The Post-Pandemic Family
Work life has been upended due to the pandemic, but the changes in family life are equally important.
Welcome to issue #32 of next big thing.
It’s been a little over a year since the pandemic was declared in the U.S.
In the time since, I’ve written about how work lives have changed in the knowledge economy, due to work-from-home and entrepreneurship-from-home. And I’ve touched on different aspects of how our personal lives have changed too, from the heightened focus on our mental health, to the unprecedented growth of several eCommerce categories such as grocery delivery.
When we look back at this moment in history, I believe we’ll study the evolution of the modern family and see a distinction between family life pre-covid-19 and post.
Opportunities abound for the next big thing to blossom in the post-pandemic family era. This is my attempt to capture a subset of them.
Hope is on the horizon. More and more people are getting vaccinated against covid-19, and those vaccinations look to be effective. But as life goes back to “normal,” I do believe some behaviors have fundamentally changed due to life in the pandemic, and will remain the status quo. Looking at life through the lens of the post-pandemic family is a framing that I’ve found to be helpful. Here are some of the areas in which transformations have occurred, and may very well be permanent for many:
The most obvious area of adjustment due to the pandemic is the reason we had a pandemic in the first place. All families have been forced to think about their health over the past year. I wrote in a piece on The Consumerization of Healthcare in October:
In addition to policy and technology driving consumers to pay more attention than ever to healthcare, and to all the recent successes in the category, the single biggest accelerant to this trend for the next decade may be the pandemic that we’ve all been living through in 2020.
Covid-19, mask-wearing, hand-sanitizing, a greater understanding of viruses and transmission in the general public, timing around a vaccine — all mean that more people than ever before are likely paying attention to their own health and healthcare.
From telemedicine to pharmacy delivery, digital therapeutics to diagnostics, healthcare for the post-pandemic family will be more technology-driven, more preventative, and hopefully more tuned to the seriousness of a highly transmissible disease, than ever before.
The past year has led to so much stress for so many families: spending time indoors, locked down, on screens, caring for sick family members, not being able to see extended family and friends, not to mention other stressors such as wildfires, hurricanes, political issues, racial injustice, societal inequality. It will be hard to quantify the effects on our collective mental health of this time period, but qualitatively this feels like an issue we will be living with and feeling the effects of for a long time. I wrote in September about accessibility and personalization as some of the opportunities to address the mental health crisis, and there will be many more to help the post-pandemic family get back-to-normal, or adjust to the new normal.
One of the disruptions families have been most concerned about in the past year has been in the education of their kids. For those whose schools are still not open, there are obvious worries about kids that have been left behind, not just academically, but socially, athletically, and artistically, from a lost year of schooling. The pandemic has taught us the value of in-person learning and teaching, especially in K-12. But the adoption of technology to improve classrooms, and some of the efficiencies gained through online study, will be permanent. Schools now have a backup plan for snow days, and for kids that may be unable to attend day-to-day school due to unique circumstances. And for higher education, the value of many undergraduate and graduate degrees is further in question, especially given their endlessly rising tuition, when lower cost or free alternatives are available online. How to deliver a great education to everyone remains a very important problem, but some of the learnings of the pandemic may be key to solving it.
The pandemic highlighted the immense value of childcare and elderly care to families. As lockdowns sent families scrambling to find ways for their loved ones to be cared for, many of the solutions discovered during the pandemic may become permanent. One of these has unjustly been women leaving the workforce and becoming caregivers to loved ones. While hard to unwind these setups, perhaps there is opportunity around more flexible work-from-home options to enable caregivers to continue their careers. And hopefully the pandemic ushers in more workers to the childcare and elderly care profession, with better compensation given the greater recognition of the essentiality of this work.
On a brighter note, some of the chief beneficiaries of the pandemic have been pets. Pet adoptions have skyrocketed, with many animal shelters emptied out. A wave of new pet parents has of course been a boon to the businesses serving them (just check out pet eCommerce retailer Chewy’s ($CHWY’s) numbers), and the post-pandemic family is more attune than ever to the joy sparked by pets. There are looming issues for pet parents to consider, however, as normality resumes. As we return to in-person school and work, pets’ anxiety due to less time spent together with their families is sure to increase, and pets themselves may be developing worrying mental health trends beyond these looming issues.
It wasn’t just pet parents that turned to eCommerce for their needs during the pandemic. We all did. It’s hard to imagine much of the post-pandemic family’s spending returning to in-person; eCommerce is more convenient, cheaper, and faster than ever before. Subscriptions that have become habits during the pandemic are likely to remain subscriptions and habits post-pandemic. Many of us have adapted to a delivery world for food, groceries, and lots of other items, ordered through a few clicks on a phone or computer. And that frees up time to spend on things that are more important to do in person.
While the demand for sustainable products was a rising trend a year ago, covid-19 has accelerated it. Whether it be more obvious effects of climate change on our daily lives, or elevated home energy bills due to increased time at home, reasons abound for the post-pandemic family to care about the environment, to lead more sustainable lives, and to make purchasing decisions based on these values.
