Care: the business trend you must care about

Why should you care about care? The pandemic has fundamentally changed the relationship between our lives, our work and our health. Smart businesses will adapt to that.

For the last few weeks, we’ve been digging deeper into the issues highlighted by our friends at Fjord in their recent trends report. For many, though, the last of the trends they highlighted for 2022 will be a surprise — and a challenge: care. 

Care? Really? Is that something businesses should be involved with? After all, they’re commercial enterprises, there to make money. Unless care is something you’re specifically selling, why should they worry about that?

It sounds too much like the anaemic commitments of the corporate social responsibility movement of the turn of the millennium, or the “sustainability” initiatives that, in too many cases, became greenwash. This, though, is more than that. It is a fundamental shift in the way people see the relationship between themselves and business.

There are, of course, two answers as to why you should listen to this: because it matters to your customers, and it matters to your staff. 

Customer Care

Yes, many businesses do sell care — and they’ve accelerated into a transformation through the pandemic. As the Fjord Trends report puts it: 

Technology has become both a new channel and a source of solutions for care, as the pandemic forced mass adoption and acceptance of technology for healthcare and well-being.

In other words, we were forced to use digital health services thanks to the pandemic — and now we understand which elements of them are both useful and convenient in our life. It’s the same story we’ve seen play out across many fields. Health, though, has the added driver of being the focus of the crises we’ve lived through. Many of us have been forced to think about our health in a way we never had before. A novel virus to which you have no pre-existing immunity will do that. 

Because of this, digital health is a booming field, that’s just gone through a major accelerator event. Like any rapidly growing field, it’s something you should pay attention to. Where there’s a booming market, there are opportunities. And that doesn’t necessarily mean that you need to get into the care business directly — is there a role for your business in supporting this market? 

With market opportunities ranging from the interface between individuals and care providers, right up to global medicine, vaccine and information supply chains, health might be just as much the new digital as sustainability

Colleague Care

However, you’d be foolish to ignore the transformed need for care within your business. By separating the company from the property during the pandemic’s work from home orders, we’ve had an extended and rather brutal reminder that companies are largely made up of people. And through the little portals of a Zoom or Teams window, we’ve had more insight into the wider lives of our colleagues than ever before. 

The abstraction of the statement corporate office, which levels and homogenises staff, is in retreat. We’ve replaced it with constant encounters with the messy, complex reality of people’s existences. Much as some people would like to revert to the way things were before, hybrid working is here to stay. And so, our need to deal with our colleagues as whole people will too. 

Surviving and thriving as the pandemic becomes an ongoing process of learning to live with an endemic virus means assimilating these new realities. Let’s look at three hard-headed business reasons to integrate care into your thinking.

1. Minimise business risk

We’ve spent many years at NEXT exploring some of the downsides of the digital revolution, like dark design patterns and ludic loops. Often, we couch those in terms of the damage done to the users through those decisions. That seems obvious, right? Good for the business, bad for the user? 

What becomes clear is that the output of that equation changes over time. As the downsides of a business practice become apparent, two things happen. Consumer resistance grows, and government interest peaks. This is where the digital industry is now. If you want models of what happens next, you need to look at industries like tobacco or alcohol. And that should prompt you to wonder how on earth we ended up being able to describe digital and two substances which, while fun, have a provable taxing effect on the body. 

It’s not just those fields, though. General faith in the ethics of businesses is on the decline: down to 42% from over 50% only two years ago. The pandemic exposed hollow words and unsustainable practices. 

So, let’s refactor that equation. By choosing user-harming approaches, you’re swapping short-term business gain for long-term business risk. People have noted that the founders of Amazon and Google have stepped away from their businesses just before the regulators come knocking. Instead, if you build in an ethical, care-driven design approach from the start, you save yourself countless headaches down the road.

Care by design

Building your products with care in mind, with the customer’s wellbeing a critical design parameter in the whole process, helps minimise long-term risk. So, there’s a question to ask yourself: which kind of business do you want to work for? A rocket-fuelled superstar that crash-lands into a world of regulatory hurt, or a sustainable business that is building products that people love, not are merely addicted to? 

At the time of writing, we’re just closing in on the end of “dry January”. Do you really want to be making a product that people have a special month to celebrate their escape from?

And, as an added incentive, the downside of the booming market for digital care and health, is that the conversation around those topics is growing daily. And, from a defensive marketing perspective, the likelihood that you might have a repetitional issue on its way if your products don’t promote good mental or physical health is growing too. 

2. Win the war for talent

Another recurring theme for us: “Human Resources” have, thanks to the pandemic, switched from interchangeable assets to an increasingly scarce resource. The Great Resignation is stealing away your top-tier talent, who have decided that they can have a better life, better working hours or a better working environment elsewhere — or even by taking a career break

The pandemic has also forced people to reassess their obligations to their families. From home-schooling young kids, to young adults returning home, to being unable to visit beloved parents in car homes thanks to lockdowns, our old assumptions about care have evaporated. 

Businesses whose staff acknowledge that, and made allowance for the different demands on people’s time through the pandemic, earned trust and loyalty. Those that tried to carry on as before, despite the (to use the cliché) unprecedented times, have shown that their relationship with staff is purely transactional. If it’s all about price, the staff will be off as soon as a better offer comes along. 

Care as a process not a product 

As the Fjord Trends report puts it:

The amount of time and attention now devoted to caring for the well-being of colleagues has also likely increased. Compassion and grace in the face of a colleague’s personal struggles—such as mental health issues, grief or a sudden disruption through illness—have become normalised.

Effective teamwork means acknowledging people as a rounded whole. At some times in people’s lives, they need more support than others. And then they can repay that, as circumstances change. An effective team, while they don’t have to be friends per se, cares about each other as part of an effective whole. Or, at least, if they want to be a resilient team in less than ideal situations, they do. 

Resilience is likely to be a core business strength in the coming years. Are you and your staff ready for that? 

3. Acknowledge the post-pandemic reality

For many of us in the West, the pandemic has been the biggest crisis of our lifetimes. The major wars were our grandparents’ — or great-grandparents’ — concern, not ours. 

Businesses have much to offer employees: social interaction, meaningful work, and a sense of financial stability. The latter is likely to become important as the pandemic is followed by the climate crisis. If you can persuade people that your business can provide them with both the financial security they need and the meaningful work they desire, you can win the people you want. 

The pandemic has battered our businesses, our lives, and our relationships. Two years of varying levels of trauma will not disappear overnight. In simplistic terms, good marketers know the market environment and adapt to it. In even simpler terms:

We’re all humans selling products to other humans. In a damaged, difficult decade, remembering that is likely to pay dividends at both an emotional and financial level.

Photo by Nathan Dumlao on Unsplash