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Wrapping up—

A summary of learnings from Empathy's diary study

** The knowledge on this page is for you as participants in this project. Please don’t share it. It is intended specifically for people who participated in our diary study.**

Kia ora,

It’s good to be in touch with you again.

The research you contributed to finished up recently. Around 75 people across New Zealand took part in the diary study. You ranged in age from 18 to 75+, and submitted nearly 670 entries.

For each part of the mission you completed, we:

  • made comparisons across past entries
  • uncovered common patterns/themes
  • reported learnings to clients
  • made recommendations to clients about what these learnings might mean for their organisations, and how they might better design products, services and offerings to meet New Zealanders’ needs during lockdown and beyond.

Throughout the project we noticed a huge variation in the range of feelings and experiences you had. Some people experienced big shifts and changes in their own perspectives or feelings. Many people experienced multiple opposing feelings at once — gratitude alongside frustration, calm alongside panic, safety alongside fear, hope alongside fatalism. Some people had a rough time through lockdown, while others were in a position to see opportunities and find silver linings.

Hearing your perspectives was hugely beneficial to our project team. It helped make sure our government sector and New Zealand-owned business clients were connected to the lives and perspectives of real people.

On a personal level, learning about you helped us process our own experiences. We hope the lessons shared in this wrap-up will help you too — whether by feeling validated knowing someone else was going through the same thing, or by getting a glimpse into something you weren’t yet aware of.

This page sums up some of what we learned, and an abridged version of what we recommended to our clients. We’re including some quotes, protecting the identity of people who shared their perspectives.

Thanks again for being part of this work,

MaiLynn, Ann, Emma, and Nik

Lockdown helped people slow down and focus on the “small stuff” that truly matters

Forced lockdown enabled many people to slow down, “stop and smell the roses”, “get off the hamster wheel” and enjoy things they didn’t have time or energy for before. Many people told us about enjoying life’s simple pleasures, like cooking with loved ones, walking in the sunshine, enjoying nature, or playing games.

Health and wellbeing became a focus. The need to take care of one’s self, slow down, and find balance emerged for many people — either as a way to recover from the stress or busyness of  their pre-Covid world, or to manage anxieties created by the pandemic itself. Many people formed new habits and regimes to consciously tend to their wellbeing, like meditation, exercise and new creative outlets. Some saw a clear connection between self-care and their ability to be a better employee, partner, parent or friend.

The “silver lining” of lockdown for many people was getting an opportunity to form deeper, more meaningful, personal relationships with partners, children, whānau, and friends in a way their old life didn’t allow. The need for connection came up time and time again as people noticed how much they value connection and quality time with those they care about.

“I hadn’t really considered how the lockdown would change our lifestyle until we were in it, but after adapting, this change has been one that’s improved our quality of life.”

“I wasn’t expecting to be grateful for the lockdown, but from a purely selfish point of view it has been just what I needed.”

“For the first time — probably the only time — in my life, it’s just about being well. Everyone has had to slow down and just focus on being well, being healthy.”

“It’s been really nice, I think, to sort of just check in with [mum] a lot more often — see how she’s feeling, talk about nonsense things. I think it’s really changed our relationship.”

“I ended up with a lot of nervous energy, and the only way that I knew how to get rid of it was to start running. So that’s a positive I guess. I can run now. I ran a half marathon last week and hopefully I can keep doing that.”

“The super positive experience is… just having everything slow down and I’ve just been able to hang out with my wife. It’s been fun to do lots of little things like walking our dog every day, put the bed in the lounge and sleep in the lounge and watch movies. We celebrated my wife’s birthday. We had kai and awesome dinners. It’s been really great to spend time with my wife and laugh.”


Our message to clients:

Consider ways you can support people’s need to connect with people who matter to them. Some people are easily overwhelmed at the moment. Respect their priorities, and help them limit the time and attention spent on non-essential things. Rethinking the way you define productivity, achievement, and value for yourself and others might benefit you and your business at this moment.


Lockdown provided the conditions for personal growth and bold new ventures

Many people used lockdown as an opportunity to learn new things — to grow professionally, personally, creatively and philosophically. They saw this as a way to keep strong, or get stronger, for when lockdown ends. Some people considered growth as a good use of the extra time they had.

“I’m engaging a new part of my brain. I enjoy new skills and hope I can put it into practise soon. I’m keen to learn so I’m diving in there.”

“It makes you question day to day priorities. Now that I have time, learning Dutch is a priority.”

“I’ve studied more for my future and what I want to do so, when the time comes, I’m more prepared.”

“I thought this would be a great opportunity to just build my business more and extend my service offering, and have another qualification that I can add to my work that gives me a new skill set.”


Our message to clients:

Ask yourself what role your organisation or business can play to help people grow and pursue new passions. Offer ways to help people take this moment to grow. Help people identify any risks and opportunities in their plans. Help people ground their enthusiasm in reality.


