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Opinion: How we communicate with banks, order food, contact city hall in the post-pandemic

Polling reveals which communications habits may have changed
city_hall_credit_dan_toulgoet (2)
For more than one in five Canadians, showing up in person is the preferred way to ask a question of city hall | Dan Toulgoet

Canadians have experienced life as it was before 2019 – with no need for social distancing or face masks – for more than a year.

In April 2022, just as we started to get used to talking to each other again, Research Co. and Glacier Media asked Canadians about their reliance on technology for specific tasks.

The end of the summer provides a good opportunity to see how many of us are eschewing human contact and letting a smartphone to show us the way.

There are some changes in the way we engage with our municipality. For more than one in five Canadians (22 per cent, up two points), the preferred way to ask a question is to show up in person.

More Canadians would choose to address their city hall using electronic means: Through a phone call (35 per cent, up two points), an email (31 per cent, down eight points), a text message (eight per cent, up three points) or an app (four per cent, up one point).

There is another way to look at this year’s results when it comes to municipalities. More than half of Canadians (57 per cent) want to have another human – either in person or on the phone – listening to our explanation, while just over two in five (43 per cent) would trust someone to act on an email, text message or app “ping”.

Dealing with banks can be cumbersome, and particularly challenging for those who are concerned about their data falling in the wrong hands. Just under a third of Canadians (32 per cent, unchanged) would ask a question to their bank in person.

There is a big generation gap, with more than two in five Canadians aged 55 and over (43 per cent) preferring to make their way to the branch, compared to fewer than 30 per cent for their younger counterparts. The country’s youngest adults are different: 48 per cent of them would place a phone call.

The simple task or ordering food is the one where apps have gained ground: 38 per cent of Canadians (down one point) abide by this method, including 51 per cent of those aged 18 to 34. Dialing a number is slightly higher nationwide (40 per cent) and is the preferred method of those aged 55 and over (61 per cent).

Our reliance on direct, personal communication continues to be significantly higher on two other challenges, even the trend is negative. More than two-thirds of Canadians (68 per cent, down five points) would quit a job in person and more than three in four (77 per cent, down five points) would end a relationship or break up with someone during a live conversation.

An interesting trend emerges when we analyze the minority of respondents who think a relationship can be abandoned electronically. The proportion of Canadians who would break up with someone in person stands at 91 per cent for those aged 55 and over, falling to 73 per cent among those aged 35 to 54 and to 66 per cent among those aged 18 to 34. This means that about a quarter of middle aged Canadians, and a third of the country’s youngest adults, would leave a relationship through a phone call, an email, a text or an app.

On the employment front, we also see 26 per cent of Canadians aged 18 to 34 expressing a willingness to rely on email or text to quit a job, compared to 19 per cent for those aged 35 to 54 and only seven per cent for those aged 55 and over. Some young Canadians look at the places they receive orders from (the company’s email system, group WhatsApp messages and organizational apps such as Slack) as the perfect venues to say: “I’m out.”

The unease of the country’s youngest adults is also present on other forms of communication. More than half of Canadians (53 per cent, up two points) say they feel anxious when they have to make a phone call to a person they do not know – a proportion that climbs to 64 per cent among those aged 18 to 34.

Canadians remain almost evenly split on whether text messages or emails are impersonal (46 per cent agree and 47 per cent disagree, both unchanged since 2022). The big difference is gender: men are more likely to look at these electronic communications as impersonal (49 per cent) than women (43 per cent).

As was the case last year, more than two in five Canadians (45 per cent, up one point) say they would have no problem giving a speech in front of people. This leaves almost half (49 per cent, down three points) who would be anxious about the task ahead – including 57 per cent of women and 52 per cent of those aged 55 and over.

This year’s survey outlines the complexities of personal communication. Young adults are not thrilled about talking to people they do not know, and one in four would quit a job without an in person meeting. Half of those aged 55 and over would find themselves in a tough spot if they were asked to address a crowd. Each generation could learn something from the other.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online study conducted from August 17 to August 19, 2023, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.