COVID-19 era: What are the WFH conversations in Singapore like?

Undoubtedly, COVID- 19 has infiltrated our lives and it comes as no surprise that the global pandemic has also proliferated to be a top trending topic as it touches on all aspects of personal and community life. Many companies have ordered their staff to work from home including Havas. #havasfromhome is a global campaign to keep the network connected, engaged and supported.

We decided to listen to what Singaporeans had to say about working from home (WFH) and analysed the sentiments as well as the underlying motivations. As we move forward in this changing environment, a look at the pattern of conversations in Singapore and what it means for marketers to be meaningful.

Through our social listening tool, we observed over 13,000 conversations across Twitter (61%), forums (27%) and news (12%) from 27 January to 23 March 2020 on the topic of “working from home” or WFH in Singapore as it peaked on 18 March when Singapore had its highest number of cases last week.

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Automated sentiment analysis (with a pinch of salt) showed largely negative sentiments (31%) with only 13% positive, likely as people take to public social media channels to rant or vent. We are able to group the reactions of Singaporeans around working from home into the 5Cs:

1. Comment

Netizens stated that working from home is "the new normal" and described some of the changes to their lifestyles, which might not be all bad. These neutral group of commentators are sharing the current situation with their social network as independent observers.

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Because of their objectivity, commentators are the best ones to gauge concerns such as financial worries, government policies, trending content and receptivity to brand actions. Marketers are advised to keep track of these comments so as to prepare for the new future now, while doing the best they can to follow government regulations in a speedy manner like Wildlife Reserves Singapore.

2. Commiserate

For those who could or could not work from home, there’s acknowledgement and solidarity that we are all in this together be it on the front lines, staying home and ensuring social distancing. For those talking about the front-liners, there is strong motivating sentiment around encouragement and building positive social currency.

Empathy and demonstrating their support to either their staff or their customers, or front liners through tangible actions, will help brand marketers in the long run. For example, “Majulah Medic” badges (physical and digital versions) were created, while FairPrice launched a new Priority Shopping Hour every Monday for the elderly and disadvantaged, after Woolsworth in Australia.

3. Cope

Beyond commenting about the situation, some have also started to adapt or even optimise their WFH situations by sharing tips, guides and tools with each other. There has also been a movement around people sharing their #workfromhomelife. As people try to adapt to their new routine change, there will be new moments of need be it for better tools, surroundings or schedules.

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Marketers in this case should avoid being opportunistic in selling products but try to find ways to provide free/easy solutions to engage and help existing customers to cope with their new situations. One of the first brands to do it was Gojek Engineering in coming up with a work from home guide that was shared countlessly as HR departments around the world scramble.

4. Complain

A large chunk of the conversations comes from people complaining about being told to (and not being prepared for it) or not told to work from home despite the escalating situation. This forms bulk of the negative sentiments due to the abrupt routine change, lack of socialising or sense of unfairness.

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Marketers should try to alleviate the unhappiness if possible, by showcasing success stories of their staff working either home or in office, or even provide stay at home survival kits or guides. A big trend especially in countries with severe lockdowns are virtual “happy hours” as well, which could be something companies here can start for non-work conferences.

5. Chuckle

Then there are those who decided to inject humour to it all, showcasing the lighter side of the situation and to soothe anxiety and panic. Memes and jokes however, could themselves be used as PSA for hygiene, such as these TikTok videos.

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Marketers will do well to sit on the side-lines for this and let the pros do it unless it is to spread public messaging, of which the Singapore government is already doing well in.

Despite the logical ruling of stricter social distancing and work regulations, reactions from the people will always stem from an emotional place when it comes to their livelihoods and homes. Therefore, marketers need to understand the deeper needs behind the 5Cs and provide help, be it in the form of content or action, in order to be a more meaningful brand in times of crisis. Authenticity by forging deeper connections with consumers, and staying relevant in an increasing unstable world will certainly help in making a meaningful difference.

The writer is Alexis Cheong, senior strategist at Havas Group Singapore.