We present another collection of issues arising from the pandemic worthy of your consideration, and the attention of brands in North America and beyond: 

THIS WEEK’S EMERGING ISSUES

Did somebody say ‘road trip’?  

  • Summer is almost here and with it comes the urge to travel. Health officials are recommending people stay within driving distance of home and choose less popular destinations to reduce contact with crowds.   
  • A survey reveals more than half of travellers plan to avoid crowded destinations this year, with family summer vacations likely to be shorter, and focused on domestic destinations.    
  • With belt-tightening a likely reaction to economic pressures – unemployment in Canada rose almost 5 per cent, while one in five American workers is also without a job – we may be about to see a revival of the ‘good-old-fashioned-road-trip’!    

What can your brand do to help make this summer’s road trips easier, safer and more memorable? 

Masks as a social and political fault line  

  • Health experts are recommending – and even requiring – people to wear masks when out in public, particularly in confined environments where social distancing is challenging.  
  • fashion accessory for some, others view mask orders as a governmental overstep and rights infringement, highlighting an unexpected fault line in the pandemic.   
  • This has already led to tragedy, with a security guard at a Michigan Family Dollar store shot to death while reportedly enforcing the state’s public face covering policy.  
  • Also in Michigan, a man wiped his nose on a Dollar Tree worker’s shirtafter the employee told him he needed to wear a mask.  
  • The tensions may be partly attributed to generalized ‘pandemic stress,’ but a political divide over the role of government and science bubbles underneath.    

Is your business prepared to manage these issues and anticipate where they might occur among employees and consumers? How will you help diffuse tensions over mask wearing in the workplace and at point of sale? 

Working from home may be here to stay  

  • Millions of employees are participating in the great work from home experiment. Many say they are happier and more efficient, with a recent poll finding most American adults would prefer to continue working from home ‘as much as possible’ after the pandemic.  
  • Others are struggling due to competing demands (kids, elderly parents) or unreliable technology, while anecdotal evidence suggests some remote workers are putting in more hours than before. 
  • Employers are also watching the work from home experiment with increasing interest. If successful, the trend could allow businesses to reduce pricey office space in the future.   
  • However, the details of return to work plans remain fluid. Especially regarding renewed mass transit use, which could expose workers to the virus or cause inefficient commutes due to social distancing.   

How flexible will you be with employees who value working from home and fear an immediate return to work, while making accommodations for employees eager to get back into the workplace?  

The fragility of food systems and rising food insecurity  

  • Supply chains in Canada and the United States are being profoundly affected, with restaurant operations facing meat shortages and grocery stores also limiting purchases.  
  • Meanwhile, Canadian and U.S. agriculture have also been hit hard. In Alberta as many as 100,000 tons of potatoes sit unsold, with $26 million in sector losses predicted. 
  • Recent research shows more than 40 per cent of mothers with children under 12 in the United States report a dramatic rise in food insecurity since the COVID-19 crisis began.   
  • McMaster University also reports that food insecurity – already affecting one in eight Canadian households nationwide – poses an increasing threat to mental and physical health.  

What can you do to help ease pressure on supply chains and combat rising food insecurity?  

COVID halting scientific, social and environmental progress  

  • From delayed Arctic expeditions to cancelled climate summits, a slew of vital projects are being postponed, causing concern that climate progress and long-term research budgets could suffer. 
  • Ambitious tech projects are also being cancelled, including Alphabet-owned Sidewalk Labs withdrawing plans for a ‘smart district’ in Toronto. 
  • Efforts to combat plastic waste have come to a halt as plastic becomes a defining image of this pandemic: the surge in production of PPE, body bags and other vital equipment.  
  • Conservation work to protect some of the world’s most important ecosystems is facing crisis following a collapse in ecotourism during the pandemic.  
  • Finally, a Washington Post investigation reports that increased family responsibilities during the pandemic means women are submitting far fewer papers to academic journals, with the opposite true for men.     

What can you do to help ensure that scientific, social and environmental progress is supported as the world grapples with the ripple effects? 

ONGOING ISSUES

Previously reported issues that continue to demand attention and resources include: 

  • Charting a course for the safe return to work of employees, and the reality that, today, all brands are healthcare brands and must remain focused on ensuring the health and safety of employees, customers and other stakeholders.  
  • Ensuring the health and safety of frontline and essential workers by providing access to still-scarce personal protective equipment (PPE).   
  • Toll of isolation on mental health, particularly among vulnerable populations such as seniors, as experts warn of the mental health crisis quietly sweeping the continent alongside COVID-19.    
  • Inequalities in COVID-19 infection and mortality rates among specific populations, and the underlying social and health issues that have contributed to the disproportionate impact.    
  • Economic impact on small businesses, particularly those unable to secure stimulus support through government programs, many of whom now face going out of business.   
  • Challenges of e-learning and threat of academic regression for children, and the calls for “appropriate technologies” based on resource scarcity in certain communities (text vs. video, for example).   
  • And it’s not just kids. Adults working remotely with unreliable broadband connections face a threat to their productivity and employment.  
  • The broader economic fallout of COVID-19 is a story set to get even bigger as time passes and more data is released on job losses and other economic measures.   
  • The dangers of misinformation regarding the virus, typified by conspiracy videos such as The Plandemic, and the importance of ensuring accurate information on public safety.
  • The negative impact that the pandemic has had on local news as sources of local advertising disappear.  
  • As COVID-19 swamps healthcare, ER doctors have noticed a drop in admissions for common ailments such as heart attacks and strokes, leading to worries of a new wave of patients coming their way.  
  • Pandemic positives, including reduced pollution and emissions, essential workers getting the attention they deserve, prompt the question: how to maintain the good momentum? 

Stepping Up

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