There’s no denying that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed our lives. While most of these changes have been unpleasant, even the darkest cloud has a silver lining. We’ve all had to make sacrifices and alter our plans in big and small ways, but some of these changes have had unexpectedly positive effects.
We may have been physically distanced from one another, but social media, Zoom, and other internet apps have allowed us to stay connected and continue to share our lives. While some social relationships have suffered, others have thrived and flourished. Some of us have struggled to work from home and juggle childcare. However, others have experienced a renewed passion for their career now that they are freed from the confines of the office and for others, it brought an opportunity to spend quality time with their family.
The pandemic brought disruption, distress and isolation, but it has also created a renewed sense of community spirit. For instance, many of us have grown closer to our neighbours and have helped others out with their shopping or dog walking during periods of shielding. Along with rediscovering a love for the simple joy of a sourdough starter or banana bread, this crisis has shifted focus back to simpler pleasures that evoke past eras. Even pollution levels have dropped as fewer people took flights and went on cruises[i].
This article digs down into some of the specific ways that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the way we live our lives, spend our money, and go to work. Have you noticed these changes in your own life?
Online shopping has increased in popularity
During the strictest lockdowns, retail shops were closed, and the only option for in-person shopping was to go to the supermarket. However, many people were turned off by long queues and empty shelves, particularly on the eve of lockdowns.[ii] They instead elected to order their food shopping online – if they could get a delivery slot that is.
Online food shopping remains a vital resource for those who need to shield or isolate, and it has freed up a lot of time for those who used to shop in person. As well as food, people have relied on the internet for accessing necessary medical supplies. Websites like HARTMANN Direct have been a lifeline for those who have not been able to leave their homes.
Of course, not all online shopping is for necessities, food, and medicine. Even when the pandemic was at its height, we all wanted a bit of retail therapy. According to a survey of more than 3,700 consumers across nine countries[iii], more than 50% of the participants now shop online for fashion and electronics more often than they did before.
In the UK, the government reported a huge increase in internet sales, starting in the 2nd quarter of 2020 as the pandemic hit.
Data from Office for National Statistics
It’s important to note that while online spending has increased, the economy as a whole suffered immensely at the height of the pandemic. It is only now starting to recover, though slower than the rate of other countries; it is currently nearly 10% lower than the start of 2019.[iv]
With doctors and nurses from all fields of medicine pulled into the Covid response and fears of the virus spreading at doctor’s surgeries, patients were left wondering if and when they could see their GP. Sadly, many specialist appointments were cancelled or postponed, and long waitlists developed for vital procedures such as IVF and orthopaedic surgeries. However, technology came to the rescue – it has revolutionised how and when we speak to the doctor. For routine appointments and queries, many surgeries have made the switch to telehealth appointments conducted online[v]. Appointments at GP surgeries carried out via telephone or video/online rose from 15% in February 2020 to 48% in April 2020.
According to studies conducted by Nuffield Health, patients are marginally more satisfied with their care during online appointments than they were with in-person appointments. In a recent survey, 4% of patients felt that they had more time with their doctor, and that their doctor better understood their needs. The same study showed that GPs would like to see this use of technology continue even after the pandemic is over.
Of course, not everyone feels comfortable using technology, especially for their healthcare needs. If telehealth becomes more popular, every effort must be made to ensure that everyone has access to the internet and a computer or smart device like a Tablet. For telehealth to replace in-person care, lower income families, the elderly, and those with mental or physical disabilities must all have equal access to this resource.
How has the UK Responded to the Covid Crisis?
Of course, government changes have been one of the most striking changes during the Covid crisis. Before the pandemic started, it would have been hard to imagine the government mandating the shops and pubs to close. But now, the idea of ‘lockdowns’ and business closures are all too familiar.
The government implemented a number of Covid initiatives to help prevent the spread of the disease, including track & trace, vaccination programs, and mass testing centres.[vi]
Changes in the Workplace
As the pandemic has continued to morph and change, many people are still working from home, at least part of the time. Here are some of the most critical changes in the workplace as a result of the pandemic.[vii] Will these trends continue after the pandemic has ended?
- People are now equipped to work from home – Many industries have pivoted to allow and equip their employees to work from home. While this was a slowly increasing trend even before the pandemic, the crisis sped up the need for businesses to adapt. At the beginning of the pandemic, many people were not ready to work from their homes and didn’t have work-ready set-ups. Of course, childcare was also an issue, as many schools were closed as well. Schools closing didn’t just have an impact on adults, children had to quickly adapt to the ‘new normal’ too. Overnight, they had to adapt to not seeing their school friends and to attending online lessons. Many school children found it difficult to concentrate and the quality of their schoolwork suffered as a result. Now, schools are back open, and most people have a home office (or even just a desk in the corner or working from the kitchen table) set up so they can work.