The pandemic has been a forcing function for families to reflect on where they live. For many, this has meant moving to new surroundings. Home sales in 2020 in the U.S. rose 5.6%, the highest growth rate since 2006, and projections foresee another blockbuster year in 2021. The post-pandemic family may desire more space, particularly outdoor space and home office space. But it may also understand the value of more flexible housing, and the accumulation of less “stuff” to enable moving on a moment’s notice. It will be fascinating to see how cities, suburbs, and rural areas change in the post-pandemic family era, given all of the adaptations in the past year.
Closely tied to the above trends in housing is the rise of flexible work-from-home. The past year of work-from-home exposed the benefits of more flexible working arrangements for many people, and lowered desire to return to full-time in-person offices. One of the core reasons that work-from-home may be better for both employers and employees is the lack of a commute. 44% of 5000 surveyed U.S. adults reported that they spent additional time working because of the time saved from not commuting. The survey revealed the difference for parents vs. non-parents, with childcare taking up a significant amount of that time for 18% of parents. Check out the below chart, and The Washington Post article it’s from, for more great data on families during the pandemic.
The post-pandemic family understands that many things can be done remotely. Sick kid at home? Zoom in for the meeting or the birthday party. Someone you know reasonably well but don’t want to drive two hours through traffic to get to for a celebration? Join via video instead. Friends game night? We can do it virtually! Many families invested in better video calling infrastructure during the pandemic - whether that be a device such as Facebook’s Portal, or elderly family members finally familiarizing themselves with using FaceTime Video on their iPhones. This has opened up ways to be more frequently connected, even if distant, and will influence behaviors for years to come.
The Passion Economy (or Necessity Economy?)
From my vantage point as a venture capitalist, the past year was a great one for technology entrepreneurship, with several of the trends described here, and others, bringing forward years of innovation to consumers and enterprises. But, more broadly, it feels that many new people adopted an entrepreneurial mindset in the past year. Back in May, I wrote about Entrepreneurship from Home, and the growth of “Passion Economy” companies such as Patreon, Substack, and Teachable, has been very impressive since. Becoming a creator is even the most coveted profession in the eyes of kids. I sometimes worry, however, that we glorify this sector as people chasing their “passions” through self-employment. The reality for many is that the passion economy is actually the necessity economy; folks who are just trying to make ends meet through self-directed or creative work, and multiple jobs. Whichever way you see it, the post-pandemic family will increasingly consider this as a global maximum career path, especially given the desire for flexible work, and the possibilities of remote anything.
As I discussed last month, the pandemic has led to A Widening Gap. A gap between the “haves” and the “have nots,” between those with disposable income and those that don’t have jobs. For the “haves,” the stock market and asset prices are at all time highs, and many investments during the course of the pandemic have made gains. For the “have nots,” there is the frightening prospect of inflation, to go with the loss of wages. The unique environment over the past year, with low interest rates, stimulus checks, and rollercoaster of employment and unemployment, means that the post-pandemic family, regardless of which side of the gap they’re on, is more attune to managing its money. Across investing products, alternative assets, savings and budgeting applications, opportunities are everywhere to enable less anxiety and better money management in the years ahead.
Media, Entertainment, and Fitness
Families’ media diets shifted during the past year. Video streaming, audio listening, and gaming all increased in consumption, and the news saw several all-time peaks as a result of the multiple crises we found ourselves in. We also had to find ways to stay fit, exercising in our homes or outside instead of at gyms, and often turning to content during workouts. The reason I bucket media, entertainment, and fitness together in this category, is the three feel more intertwined than ever for the post-pandemic family. They play off one-another as we fill the time in our days not dedicated to working. I’ve yet to come up with the perfect framework to think through this, but it’s likely an extension of my friend Sarah Tavel’s Rocks, Sand, and Water Framework for Consumer Attention.
Sarah’s piece brings me to social life, and how it’s changed for the post-pandemic family. While many can’t wait to be able to hang out with friends in-person, others have made new friends virtually that will remain virtual friends. Metaverse-style social and gaming communities such as Fortnite, Rec Room, and Roblox have flourished over the past year. Dating applications have continued their growth. New social networking and community applications such as Clubhouse in audio have sprouted. I don’t believe that any of these are going away post-pandemic; they’re consumer behaviors that will spread to more people as ways to meet others or understand someone’s social status.
Finally, perhaps this is wishful thinking, but I do hope that a characteristic of the post-pandemic family is taking a little bit less for granted. There should be gratitude, of course, for the ability to travel, to be healthy, to see family and friends, and other behaviors that were abruptly taken away over the past year. But also for the smaller things in life — hugs, eating out, being unmasked, and being able to enjoy the company of others. And there should be appreciation for the power of technology, and for all it can do to improve our daily lives.
I’d love to hear what you think of the framing of this evolution in family life. Which opportunities captured above most interest you? Which might I have left out? And if you’re building something compelling, that’s already thriving in one or multiple of these areas for the post-pandemic family, please do reach out.
I started next big thing to share unfiltered thoughts. I’d love your feedback, questions, and comments!
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