It has been nearly two years after the pandemic first hit and disrupted society's way of living, leading to a shift in people's relationship with work, consumerism, technology, and the planet. Companies have also been pushed to rethink ways of doing business and marketing, as well as recreating a better employee experience for staff.

As we head into a new year, Accenture Interactive's Fjord trends report identified five human behaviours and trends that will impact society and businesses in 2022. From the virtual world and the ever more importance trust to the new employee value proposition, here are the list of things you should bear in mind.

1. The next frontier

A cultural explosion waiting to happen, the metaverse will be a new frontier of the Internet, combining all the existing layers of information, interfaces and spaces with which people interact. It offers a new place to make money, is creating new job types, and offers infinite brand possibilities that people will expect businesses to help build and navigate. And it won’t just exist through screens and headsets — it will also be about real-world experiences and places that interact with the digital world.

In the immediate future, the report expects "a period of questioning, learning and experimenting on what’s possible".

Any brand or creator wanting to operate in the metaverse must be ready for a lot of trial and error, focusing on the end user’s experience.

Unique experiences will likely be key to attracting people outside the gaming community. Initially, brand owners are expected to establish their own spaces within the metaverse, or look to Big Tech to create metaverse-as-a-service platforms they can engage with. These spaces will then evolve beyond the brand or company websites that are commonplace today, into more neutral spaces where subtle and sophisticated interactions can take place, and in ways that are fluid and free-form, the report said.

In future, designers, digital product developers, creatives and technologists will play a crucial role in building the virtual world and the various content placements. Unsurprisingly, ethics and transparency are a must in the virtual world. 

As brands seek to capitalize on the opportunities presented by the metaverse, ethics around behaviour control, sustainability and accessibility for all must be front of mind.

(Read also:  #ExplainIt: Is there a need for a chief metaverse officer? )

2. This much is true

In recent times, misinformation has led to a decline in trust in experts and government, the report said. However, trust is still a crucial aspect for businesses to build a strong relationship with consumers. People now expect to ask and have questions answered at the touch of a button or through a brief exchange with a voice assistant. The fact that it’s so easy and immediate means people are asking more questions.

For brands, the range of customer questions and the number of channels for asking them is growing constantly. How to answer them is a major design challenge, a critical driver for trust, and a future source of competitive advantage. Companies should make strategic choices about which information layers to deploy and how to design them across touchpoints to build trust. The right information should be delivered in the most appropriate form and in the right moment. 

According to the report, brand conversations with their customers might evolve and be used to structurally solve the challenge of providing the right answer at the right time. Conversational AI, for example, currently allows for a range of basic question-and-answer services, but approaches to this might evolve over time. 

At the same time, brands also have an opportunity to encourage loyalty by rewarding customers for making more ecologically responsible purchases. Customers who shop sustainably could gain points over time, for example.

Loyalty programmes such as this could include a community component, so people see that their efforts are contributing to something impactful, the report said.

3. Come as you are

The growing sense of agency that people have over their lives two years into the pandemic is affecting the way they work, relate and consume. People are questioning who they are and what matters to them. The rising individualism underlined by a “me over we” mentality has profound implications for organisations in how they lead their employees, how they shape a new employee value proposition, and how they nurture company-customer relationships.

According to the report, employers now face an important leadership challenge: to balance the flexibility they offer to individuals with the needs of the team, and work towards the greater good of the organisation so that creativity, diversity and trust-building can thrive.

Attracting and retaining the right talent while acknowledging that employees are future-proofing against the business is also important. As such, companies should take a fresh look at the employee value proposition in today's context. 

Organizations need to understand these shifts in people’s ambitions, sense of agency and ways of living, and examine and respond to the potential impacts. People’s desire to meet their individual needs clashes with their obligations to the communities they belong to and, ultimately, rely on.

Employers now face an important leadership challenge, which is to take a look at the employee value proposition, with today’s context in mind:

A. The benefits package: Having already adjusted perks for the digital world, employers will continue to assess their suitability for a flexible and remote workforce.
B. A collective effort: Businesses may need to double down on efforts to ensure that employees understand their responsibility to, and the benefits of, the collective.
C. A differentiated experience: As work has become more transactional due to the rise of tech tools, businesses must adjust the balance of the employee experience to be about more than just task productivity.

With the growing side-hustle economy, businesses will need to acknowledge that creators are not just their customers but also their competitors and collaborators, and change their behaviours accordingly.

4. The end of abundance thinking?

Over the past year, many have experienced empty shelves, rising energy bills, and shortages in everyday services. While supply chain shortages might be a temporary challenge, the impact will persist and lead to a shift in "abundance thinking" – built on availability, convenience and speed – to greater consciousness about the environment. Businesses must address the availability anxiety experienced by many around the world.

Meanwhile, although supply chain shortages might pose a temporary challenge, the report predicts the impact to persist and lead to a shift in abundance thinking, particularly relating to the environment. Scarcity of goods could affect customers’ morale, and brand owners should prepare to manage expectations around convenience and sustainability.

5. Handle with care

Care became more prominent this past year in all its forms: self-care, care for others, the service of care, and the channels to deliver care, both digital and physical. This is creating opportunities and challenges for employers and brands, regardless of their health or medical credentials. The responsibilities around caring for ourselves and others will continue to be prioritised in our lives. Designers and businesses alike need to make space for being able to practice care.

Companies are encouraged to take a fresh look at the detail of the employee experience by designing internal processes and rules to reduce employees' mental load. They should also expand accessibility and evaluate their channels, products and services in the wake of the shift to digital care.

Additionally, the report pointed out that multisensory design is an empathetic approach that recognises the many ways in which people experience and react to a product or service, environment or experience—subtle and obvious, consciously and unconsciously. It extends beyond the prevailing touch on visual design with features that also appeal to other senses, such as smell or touch. For care-related propositions, audio has significant potential.

Accenture Interactive's CEO and creative chairman, David Droga, said as consumers overhaul all of their relationships, brands will be faced with two big responsibilities: taking care of the world today while also building its future in a way that’s good for the planet, for business and for society. “The key lies within deeply understanding the impacts of those relationships and aspirations and converting them into potent business strategies that drive relevance and growth," he added.

Photo courtesy: 123RF

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