- An increase in online training – In-person training sessions came to a halt at the beginning of the pandemic, and learning modules have moved online. Many businesses have taken this time to encourage their employees to engage in e-learning courses and upskilling. As a result, e-learning is not only more available than ever, but also more affordable.
- A focus on teambuilding – A downside to working from home is losing the in-person team dynamic, which is hard to replicate in online meetings on Teams or Zoom. With teams working from different locations, it’s more important than ever for managers to focus on open communication pathways. It’s also crucial to keep things social and light at times, just as would occur in an in-person setting. It is important to take time to celebrate birthdays and theme days and allow some time for purely social catch-ups.
As we were forced to stick closer to home, we discovered a newfound appreciation for our local communities and helped take care of those in need. We reached out to our neighbours to see if we could help and spent time shopping for shielding friends and strangers alike. According to a Get Living survey, more than nine million Brits chatted to their neighbours for the first time ever![viii]
Even now, as things are in a much better state, 53% of Brits have vowed to make more effort to help their neighbours. Brought together by the NHS Clap for Our Carers initiative and community Mutual Aid Facebook groups, we are now more familiar with the friendly faces around us. In fact, for nearly 1.5 million Londoners, it was the first time they’d ever seen their neighbours!
According to the same survey, 77% of participants have accepted an act of kindness since the pandemic began, and 65% have volunteered to help others in their community by cooking, shopping, or even just writing letters and notes. It’s clear that when we’re needed most, Brits are more than willing to step up.
Covid-19 has changed our lives – but it could be for the better
While Covid-19 has had some devastating effects on the economy and on families who have lost loved ones, it has forced some positive changes on our communities as well. We spend more time helping others, getting to know our neighbours, and getting healthcare in our own homes.
It will certainly be interesting to see which of these changes remain a part of our lives indefinitely, and which slowly peter out as the pandemic finally ends.
Dartnell, L. (2020). The Covid-19 changes that could last long-term. [online] www.bbc.com. Available at: https://www.bbc.com/future/article/20200629-which-lockdown-changes-are-here-to-stay [Accessed 27 Jul. 2021].
Duncan, P., McMullan, L., Blight, G., Gutiérrez, P., Hulley-Jones, F., Duncan, P., McMullan, L., Blight, G., Gutiérrez, P. and Hulley-Jones, F. (2021). Covid chaos: how the UK handled the coronavirus crisis. The Guardian. [online] 3 Feb. Available at: https://www.theguardian.com/world/ng-interactive/2020/dec/16/covid-chaos-a-timeline-of-the-uks-handling-of-the-coronavirus-crisis.
Ellery, B. (2020). Panic-buyers queue from 5am and strip supermarket shelves after border closures. www.thetimes.co.uk. [online] 21 Dec. Available at: https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/panic-buyers-queue-from-5am-and-strip-supermarket-shelves-after-border-closures-80rz9lcnv [Accessed 28 Jul. 2021].
Get Living (2020). Coronavirus lockdown sees nine million Brits chat to their neighbours for the first time ever. [online] Get Living. Available at: https://www.getliving.com/press/coronavirus-lockdown-sees-nine-million-brits-chat-to-their-neighbours-for-the-first-time-ever/ [Accessed 27 Jul. 2021].
Leggett, T. (2021). UK economy lags behind other countries in Covid recovery. BBC News. [online] 10 Jun. Available at: https://www.bbc.co.uk/news/business-57427997#:~:text=The%20UK [Accessed 28 Jul. 2021].
The Nuffield Trust (2020). QualityWatch: The remote care revolution during Covid-19. [online] The Nuffield Trust. Available at: https://www.nuffieldtrust.org.uk/files/2020-12/QWAS/digital-and-remote-care-in-covid-19.html [Accessed 28 Jul. 2021].
UNCTAD (2020). COVID-19 has changed online shopping forever, survey shows | UNCTAD. [online] unctad. Available at: https://unctad.org/news/covid-19-has-changed-online-shopping-forever-survey-shows.
Yoh (2021). 5 Ways COVID-19 has Changed the Workplace. [online] www.yoh.com. Available at: https://www.yoh.com/blog/5-ways-covid-19-has-changed-the-workplace.