Navigating Your Home During COVID-19

Sales and Marketing Insights

Maybe all we need to know about working from home comes from Global Workplace Analytics (GWA), a research and consulting firm that helps employers understand and prepare for the future of work for a living. They say: “More important point: If you’re confused by all the conflicting numbers you read about telework, join the club. We explain the problem and try to offer a clearer view here.” When you click “here,” you go to a wonderful article entitled, “Why Are The Work-At-Home Statistics So Different From One Source To The Next?” After you read that, you’ll quickly conclude: who cares.

Or more aptly, “How does that lack of consistency in information affect me?”

Since COVID-19’s appearance and the lockdowns, it’s no longer whether or not people will be working from home that’s the question. It’s how often they will be doing it and how many will be doing it? Like other questions around COVID-19, no one knows for certain.

This is mainly the result of not only fear, but also because of states that change their lockdown orders based on information they receive or don’t receive (i.e., on September 25, Florida completely opened up, while in Illinois, the governor started talking lockdown again).

I’ve worked at home my entire life. As a teacher, I graded papers “at home.” As an advertising creative director, I wrote ads “at home.” Running my own business for the past 30 years, I’ve worked at home as much as I have at “the office.” I have worked in the office AND at home simultaneously.

The question is really integrated with the word “work.”

A friend today, at home schooling his young boys “at home” is tied to the dining room table for his work. His frustration was evident in his tone as we spoke, to the point of being almost desperate for “it” [the virus] to end.

In The Future of Work Post-COVID-19, Gil Press argued, “Balancing work and life is similar to productivity, cost of commuting, impact on the environment, and workers’ health, in that they are all viewed as both potential costs and potential benefits of working from home.”[1] But, the problem with that is the word “balance.” Since when does work and life have to be “in balance?” The wording (and not just Gil’s) has always confused “work” and “life” as separate functions (are you not living when you are working?). In other words, work is life and life is work. You really can’t separate the two. You couldn’t pre-COVID-19 and you certainly can’t today. The truth is, “balance” was an illusion. COVID-19 is a truth serum.

One of the real benefits of COVID-19 is that it has brought into focus such false distinctions. What is school? What is education? What is work? What is living? It is actually making people redefine the words, which Aristotle has always is of great benefit to communication.[2]

In “State of the Consumer: Future of the Home, an online presentation August 18, 2020, Suzy Founder/CEO Matt Britton and Domino Media Group Deputy Editor Lindsay Mather [3]discussed how consumers have transformed their living spaces in 2020. It was during that webinar that I first heard the term “zoom room” and I have been using it ever since.

Online meetings not only exploded since COVID-19’s appearance: an entire market is developing about what your “room” should look like when you are online “from the home.”

One of the main points in this webinar (which is terrific news for designers, architects, showrooms and others) is that DIY home improvement companies like Home Depot, Lowes, Sherwin-Williams have reported “unprecedented demand” for their products and services[4]. After months of social distancing, people are reevaluating their connections to the place they’ve spent the vast majority of their time lately: their homes. This is driving the “working from home” movement as well.

Opportunity Knocking

Their findings during this webinar were based on 1,000 Americans weighted across age, gender, ethnicity, and region. Some of these findings will not just be interesting, they will weigh into your strategic thinking about your business as you configure what “working from home” means for you, your staff, your business. Here are a few I learned to consider.

  • Over past 6 months, America has been home more than ever. 77% of people are spending more time at home regardless of eased restrictions. Note, too, that the definition of “vacation” and “travel” are changing. In another webinar on hospitality I attended, one of the panelists said, “Our concentric circles we typically discuss are gone. I was in Colorado recently and every other vehicle I saw in the hotel parking lot was from Texas. People are driving to their destinations, not flying.”[5]
  • Allison Petty of Hypen & Co. said, “Our houses are becoming our new offices, classrooms, restaurants, and bars, and our remodels are reflecting that.”
  • 47% of people have repurposed areas of their home to replace the gym. Becky Shea, and interior designer, said, “We just finished a project last week in the West Village where we converted a sitting area that was never used into a full-on gym with layered rubber floors to protect the hardwood underneath and all the equipment needed to get a good sweat in.”
  • Software will get into hardware (Lululemon to buy Mirror, a fitness startup for $500M).
  • Hollywood is over. A study showed that only four out of ten people wanted to go back to theaters to see movies. Gaming, on the other hand, is exploding as a market. 53% of 18 to 24 year-olds spend their time in their bedroom, while 46% of people are spending more time in the living room than before COVID-19.
  • COVID-19 has resulted in a new market: serious cleaning. 64% of people have given their home “deep cleaning.” Clorox and Lysol have become heroes of the pandemic.

