complacency) has grown, they tend to be more regularly tucked under chins or left on a desk during meetings.
Speaking of meetings, one month in and face-to-face client interactions are still rare. If working from home taught us anything, it was that we didn’t need to be physically with the client to have a meaningful working session. Zoom is still king.
But what working from home also taught us, was just how much we missed our colleagues. People are happy to be back and whilst we’ve shown that we’re able to collaborate and holding internal meetings remotely, nothing compares to sharing thoughts and ideas in person. Working together is something we cherish so much more now.
The working day has changed, and there are some things that will take getting used to. The start of our working day is later now – so as to avoid the rush hour. Like many places, the subways are a critical pain point for potential transmission, so if it’s within our power to avoid them when they’re at their busiest, we will. Of course, a new timetable has led to some unwanted side-effects, and we’ve already seen how without proper control it can lead to people working later into the night, so this is still a work in progress.
Finally, it’s been interesting to see the implications that the ‘new normal’ has had on lunch. Of course, one change is that people now bring in their own plates and cutlery, rather than use the office’s supply. But people now eat at different times too, to avoid mass gatherings. This is quite a big shift in China, a place where everyone used to congregate to eat at midday, almost religiously.
The New Normal for society
It will be interesting to see whether trends shown during lockdown will continue long into the future. The National Bureau of Statistics recently reported that Chinese per capita spend for food, tobacco and alcohol went up 5% in the first quarter of 2020 compared to 2019.
Of course that could be put down to the stresses of lockdown, but we continue to find that, when online, people are buying more than they do when in a store. Physically visiting a store is now a shop for the essentials – people buy what’s needed and avoid ‘unnecessary’ categories, such as confectionary. When they’re shopping online, that’s when they indulge.
It’s not to say that restaurants and malls are ghost towns, though. Certainly there are fewer people than there were pre-Covid, but customers are making their way back. All places will require a temperature check or a QR code (China’s system to identify whether you’re all clear) before they let you in or serve you. Starbucks will take your temperature before they let you order.
One thing that may be impacting local restaurants is people’s increased desire to cook. Again, whether this is something that will sustain will be interesting to monitor, but, for a country like China where street food was the norm, 3 months learning new cooking skills has resulted in an obvious increase in home cooked meals and packed lunches being brought to work.
Speaking of lifestyle changes, we’ve found that Covid-19 has been a sharp wake-up call for some – people continue to push on with newly adopted health-related activities, with a noticeable rise in night-time joggers and those in fitness classes, even with lockdown measures calmed.
Indeed there was always hope that isolation would bring some positive changes to society, and it certainly seems like people, even strangers, are willing to make more small talk.
And when people do gather, it tends to be outdoors, in order to get better ventilation. House parties are now rare – and you sense this will continue to be the case throughout summer, at least.
People aren’t looking to travel far anytime soon, that’s for sure. Certainly not outside of China, and even inside we tend to see people heading to places that are reachable by car. The car rental market has grown rapidly, whilst the number of international and domestic flights have reduced.
Meanwhile many of those attractions that people will be visiting now require reservations, to manage numbers. All require visitors to wear masks and provide the necessary QR codes or certificates to prove they are not a risk. Whilst many of these changes could revert back to the way things were once the novelty of cooking or the warmth of summer wears off, there’s no doubt that we’ve emerged from this horrible situation a more considered and aware society. It poses new challenges as businesses, as leaders and as individuals. But one thing’s for sure, getting some sense of ‘normality’ back – be it a new normal or otherwise – has brought a huge sense of relief.