Technology opened up new and better ways for many

Lockdown rules forced people to broaden their horizons by trying new technologies and services for the first time. Many people found joy and satisfaction in this. It exposed people to some beneficial new products, services or ways of:

  • connecting and socialising with friends, family, and colleagues in efficient and fun ways, like online games and communication platforms like Zoom
  • becoming or staying active thorough exercise apps or online classes
  • buying better quality food from small-scale businesses
  • do things more efficiently, eg online medical services
  • being entertained in new ways, eg attending virtual concerts.

Technology enabled more efficient, flexible and inclusive ways to do things in many different aspects of people’s lives — and many people are keen to continue using online tools they discovered. But not everyone was comfortable with the acceleration of, and reliance on, tech during lockdown. Some people found it harder to switch off. Others found technology a poor substitute for the real deal. But we did notice a marked improvement in people’s technological capability as lockdown progressed.

“We’re all dialling in [to meetings] and we’re finding because everybody’s on an equal footing, that is everybody sitting on video conference, that the meeting etiquette has changed quite a bit. People are giving each other time to finish their conversation, finish their comments, ask questions for the answers to be clearly articulated… And there’s really a good opportunity for people to collaborate and also to contribute.”

“I’ve just come back from setting my seventy six or seventy seven year old mum up on a Zoom chat… I was gobsmacked and so impressed at how how much fun she was having.”

“My friend has introduced me to an app… in which you can watch live DJs. So that’s been really exciting because I get to watch DJs from all over the world that in some cases I wouldn’t get the opportunity to see live. So I get to do that, and it’s free.”

“Without technology, you could never ask people to lockdown. We crave connection. We all miss our friends and whānau.”

“I really don’t feel like I get to shut off from work every day.”

“I’ve noticed a lot more focus online on the positive. On positive messaging. There’s been a lot less trolls and a lot more people engaging with with social media positively. I love all these Tik-Tok videos of families dancing or doing silly things together. It makes me laugh and gives me comfort to see these people connecting and having fun.”


Our message to clients:

Investing in new technology, or delivering services in new ways through tech, can make things more accessible to people — including to those who have different needs or barriers.

People’s needs are easier to meet when they have access to the internet and digital technology. Lockdown might well be pressure-cooking the digital divide; increasing some people’s ability to survive and thrive, while holding others back even more than usual. If you, your business or organisation, are in a position to close the digital divide — through infrastructure, policies, products or services — please do. 

People are learning and processing a lot of new information at the moment. Keep communication authentic. Don’t make contact without good reason.


Many people were empowered by less “frivolous” spending

Many people were delighted by how much less they were spending during lockdown. Lockdown meant people didn’t have access to as many spending opportunities, or to their normal income. Some people were able to put money into savings.

Lockdown showed many how “frivolous” their pre-lockdown money habits were. Some people realised their busy lives required them to spend more, eg cost of commuting, eating takeaways at the end of a long day. People found it empowering to realise they can get by without spending as much money. They became more mindful of what they choose to spend money on, and which expenses they will commit to once lockdown ends.

“I tell you what, our [household] outgoings have dramatically decreased. I can’t believe the difference to our monthly credit card bill. It makes me think about what we spend usually. Such crap, stuff we don’t need. What a waste.”

“I didn’t expect to start seriously looking at my finances during lockdown but I really needed to feel in control of something, so it’s been helpful looking at different scenarios and feeling prepared.”

“It’s probably better to have the money for certainty if it all goes terribly wrong in a few months. So it’s nice having the certainty, rather than stressing about what might happen.”

“We’re not too sure what’s going to happen with the economy. My partner’s work might slow down. So we’re just managing our money as tight as we can, and just putting it in the bank for a rainy day.”

“Hopefully I will be able to spend more on fun things after lockdown. But also this has been an eye opener as to my spending habits, so I’m hopefully that I will be more thoughtful with my spending after lockdown.”

“Financially, lockdown has a been a blessing. I’ve been saving so much money on food.”


Our message to clients:

There’s an opportunity to help people make the most of their newfound thriftiness. Supporting people to build financial resilience and smart spending habits is good for individuals, the country, and the economy. Stimulating the economy by encouraging people to spend money could be at odds with some people’s firm commitment, or absolute need, to spend less. The wellbeing of the economy and of New Zealanders can both be supported if people spend money on things that nourish them. How might you help New Zealand’s economy recharge, but not at the expense of people or the planet?


People rallied around local businesses

During lockdown many people had a strong sense they needed to step up and support people who were struggling. Support was shown through donations and purchases. People made charitable donations, bought non-essentials from beloved boutique retailers, bought takeaways to support neighbourhood suppliers, bought NZ-made, sought out groceries from threatened producers who share their values, gave tenants rent relief, or didn’t apply for government subsidies because other eligible people needed it more. This was particularly evident in people whose income was secure and/or who reduced their spending. But people under more financial pressure also took action to support others. 

“I’m just doing what I can with what I’ve got. I think it’s really important for those of us who are privileged enough to still be earning to support everyone else where we can.”

“We’re trying to avoid the supermarket and also fund smaller businesses in a more direct manner.”

“I’m making a really deliberate attempt to spend my money in ways that I think will benefit other people.”

“After we went into lockdown I made a conscious decision to donate regularly to local charities and to spend money locally wherever I can.”

