As the fully vaccinated rate in the U.S. hovers around the halfway mark, we’re one foot in and one foot out of the pandemic. We’re finally starting to see a glimpse of what life might look like after COVID-19. We’re venturing back outside and into public spaces again; we’re remembering what we loved (and maybe didn’t love) about the “Before Times.”
But somewhere over the course of the past year and a half — holed up and locked down — Americans reprioritized. Consumers took a hard look at what was important and not so important to them.
Health, wellness, and particularly mental health came to the fore. The trappings of work-first daily life and the longstanding status quos in our cities, democratic systems, and industries were called into question.
And as the light at the end of the pandemic tunnel comes into view, companies are realizing that the pre-COVID playbook for doing business suddenly no longer applies. Consumers have emerged in 2021 ready for the next normal and demanding more from their brands, their employers, and their communities than ever before.
So we went straight to the source. We conducted an online survey of a representative sample of about 1,000 Americans, including a deep-dive into four markets that are hotbeds for real estate innovation (NYC, DC, Miami, and Houston). We’ve also turned to the experts, interviewing some of the top real estate developers, workplace thought leaders, and consumer brands. Together, this research builds a better picture of how living, working, and playing will change in a post-pandemic world.
This trend report looks at consumer behavior and the future of brands through the lens of real estate and development. It’s a playbook for the next normal.
Why Real Estate?
At The Brand Guild, more than a third of our portfolio is made up of commercial and high-end residential real estate innovators, such as Skanska and Howard Hughes Corporation, who elevate the spaces in which we live, work and play. Combine this with leading consumer brands like Sweetgreen and Ellevest, and you get a team of experts on not just what drives consumers’ purchase decisions, but also their lifestyles.
As we worked to help our clients across industries adapt and innovate in the post-pandemic reality, we realized that the world of real estate may hold the answers. After all, real estate players spend their time looking to the future. Real estate outlooks forecast not only industry trends, but also how consumer behavior will shift and how our spaces need to change to anticipate these shifts before they happen. Even in the most unexpected and life-changing year, real estate experts still had to look ahead and determine which changes are here to stay, and which will fade away.
And these real estate future-casters will agree: The new shifts uncovered by our survey are staggering.
The Work-Life Imbalance
Formerly a slogan splashed on the sides of luxury condo complexes and retirement communities, "Live, Work, Play" went from all-inclusive advertisement to an adage accepted as shorthand for American priorities.
Living — an amalgamation of choices around your home, neighborhood, and family — was always followed in rank by work, which was seen as just as important as play.
But after a year in isolation, with work life inevitably bleeding into home life and endless Zoom calls (an average of one extra meeting a day every single day compared to pre-COVID, in fact1), Americans have flipped the script.
“We're seeing colossal shifts in how people use space. But real change takes time — and real estate will be ground zero,” says Barbara Martin, cofounder and co-CEO of The Brand Guild. “Developers need to think in phases. In the short term, it’s about addressing the immediate wants and needs of tenants and consumers, and working to meet them where they are. In the long term, it’s about imagining where knowledge work can happen and what needs come with that in your portfolio."
Back in pre-COVID times, nearly 1 in 3 Americans ranked Work as the most important aspect of their lives. As the pandemic subsides in the U.S., it’s now closer to 1 in 4 Americans. (Work plummeted 4 percentage points in ranking — a statistically significant drop).
Live, Play, Work isn’t necessarily the new order of things everywhere. Priorities differ among the four key DMAs we examined:
The traditional work-life balance is dead. But there is hope that its replacement will be much more sustainable.
We’ll explore what those changes mean and how brands can adapt in each trend in this report.
The Brand Guild is a fully integrated agency that builds and grows the most powerful brands in consumer lifestyle, food & beverage, and real estate. Our holistic approach to brand creation, strategy and storytelling creates critical momentum for our client-partners through a comprehensive suite of services that includes public relations, marketing, content, design, experiential and branding.
Live, Play, Work Insights To Go
Download our top work-life balance intel and insights by key U.S. market here.