Search Data Shows Anticipation for Return to Normalcy After COVID-19

By Sharona Meushar, Head of Marketing, CodeFuel

As the world rapidly closes in on the year's mid-point, billions across the globe have spent most of 2020 under lockdowns and social distancing guidelines. With each pink slip, canceled vacation, postponed wedding, and business closure bringing yet another reminder of how much has changed so rapidly, it's only natural that people are increasingly preoccupied with how much longer this state of affairs will continue, and what life will look like after the pandemic. Few expect a return to the old normal – but what can people expect in the new one?

While definitive answers are hard to come by in this time of massive uncertainty, search queries provide an illuminating look at how people are feeling, and how eager the public is to get back to some semblance of normalcy. Search data compiled by CodeFuel reveals a 232% increase in queries related to COVID-19 exit phases between February 1st and May 15th, underscoring that while concern about contagion remains high, people's minds are also starting to shift toward the question of how to live in the shadow of the coronavirus.

To be sure, surveys still show widespread public support for social distancing measures. A Quinnipiac University poll released in late May, for instance, showed that 75% of Americans supported a cautious, slow reopening of the country, even if it comes at the cost of further economic damage, while only 21% support a rapid reopening even if it exacerbates the public health crisis.

But delving into online searches can offer a more in-depth look at how people in the U.S. and across the globe are thinking about their countries' exit strategies.

Back to Work

For many people, the most disruptive impact the crisis has had on their lives has been the shift to remote work. Not surprisingly, there's widespread curiosity about how long this will continue, and what returning to offices might look like.

From February 1st to May 26th, search queries related to returning to work spiked 81% in the U.S. and 80% in the U.K. With Twitter announcing that its employees can now work from home indefinitely and Facebook chief Mark Zuckerberg unveiling plans for a 50% remote workforce within the next five to 10 years, it's rapidly becoming clear that COVID-19 will permanently make remote work more common. As offices around the globe mull whether to join the bandwagon and others begin reopening in the coming months, there's no reason to expect interest in this topic to wane anytime soon.

Back to School

While U.K. and U.S. internet users are about equally interested in the return (or lack thereof) to the office, there's a notable disparity when it comes to the reopening of education systems.

During the same time period, back to school queries surged 87% in the U.K., while they increased only 62% in the U.S. The significantly higher increase in the U.K. may well be attributable to anticipation of the U.K.'s reopening of schools at the beginning of June, whereas officials from 48 American states and the District of Columbia have either ordered or recommended that schools stay closed for the remainder of the academic year.

Public Transportation

There's even greater variation across the globe regarding public transportation queries. While parts of Europe have seen a significant rise in such searches – including a 42% increase in France and a 20% jump in the U.K. – these queries have plunged 72% in the U.S.

What's behind the gap? The increased interest in public transport in Europe likely reflects an eagerness for greater mobility as countries on the continent begin easing restrictions on public gatherings. Meanwhile, in the U.S. – which has long lagged behind Europe in use of public transit – key regions that have seen the heaviest use of public transport, including the New York metropolitan area, have been especially hard-hit by the pandemic, sending ridership spiraling. With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention cautioning against using public transportation, the gap between the two continents may only widen further.

Travel and Dining Out

Unsurprisingly, searches related to flights and restaurants have decreased in both Europe and the U.S. as people remain in their homes, travel remains restricted, and people express continued wariness about resuming activities like dining out even after restrictions are eased.

The continued dearth of searches for these terms through the end of May indicates that even while cities across the globe are beginning to reopen, these activities remain far from top of mind for the majority of people, who are hankering to return to the normal routines of work and school before they return to leisure activities.

Three months after the World Health Organization designated COVID-19 a global pandemic, the virus continues to spread throughout the globe, disrupting routines and ushering in long-lasting changes to economies and societies. While its long-term consequences for life, work, and education remain to be seen, one thing is clear: Even as people continue taking the virus itself seriously, they're increasingly searching for answers as to what comes next.

Infographic: Search Data Shows Anticipation For Return to Normalcy After COVID-19

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