These observations not only shape residential markets, they shape commercial markets because of people are spending more time at home. It will have a direct impact on the offices.

Gensler again is trying to nail down what will happen. Most People Want to Return to the Office — But They Expect Changes by Janet Pogue McLaurin written in May, 2020 noted: “The new workplace must be worth the commute — a human-centric experience where employees feel safe, healthy, and empowered. It must be a place where design can nudge healthy behaviors and people can feel that their work, and their personal well-being, is valued.”[6]

The key word is behavior – and that is what COVID-19 has changed forever. Our behaviors. Professionals that can anticipate those behavioral changes and adapt to them will be the winners when the virus ends.

For example, one of the findings of the Suzy survey was that “While some families are opting to escape the city, others are staying put and re-imagining their homes.” (Domino Magazine)

The word “re-imagining” is being overused these days, but more important, that survey finding or observation is already obsolete depending on the city you live in (i.e., New York, Portland). With the virus comes societal changes. Those changes also breed new strategies if a business is to survive.

Remodeling

Survey after survey is pointing to remodeling as a key ingredient that results in business. But, remodeling what?

It’s not just about remodeling the kitchen anymore – it’s about remodeling lifestyles.

Low effort upgrades like adding a piece of furniture to a large appliance may work, but the real opportunities are in remodeling a lifestyle. The Suzy report called out an important point: people want brands to help with remodeling. But the real question is, what is a brand?

Pre-COVID-19, an architect’s workload may have been commercial, high-end residential. Who would think to have an architect involved in a kitchen remodel at any income level?

One showroom we interviewed did just that: contracted with several architects to participate in the work they brought in – an innovative way of showing their clients that they care beyond the “normal.”

Beyond the “normal” is really what COVID-19 has spawned. Many people call it the “new normal.” But the real term is no longer normal, because there never was “normal.” There was only habit. As we all know, habits can be good or bad.

Besides, what is a brand?

Brand

AIM (Accountability Information Management, Inc.) and one of the leading B2B research companies, has an excellent article, What is a Brand? When you read it, you’ll find out that YOU are the brand, especially if you are an architect, designer, interior designer, etc. If that is true – and it is – then shaping your brand’s perceptions becomes the key to redefining yourself in the COVID-19 environment.

If creating “zoom rooms” becomes part of the needs of people, then your expertise in creating certain special lighting, closing off spaces – these ideas that typically were the portfolio of “commercial” businesses – now have to be modified for the home. Who better than the professionals who did them for businesses?

Moreover, if everything is going digital, how do you reshape (and rebrand) your firm to be digital? As you have seen in this series, many people walked effortlessly into that world, while others struggled and continue to struggle.[7]

Tele-health may pave the way for tele-architecture, tele-interior design and so on. The possibilities becomes endless. But in all these cases, the brand – you – have to become the trusted source.

Education is Being Redefined

Finally, if 43% of parents have drastically changed their schedule in order to accommodate school closings, and people are uncertain about when and if schools will reopen, how does that change the way we work? As COVID-19 drags on, as states changed their minds about what is and is not safe, these decisions impact the way we work. How should we manage these issues? If you are a large corporation, your answers are going to be very different than if you are a small company. COVID-19 is going to change our definition of education.

What COVID-19 perhaps has revealed is how interconnected every aspect of our lives really are. Like dominoes, if you push one, you begin a chain reaction that will bring them all down unless you stop them somehow or unless they are not arranged just right. Sadly, the elements of our lives are connected in ways we are just now finding out.

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[1] The Future Of Work Post-Covid-19 Gil Press Senior Contributor, Enterprise & Cloud, FORBES, Jul 15, 2020.

[2] In Rearchitecting the Future Through Philanthropy and Social Entrepreneurship Series, a six-part online series from Worth and New Profit, Tulaine Montgomery, Managing Partner, New Profit said in a September 25th session just that using the words “charity” and “investment.” Also, she added, “We are facing the storm together, we are just not in the same boat.” That’s a very interesting statement, but what does it mean? Why aren’t we in the same boat? Does COVID-19 discriminate?

[3] Suzy is a real-time market research platform. Domino Media Group is group of energetic New York City agency ex-pats that started their own PR firm.

[4] Home Depot and Lowes have reported in September hiring 25,000 to 33,000 each.

[5] Recovery by the Numbers: What to Expect in the Lodging Industry, held on September 15.

[6] Most People Want to Return to the Office — But They Expect Changes by Janet Pogue McLaurin, May, 2020.

[7] I was online for a security webinar on 9/22/20 that crashed ten minutes into it and never recovered. Emails showed up a couple of hours later saying the recording will be available. “Bugs” exist regardless of the size of the company, and this webinar was from one of the major security software companies in the world. The sound was horrible!

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