Technology, communication and the road to recovery

Brands must resist the urge to return to pre-pandemic communication strategies, says WE’s Matt Ashworth.

WE's Matt Ashworth.
WE's Matt Ashworth.

The COVID-19 “recovery jumpstart” in the U.S. is arriving incredibly fast and is evolving more quickly than many brands can manage. 

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has removed most mask mandates, travel has skyrocketed and Americans have returned to restaurants, airports and gatherings. We need to understand the changing needs of our audiences to remain relevant.

For the second half of 2021, this means shifting storytelling from “how we are addressing the crisis” to “how we are enabling recovery.” Those who do not will struggle and find it much harder to catch up.

Audiences’ changing recovery needs
Brands around the globe used technology when the pandemic hit. We worked remotely, shepherded our kids through virtual learning and connected with friends and family on video calls. Now that the recovery is flourishing, what role does tech play?  

WE Communications partnered with YouGov in late May to understand what Americans want and expect from tech-fueled innovation at this crucial moment. The full report, What’s Next? Technology, Communications and the Race to Recovery, found that, surprisingly, Americans don’t want to disconnect, even after a year of living virtually.

Now that tech has gained greater trust, consumers expect more than ever in innovations. Our audiences want innovation that eases their mental stress, simplifies their lives and helps them adjust to our ever-changing world.

Fifteen percent want to disconnect; the vast majority want to use tech more than ever before.
Seventy percent expect companies to continue to innovate during the recovery phase.
And fifty-eight percent say their expectations of technology increased as a result of the pandemic.

The pandemic has swung opinions about technology away from techlash and questioning the industry’s ethics to viewing technology as an indispensable part of daily life. Harnessing this goodwill presents a huge opportunity for tech brands. 

Seizing the opportunity
Brands must resist the urge to return to pre-pandemic communication strategies. Instead they must find a new intersection between their story and what the world needs. Those needs are different than they were six or even three months ago. Responding with humanity and innovation begins with listening. 

According to another research report we launched in March, Rethinking the Purpose and Meaning of Leadership, 69% of surveyed leaders said that learning from their employees, customers and communities is critical in 2021, and that begins with listening to their stakeholders. Successful brands will stay ahead of their audiences’ changing needs as the country readjusts to life after quarantine. 

Delivering on increased expectations for technology and innovation
Sixty-two percent of respondents told us that they expect all companies, regardless of industry, to use technology to better meet their needs after the pandemic. Fifty percent think that technology is the most important tool for navigating a reimagined world. 

One of the biggest transitions in the recovery phase will be reimagining physical office spaces. Employers must react to new expectations from employees and determine the right rhythm of how and where employees will work. Microsoft, a WE client, recently published a playbook, sharing some of what it’s learned to date from conversations with customers, partners and employees. It includes data, research and best practices to help organizations navigate the evolving work norms.

Microsoft shared this information, discussing its own hybrid return-to-work strategy. This included a post by CEO Satya Nadella on LinkedIn and a public playbook featuring a message from chief people officer Kathleen Hogan that showed customers certain Microsoft tools.

The announcement also outlined how their employees’ experiences with the cloud, Microsoft Viva and the Return to Workplace app could benefit companies developing their own return-to-work strategies. It was a strong example of a forward-looking narrative that will help the Microsoft customers navigate the recovery phase.

The good news
Although this all may seem daunting, we’re all in this together. Every brand must readjust its communications strategy to reflect the needs of its audiences during the recovery. Now is the opportunity to look forward, not at how you acted during the pandemic, but how you’re leading the way into recovery.

Matt Ashworth is GM of the Seattle office and an SVP in the company’s technology sector.

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