We are all considering the changes to our work and personal lives prompted by COVID-19. Lots of businesses and customer behaviours have shifted. We all should watch and consider these and respond to them in the short- to long-terms. The important questions are, how many of the changes will stay around forever and which ones will revert to the old ways?
Timing is everything. The most successful businesses will be the ones that are nimble and quick to spot a need and meet it. These considerations are key to all our forward planning and require us all to keep a weather eye on the external environment and to read trends now and trends next. We need to confidently embrace our powers of estimation and prediction to inform good risk taking and business innovation.
Of course, the developments in early years and childcare have occupied us all since March 2020. The changes to actual use, types and sizes and locations of setting, hours needed, and patterns affecting eligibility for two-year-old funding and for 30 hours. Recently, I have also been looking at retail trends, and part of me was thinking how these may be reflected in the early years and childcare world. What are the similarities and what can we in early years and childcare learn from them? It might seem tenuous, but read on…
There’s been an increase in online shopping. Some say use of such technology has leaped forward as much as 10 years. As a result, people expect much more of your website and online presence. Clearly you cannot deliver or use childcare online, but you can certainly find it, pre-select and connect with it. People are travelling around less than before and are focused on the tasks at hand when they are out and about. So online is hugely important in how we reach, inform, connect and communicate with families. Make sure all your content is where it should be, so people can find you, for example national websites and local FIS directories. You need a constantly updated website that functions perfectly on mobile phones. We all need a new online strategy.
People want to support local businesses. In times of crisis or trauma there is an enhanced need for a sense of togetherness. Think ‘blitz-spirit’. Customers are seeking out real people, running local, independently owned businesses – this could be you. The relationships are becoming more discerning and interpersonal, searching for personalised customer service, and the social aspect of shopping and using. There are opportunities here for childminders and smaller local settings, and the larger and even chain settings need to reconsider their local credentials. Get your local message across.
Instead of slow delivery services, people are liking the idea of curb side pickups. The link here is more tenuous, but there is one. We have all seen how drop-offs and picks-ups have been rethought for safety reasons at the nursery gate or childminder’s doorstep. These new interactions are about convenience, new routines and parental preferences. Let’s prioritise responsiveness, flexibility and change. And balance these new arrangements with other ideas to support other ways to engage and welcome.
Retail is growing its local delivery offer. This trend is about real people providing the real personalised and flexible services, not relying upon generic solutions or delivery service providers. For early years and childcare this is an opportunity to build on our strength of real interpersonal connections and to individualise delivery. If you are the business owner and you are usually in the office, now is the time to be visible, to connect and to be more present. For other team members this is an invitation to be authentic people.
The fifth and final trend is virtual experiences. We have all entered a much bigger online world that we had before. Here, we should embrace the functionality of technology to hold meetings and training, manage initial enquiries, have discussions, offer setting show-arounds, and provide setting inductions and tours. Social media needs to be current, accurate and regularly updated and can promote all the messages described in this blog.
None of these ideas seem too farfetched to me. And we should all look beyond the obvious changes and listen to the values and feelings that demonstrate the need for all of us to offer real connections and social value to our work now and in a sustainable future.