Share Letter:

COVID-Induced Lifestyle Adaptations We’re Keeping Post-Pandemic

March 29, 2021 | Letters

Author: Dr. Nicole Olynk Widmar, Associate Head and Professor, Purdue University Department of Agricultural Economics
Torrie Sheridan, Communication and Marketing Specialist, Purdue University Center for Food and Agricultural Business

Alright, we get it. 2020 was not amazing, and while 2021 thus far isn’t quite as toilet paper-focused, it isn’t exactly coming up roses just yet for those of us still impatiently waiting to access a vaccine and a daily lifestyle more familiar with what we’ve been accustomed to up until about a year ago. Mind you, we’re not complaining; we’re simply frustrated but pleasant while donning our Zoom appropriate non-office wear (“slob-chic”, we are indeed) and pondering what markets for consumer goods and travel might look like in the ‘new normal’ era.

Over the last 12 months, things here in the Purdue University Center for Food and Agricultural Business have been different, just as they have everywhere else. Our once bustling classrooms filled with learning, handshakes and networking professionals now sit empty the majority of the time. Instead, Zoom classrooms and virtual networking have taken over. We’ve adjusted and adapted to the current environment. And while our now heavily-based online professional development delivery style is different from our traditional in-person programming, it’s not all bad.

For example, Mike Boehlje’s ability to ‘wake up’ the front row is extended to the whole Zoom room as everyone now has a front row seat to the arm-waving, impassioned finance market insights. And Dave Downey will cause you to reflect on your value proposition and how to communicate it, regardless of whether he’s in the classroom with you or coming to you live on the big screen.

Dave Downey on a Zoom callPositive Perspectives on New Approaches

With the many changes and transitions we’ve all faced in our personal and professional lives over the last year, we asked Dave Downey and Mike Boehlje to reflect on their learnings and analyze positives, in their opinion, that have come from these shifts.

Downey says that the Center for Food and Agricultural Business (much like everyone else) had a short window of opportunity to differentiate itself. The center was able to quickly adapt to continue providing first-class educational opportunities and has experienced a great deal of positive improvements as a result.

For example, Downey feels that the opportunity to observe and coach participant learning through the use of virtual breakout rooms has been an instrumental tool. And while we knew body language and listening were important before the pandemic, our increased use of virtual platforms has greatly amplified this importance. We’ve learned to listen more intently, observe others’ body language, become more aware of our own body language and hone our communication skills. We’ve also learned that careful integration of visual media into verbal presentations is a necessity for greater effectiveness.

Mike Boehlje on a Zoom callBoehlje has also learned a thing or two through the center’s transitions over the last year, such as how easy it is for participants to zone out during virtual meetings or programs. To reduce this problem, he’s found that asking participants to keep their video on increases engagement and interaction. He’s also found that building time into the agenda for participant introductions has led to positive impacts on peer-to-peer learning, more effective group discussions and increased teamwork and engagement.

If you’ve ever taken a course or participated in a program with Boehlje, you’ve likely heard him say “Write it down!”, and you’re surely familiar with his animated body language and expressions when discussing topics of interest. Boehlje feels that in virtual settings, writing down instructions and strong organization are even more critical for retention. Additionally, he feels that passion and expression through both verbal and physical cues have an increased role in our new world. As we work to examine others’ body language and social cues, it’s essential for us to better project ourselves too.

And while background cues and body language are key players, Boehlje says content is key. No matter how good you look or how interesting your background may be, it’s easy to lose the interest of others in a virtual setting if the content isn’t relevant and engaging.

Additionally, both Downey and Boehlje say that the ability to break down professional development programs into shorter segments using a wider range of channels such as live sessions and pre-recorded videos has had a positive impact on participant experience. Each channel of delivery can be tailored to unique audiences, and participants have the opportunity to consume content in a manner that fits their learning style.

Pandemic-Era Professional Adaptations

There are aspects of COVID-era work life that some of us, even the skeptics such as myself (Nicole), have had our eyes opened to. I’ve learned that sharing a screen with carefully curated materials is more effective at teaching some analytics processes because everyone has a first-class seat in relation to the screen and can easily follow along. I’ve also learned that my materials must be MORE carefully planned and MUCH MORE carefully curated in advance; I’m now competing for attention in a way that I never have before.

With respect to teaching, recording my own lectures is simpler online and allows attendees to revisit material as many times as they want. This process has caused me to stop and think, “Why wasn’t I doing this before?” and I plan to continue recording my lectures and posting them for students to review as many times as they wish in the future.

A new generation of learners who have had access to new electronic resources and experience working with virtual teams is coming along, and we must prepare ourselves for the considerably higher expectation levels from instructors and facilitators they will have.

Are there any processes that you’ve started during the pandemic that have caused you to stop and ask yourself, “Why wasn’t I doing this before?”

Everyday Life Adaptations

Although many of us find ourselves hoping we can return to our ‘old normal’, what we’re more likely to experience is the adapted, yet-to-be-invented ‘new normal’. And in this new normal, aspects of the pandemic-era life that you’ve actually come to enjoy are sure to be included.

A recent study by McKinsey found that even after the pandemic recedes, consumer behaviors such as e-grocery shopping, home nesting (spending on home gyms, renovations, gardens, etc.) and virtual healthcare are likely to stick around.New Normal plans written on sticky notes

Straddling the line between work and home life and working from home with a kid underfoot isn’t exactly easy. However, I (Nicole) have personally appreciated the increased flexibility to work at home with a sick kid rather than missing out on professional meetings for a kid’s sick day. Accessibility to work events online has improved significantly, allowing caretaking responsibilities to coexist with professional responsibilities for many people. This accessibility and the opportunity to attend meetings I would have otherwise had to miss has been a nice change. I tend to like being at home more than most, so that part is okay. At the same time, I think I’m ready to travel again — maybe a little absence from this house once in a while would actually help the heart grow fonder?

What are some adaptations from your work and home life that you love and hope to keep post-pandemic? On the flip side, what are some adaptations that you have come to loathe and cannot wait to be rid of?

Curious to know what other Consumer Corner readers thought about various pandemic-era adaptations and behaviors?