Before you read any further, ask yourself this: how have your relationships with yourself, the people around you, your employer and even the brands you like changed over the past couple of years?

Here’s one thing that has changed for me: Last winter holiday break was the first vacation I took during which I completely disconnected from work. And that was not only accepted but expected of me and my coworkers by my employer, Accenture.

Fast-forward to this year’s Consumer Electronics Show (CES). I was there to talk about Fjord Trends 2022, and the report’s changing-relationships theme was palpable. From incredible massage chairs designed for people to use in the office (if we ever return!) to color-coded stickers signaling a participant’s comfort level with physical greetings—we were all relating to each other and the world around us in brand-new ways.

CES 2022 | Weaving a New Fabric of Life with Fjord Trends 2022

If I had to identify a common theme for the Fjord Trends, it’s that amid the never-ending displacement of the pandemic, we’ve become more individualistic, moving away from being mostly social creatures. People feel atomized, separated from each other, so they have not only begun to emphasize their own needs—like getting a comforting massage break during the stressful workday—but have started to redefine many relationships.

Looking out for ourselves 

Another way to see the massage chair effect—this need to accommodate people’s individual sense of self—is through the lens of self-care. Employers are crediting people for nurturing themselves and owning their identities and needs.

These past few years, people have had the chance to look inward and identify the values that are important to them. Heightened self-awareness is causing them to reevaluate all their roles and embrace their quirky individualism. Look no further than Olympic diver Tom Daley’s contented practice of knitting in the stands when he wasn’t diving at the Tokyo 2020 Games last summer. He dives, he knits and he’s proud of it (and since his hobby gained exposure, he’s launched a line of knitting products!).

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On a mass level, we see this playing out in the much-vaunted “Great Resignation,” the “Eat/Pray/Love” impulse making people ditch their current jobs. Some people are complementing their full-time gigs with “side hustles,” an economy of which is booming. And as everyone is questioning their own choices, businesses will need to focus on providing them with authentic and trustworthy answers.

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Asking more of others

This new self-focus affects more than just our relationships with ourselves. Newly empowered employees are asking more of their employers, and are rewriting the employee-employer social contract in the process. It’s happening more formally in how business models are shifting to capitalize on “communities of care,” but also informally at work, with employees asking one another to be advocates. From Nike coaching athletes and customers in the importance of self-care through its website to Spotify’s curated “Wellness Packages,” care is everywhere.

Scrutinizing our stuff and its impact 

People are also transforming their relationships to brands and even to the concept of being a customer. For example, they are emphasizing the circularity of products—championing reuse and repair instead of product replacement—and embracing different notions of what it means to consume a product. Governments are responding in different ways.

In Massachusetts, for example, the governor called in the National Guard to address a crippling shortage of school bus drivers. This is in part a recognition of the end of abundance thinking, as bottlenecks and literal run-aground container ships gum up the supply chain while extreme weather and hazards like wildfires portend the consequences of climate change.

Seeing ourselves in new worlds

Cue the metaverse, where people are even changing how they relate to space and place. One prediction from Fjord Trends is that the metaverse could become a new forum for interaction and life. If people imbue these new virtual worlds with meaning and purpose, they can make the metaverse so much more than just another channel for reaching customers (the fate of previous innovations, like the web itself).  

And we can see how the trends overlap: If people discover new ways of consuming products through experimentation in the metaverse, this is another chance for them to redefine their roles as customers. Will they buy the same things in the metaverse as in the real world? Will they create different personas for themselves? How will they show up? As a mirror to their physical selves, or as their ideal selves? (So many questions!) Ultimately, what character will people take on when they’re offered a new stage?

Performing our lives

The possibility of access to different stages reminds me of one of my favorite books as an anthropology grad student, “The Presentation of Self in Everyday Life,” by Erving Goffman. Goffman stressed that we all “perform” in our lives, our identities. Our changing relationships are altering those identities—and paving the way for even more, to be expressed at work and at play and even in how we consume and relate to brands.

It’s a lot to take in—time for a massage break.

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Martha Cotton

Global Co-Lead – Fjord, Part of Accenture Song

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