The COVID-19 pandemic rapidly and fundamentally changed almost all aspects of life from socializing to learning to working. It has also created some seismic shifts in where and how business is conducted. Five of the major COVID-19 triggered shifts that are having a reverberating impact on business include:
1. Remote work
With the onset of the pandemic, businesses had to pivot to remote working at scale to comply with social distancing requirements aimed at slowing the spread of the virus. The definition of office is changing along with this accelerated shift to remote working, moving from the cubicle to couch. While businesses were initially concerned that this shift would negatively impact productivity – a Flexjobs study revealed that 21% of companies were "very fearful" that employee productivity would decrease - many have found that their remote workers are happier and more productive.
Data from a Forbes Global Workplace Analytics report and Boston Consulting Group (BCG) analysis cited by BCG found that remote working models can create a range of benefits including a:
- 15-40% increase in productivity for employees with optimized remote models
- 40% reduction in absenteeism
- 10-15% reduction in turnover
- 20%+ potential cost reduction in real estate and resource usage
Remote working is changing where work gets done and appears to be here to stay. The majority of employees would like to continue remote working post-pandemic, developing an appreciation for not having a commute and a healthier work/life balance. A Work From Home Experience Survey of nearly 3,000 employees by Global Workplace Analytics found that 76% of employees want to continue working from home at least 2.5 days per week, on average. A survey by Harvard Business School of 1,800 people in both small and large businesses suggests that at least 16% of remote workers will remain at-home "long after the COVID-19 crisis has receded."
New remote working paradigms have operational implications for businesses. Companies will need to ensure they have the proper resources to support a remote workforce longer term including robust IT infrastructure that can facilitate effective communication and collaboration. They will also need to update policies and procedures to address this new working paradigm. Some companies that have pivoted to a remote-first or fully remote model are hiring "heads of remote" to manage their remote workforce to better adapt to this future of work.
The shift to remote working is one of the factors accelerating migration away from population dense cities and toward more spacious environments. Without the need to live close to an office and the freedom to live anywhere, people are choosing suburban living. Health fears and a lockdown/close quarters triggered desire for more space are also shifting Americans away from cities.
A Harris Poll conducted in April found that nearly 40% of U.S. adults living in urban areas indicated they would consider moving "out of populated areas and toward rural areas." A survey of 1,000 consumers by Wells Fargo found that 14% of respondents indicated they moved or have plans to move because of COVID-19. The trend toward de-urbanization may continue long after the pandemic as people continue to be cautious about living in high density areas.
Businesses are already adjusting to this migration away from cities. Some companies are eliminating or reducing their office presence in larger cities as a growing number of employees work remotely. Other companies (those with a hybrid approach to remote working with some employees in the office and some remote) are taking a downsizing approach, opting for smaller office footprints that can accommodate fewer employees. Other companies are following population migration trends, relocating offices outside of city centers to more affordable locations. These are all important options to consider when looking at the future of your business.
3. Digital transformation
COVID-19 transitioned interactions with businesses to digital channels, making it imperative for businesses to build relationships with customers through digital and mobile experiences.
Customers increasingly relied on digital channels as the pandemic forced widespread, temporary business closures. This reliance is expected to continue post-pandemic as consumers become more and more comfortable using digital options to do everything from making purchases to ordering groceries.
Businesses and organizations will need to accelerate their digital transformation to meet customer expectations for convenient, personalized, frictionless experiences.
Personalization is key to driving customer loyalty. KPMG found that personalization is the strongest pillar in driving customer loyalty in 19 of 27 markets studied and noted that understanding customer-specific needs and circumstances and adapting the experience accordingly is now the expected norm. With this in mind, businesses should look at their current approach and determine what areas they can implement a personalized approach. For example, retail stores could offer an online personal shopper experience to curate a cart for customers.
As the pandemic continues to make reshaping the customer experience a business continuity imperative, organizations in many sectors are turning to technology to deliver on the consumer personalization expectation. For example, churches are using integrated church management systems (ChMS) technology that provide actionable data insights to build stronger more personalized relationships with their communities, maximize participation and grow giving.
Digital transformation that allows the cultivation of one-to-one relationships with consumers is not only key to weathering the economic crisis, but positioning businesses and organizations to thrive post-pandemic.
The pandemic is also reshaping leadership in organizations. Business leaders are looking for ways to connect with and manage an increasingly remote workforce, adopting new leadership behaviors that focus on prioritizing employee well-being. Servant leadership is helping businesses do this. Servant leaders demonstrate the characteristics of empathy, listening, stewardship, and commitment to personal growth toward others.
These characteristics have always been important but are increasingly so in a pandemic-fueled environment of uncertainty. Leading with empathy forges a much-needed connection with employees that is especially critical as remote working continues to increase.
As employees continue to cope with uncertainty and fear, the need for empathetic leadership is accelerated at all levels of an organization. A Businessolver annual Workplace Empathy Study noted that year-over-year more than 90% of employees say empathy is important for organizations to demonstrate. However, the 2020 survey found that 68% of employees said their organization was empathetic, a 10-point decline over the last two years.
Bridging this empathy gap is important for driving employee motivation and productivity which in turn can improve business financial performance.
Recruiting is another operational area the pandemic is changing. Businesses are leveraging technology for candidate sourcing, screening and assessment as well as using video conferencing technology for interviewing more than ever.
Pandemic-driven remote working norms are eliminating relocation requirements, which is expanding an organization’s hiring pool. This is also providing greater access to talent for businesses located in smaller cities and rural areas — which, as previously mentioned, is a place many are moving to in light of the pandemic.
A survey of 2,800 senior managers in the United States released by Robert Half, revealed that more than half of companies hired new staff remotely during the pandemic and of those, six in 10 companies expanded their geographical boundaries to reach more candidates.
Creating access to a wider range of talent can also help companies create greater diversity in their organizations, bringing in new perspectives that can ramp up creativity, innovation, productivity and employee engagement. A wider range of talent that increases organizational diversity can also drive business results. According to data from SCORE, small businesses with above-average diversity earned 45% of their revenue through innovation and ethnically diverse companies are 35% more likely to outperform and businesses that don’t have a diverse team.
The pandemic is reshaping businesses across the globe, creating shifts in how and where work gets done, digital transformation to cultivate personalized, one-to-one relationships with customers, new servant leadership behaviors that lead with empathy, and new recruiting strategies that expand and diversify the hiring pool.