“I didn’t apply for [the government subsidy] until after I was unemployed, which was maybe not the best move for my bank account. But I figured that there were other people who needed that money before me.”


Our message to clients:

The real shock of Covid-19 for charities and small businesses might be yet to come. Some have been propped up by people who feel able to help. This swell of goodwill and support is not likely to last as hard financial realities hit for individuals and households.


Tensions and exhaustion mounted toward the end of lockdown

Lockdown upended different parts of life. Many people had to renegotiate aspects of life that had previously been constant and could be relied on. The required shifts provided positive experiences and opportunities for many people. But we noticed uncertainty started to impact people’s heads, hearts, and energy levels as lockdown stretched on.

This manifested in different ways — through tension in personal and professional relationships, anxiety about physical health and safety as the end of lockdown approached, and fear about the pandemic’s impact on finances and health for individuals, and for New Zealand. Job loss started to loom as a possibility, or became real for some people, as businesses struggled to manage drastically reduced revenue.

“The uncertainty is the killer for me. I find it tricky generally and even more so when I’m planning around the [children]. Any deviation takes quite a bit of energy and negotiation, and often feels a bit sh*t for everyone.”

“Small spaces and too much time together has done silly things to my mental state that I’m eager to shake.”

“Lockdown has had a big impact — not only around the fact that I don’t have as much income as I’d normally have over this time, but also tying my self-worth and my income to the way I earn has had a big impact on how I feel.”

“This morning I was really overwhelmed with the concept of another week at level three lockdown. I’m just realising that there wasn’t gonna be a lot of change in pace this week. It was just going to be the same stuff. I’m running out of things to entertain myself and feel inspired.”


Our message to clients:

Recognise your customers might be in a vulnerable state of mind. Take care to ensure good outcomes for people. Increase your support for staff. Help people resolve the new tensions in their lives.


Noticing undesirable aspects in the old way

With time to reflect, many people realised they were not as happy, healthy, or whole before lockdown as they thought or wanted to be. People also noticed more flexibility in things they previously thought were inflexible — like work, routine, spending, and obligations.

Many people discovered an appreciation for working from home, or working less, and expressed a desire to find a healthier rhythm between work and personal life.

People found a new or amplified need to draw boundaries, do less, and simplify. Many people left lockdown questioning or making resolutions about how they can find better balance going forward.

“It’s also made me rethink my current work hours – and how they have not been sustainable in the current way – and that this is something I will feel comfortable discussing with my employer. You don’t often get this opportunity to see things from a good perspective, rather than just continually doing the daily grind and not getting the chance to look around and see things for how they really are.”

“I need to remember that I’m no good to anyone if I’m not happy and healthy… Hopefully I’m going to be able to retain it. I certainly don’t want to go back to the way it was before.”

“This experience has made me realise I don’t need to be busy to be important. Being the ‘busy mom’ was a badge of honour for me. I have to get rid of the mindset that busy is better. I have to learn to say no to things.”

“Work was the only thing we were focused on…We’re always spending the rest of our time recovering from work to have energy or motivation for anything else.”


Our message to clients:

Businesses, organisations and systems must adapt, because people’s priorities are changing. For people and organisations to make the most of this moment, personal shifts and big societal shifts are needed. As leaders and system influencers, people will be watching to see if you are committed to change.


Hope for a change that sticks

There’s a desire for a big shift in people’s personal lives, and on a community and societal level.  But there’s also underlying fear and acknowledgement that the unsatisfying elements of ‘old’ life might creep back. People recognise not everyone will have the ability to determine their own ‘new normal’. They know the ideals of a new normal might not be possible to achieve without some compromise.

Many people have a strong appetite for change, and see this moment as a rare and important opportunity. They fear New Zealand won’t take the opportunity. If the opportunity isn’t delivered on, people will be disappointed and angry.

“I want to maintain a degree of what life has been like during COVID. I’m not prepared to make the same level of compromise as I was before.”

“I see this as the turning point, the opportunity to really stop and say ‘what am I going to keep? What am I going to make a real deliberate effort in making sure is part of my life going forward?’, and for those people around me as well. So it sort of feels a bit kind of metaphysical or vague or abstract but I am really determined that I’m going to keep this in my future.”

“I can fight as much as I like and control what I can to make a slower pace of life and reality, but I may be at the mercy of expectations of my employer and other people in the community and my family…I feel like I am biking into a headwind and getting pushed backwards all the way.”

“I fear a rush to get back to what was normal will be a missed opportunity. We’ve all had our lives, and or idea of normal, turned upside down. This is the perfect time to be open to new ways of operating. Yes, it may mean sitting uncomfortably with the unknown and uncertain for a little while longer, but it’s a rare chance, so let’s make the most of it.”


Our message to clients:

People are awake to new possibilities, but conflicted about taking opportunities they see for themselves. People are wrestling with how to make their ‘new normal’ happen, and sometimes realising they will have to give something up to achieve it. It’s our job as designers and leaders to help people find a way to achieve what they want with minimal compromise, or to comfortably accept the sacrifices needed to attain new goals.