How culture underpins our reactions to the pandemic – lockdown across the world

Image of the post author Jodie Shaw

As part of my job, I work with people across our global boutique. This is fascinating, as from our offices all over the world, our experiences are very diverse. But for the first time, we have found ourselves experiencing the very same thing at the same time, as we all adjust to life under lockdown.

This is a unique moment to understand how people across borders react in the same circumstances. So to explore this further, we bought together 30 of our Kadence colleagues to take part in a mobile community to understand the cultural differences in our experiences.

What is bringing people together during the lockdown?

The ways that people are expressing a sense of togetherness is very much driven by the national identity and history and culture of the country. Our study earthed some fascinating examples.

In Singapore, the Singapore spirit, encapsulated in the people and nation’s resilience has helped Singaporeans weather the challenges posed by the pandemic. The clean and green Lion City is known for efficiency and a drive for excellence – and this has been demonstrated in the nation’s response, including daily COVID-19 updates via WhatsApp and the introduction of a contact tracing app mobilized by the power of the people. Singapore has also been able to draw on well-stocked reserves and financial support decades in the making, driven by the survival instinct of a once thought of impossible independent nation.

It is also in times like these that the nostalgic longing for the kampong spirit – the sense of togetherness in a harmonious community of bygone days in the Kampong past – is felt evermore. People are writing notes of encouragement at their windows to raise neighborhood spirits, other are sending baked goods to one another for moral support, hawkers and social groups are actively organizing support for their foreign worker partners in need. Sing for Singapore, where people came to their balconies to sing ‘Home’, the unofficial love anthem of Singaporeans, was a very emotional moment for many of our colleagues. Indeed, take a closer look beyond the ‘hardware’ of an advanced, organized, efficient modern city-state, and you will find it is this mix of such hardy values of resilience as well as the ‘heartware’ of Gotong royong – which refers to a community coming together to things in unison – that binds the Singaporeans together during the lockdown.

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In the UK, memories of a bygone era are also contributing to a sense of togetherness. The story of Captain Tom Moore, a World War II veteran, aiming to raise money for the National Health Service, has brought people together. Captain Tom set out to raise £1,000 for the National Health Service by walking 100 laps of his garden before his 100th birthday. He has now raised over £32 million and has become something of a national treasure, receiving over 125, 000 birthday cards from people across the country as he turned 100 and even appearing on a charity single which got to number 1 in the UK charts. The response to Captain Tom’s story reveals a lot about the British public’s reaction to the pandemic. In the early days, many comparisons were made to the Blitz spirit and British grit and determination to come together to defeat the virus. As someone who embodies these things, it’s no surprise Captain Tom’s story has found favor amongst the British public.

In the US, as in other countries there’s also a sense that we’re all in this together and that everyone has their bit to do to flattened the curve. That said, in America, protests against the lockdown have been more notable than in other countries, again driven by history and culture. With freedom such a core value in America, it’s perhaps no surprise that are some who feel a greater sense of umbridge at this being restricted, something that those in more collectivist countries find difficult to understand.

What does working from home look like?

In the UK and the US, many people have invested in home comforts to make working from home easier – with back support, keyboards, even desks all being common purchases. There an expectation that this is the start of a major shift in the way we work, so long-term investments in home working are justified.

In Asia, where multi-generational households are more common, working from home solutions tend to be more temporary, with a greater focus on finding areas that allow for the ability to carve out a personal space for peace and quiet. In Singapore, where there tends to be a clearer distinction between work and home life, working from home has indeed had an impact, leading to a re-evaluation of the work-life balance concept – toeing the line between the responsibility and purpose of work and the desire for family bonding time. Furthermore, working from home has an impact on office culture, and it is creating new ways to connect and learn more about colleagues, as people see others in the context of their home lives.

What are people looking forward to as the lockdown is lifted?

This is an area where attitudinal differences, rather than cultural differences, are clearer to observe. People tend to fall into one of two camps: those actively planning what they’ll do as soon as the restrictions allow, and those that are more cautious, worried about the implications of being around lots of people. As you’d expect, family and friends come top of the list, and there’s a renewed focus on experiences with the ones you love.

What do people think about the marketing they’ve seen from brands during this period?

Again, there are more similarities across countries than differences. Regardless of where they live consumers are quick to see beyond glossy campaigns and empty words and are instead looking at the whole picture – with a particular focus on how companies are treating their staff and contributing to the cause. People are also seeing a different side to brands in this period, as companies have had to show us behind the curtain to remain relevant in a period people can’t experience their product in situ.

This is an area that we’ll be exploring further in our Brand Exposed study, a piece of research that is designed help companies prepare for the ‘now normal’ as consumers emerge from the lockdown with new expectations of brands and a different lens on marketing. Visit the microsite to find out more about the study and sign up for the latest insights.