COVID-19: The Aftermath from a Behavioral Science Perspective


Spending In my previous articles on spending during COVID-19 and on journaling your spending I have already addressed that COVID-19 is a natural shock to life as we know it. Due to social distancing and the isolation measures we have seen a massive and rapid change within our own personal finances. I hope that for a lot of people this re-set, as I have unceremoniously dubbed it, will offer some perspective on the difference between necessary and planned expenditures as compared to impulsive and unnecessary expenditures. This might make it easier for people to put some money aside into savings and later into investments, to reap the full benefits of investing earlier rather than later.


Social Interaction If you thought your spending was going to be affected by COVID-19, and its resulting social isolation, how about your social life? Not being able to go out to dinner or cocktails is not just making an impact on your wallet, it’s making an impact on your social life as well. Because going out is a huge part of being social. What I find the most peculiar thing is that I can’t say I’ve been less social during the isolation. Rather, I’d say I’ve never spoken to so many people during a week! Suddenly people who I normally see (physically) once every three months, suddenly want to call me, and I’m happy for them to! They want to have a quick online meeting. Play a game online whilst we’re also seeing each other via Skype. Sometimes it’s just me and them, but I’ve played multiplayer games like this with a few groups of people as well. You’d be able to say my social calendar has been booming. When having the option of meeting my in real life and online, I’m not seeing anyone. Real life is too much of a hassle, and online seems strange given that you could see each other in real life. Now the former option has fallen away. We’ve got less choice of how we are going to hang out, if we are going to hang out at all. Suddenly, this seems to be the motivator to reach out to everyone and their grandmother! Is this part of the choice paradox? Has seeing people suddenly become so much scarcer as to become increasingly more desirable? Is this what we needed to actually connect? Now this is not the case for everyone. I do think the social isolation policy has impacted a lot of the older generation(s) negatively. They are used to meeting people face-to-face, and Skype just isn’t cutting it. They didn’t grow up with it, for them it’s odd rather than normal. For my generation (I’m 24), and most people under 40, this is normal. And it makes me hopeful for solving the issues of social isolation associated with older age. Maybe the loneliness associated with old age will be aided massively by these social technologies. It makes me less worried when I think about growing older myself. Maybe COVID-19 has changed the way we think about staying in touch, how we value our social interactions. At the very least, it has made a lot of people very creative as to how to not be alone!




Working from home It remains a contested issue: is allowing employees working from home good or bad for productivity? And how about its relation to feeling part of the company? Being part of the team and supporting a brand or company culture? Most companies weren’t keen on taking what are judged to be progressive measures towards increasing the option of working from home. Sure, several companies have made baby steps in this direction, but the majority definitely isn’t on board, yet. Now, with the option of working from the office completely ruled out, we are seeing a massive change. Now this change might be much more radical than anyone had bargained for, but we might be able to use it to our advantage. For all those who are advocates for working from home, these are tense times. But they are also optimistic times. Finally, working from home has been given the shot it deserved. But now, we do actually have to prove it’s advantageous. If you are struggling to work from home, don’t fret, I’ve got an article on that as well, you can read it here. Quick tip: stick to working hours and make a clear distinction between working hours and non-working hours. Just because you’re constantly at home doesn’t mean you should be constantly available, or constantly on “chill” mode. In a very similar vein, have a specific location in your home that’s dedicated to work, and nothing but work. It doesn’t have to be an entire room, it could just be one side of the table you normally don’t sit on, or even a chair. All of this is based on heuristics and associative thinking, so work with it!


Education Not just those in jobs have been put back in their homes, so have those in education. I have a couple of TA positions coming up, and both the professors and I are worried. It is quite surprising, but most academics don’t actually have that much experience teaching online. Luckily, most university students are able and willing to fire up their laptops and watch a recorded lecture, or attend a seminar via Zoom, Vevox or any other webinar-type-app that allows for this form of communication. But it’s not just education on a tertiary level that got affected. High school, primary and kindergarten teaching has been suspended as well. And that is a lot harder to fix. I don’t think most 8-year-olds are quite as susceptible to being taught over Zoom, regardless of how tech-savvy that generation already is. Funnily enough, tech-savviness might just be the answer to a lot of the problems that are currently plaguing the education system. We know pressure has become an increasing problem for teachers. Classes are getting bigger, yet resources are getting more and more scarce. Online teaching might be able to help out with those. What we are seeing now is the potential start of a revolution. Kids have a mobile phone and a tablet at a very young age, and know how to work these much better than their parents. Personally, I am not a supporter of living your life fully online. But then again, I’m also not a supporter of education budget cuts and allowing teachers to be pressured into burn-outs and policing rather than teaching. And these developments have occurred just as well. It is time primary and secondary education systems (I’m addressing the systems and institutions as a whole, not the individual teachers) start to appreciate the massive benefits that can come with online teaching. I think it is time a lot of secondary and tertiary education systems and institutions start to see the options a MOOC (online courses) can offer. Especially as tertiary education continues to be extortionately expensive, and MOOCS are easier to design to work for part-time students, and students who cannot leave their work to attend education in a different country.


COVID-19 has proven to be an interesting time. Yes, there are a lot of bad things and setbacks occurring as we speak. But there are potential silver linings as well.


From a behavioural science perspective it’s going to be interesting to see how this massive shock is going to impact how we see spending, social interaction, working (from home) and (online) education. Are we going to see the changes many have been hoping for? And if we are, are those changes here to stay, or are we likely to resort back to our old ways?


Only time will tell.

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