In mid-March 2020, offices and trains sat empty as workers across the world sat unsure of what may be next with COVID-19 taking hold. One year later, and the world has changed in profound ways. Similarly, businesses across industries have continued to change and adapt to the new realities, and after a year we can reflect on how those changes have impacted our organizations.
Here are four of the biggest business-focused changes over the past year, and what they say for the future of business on the other side of COVID-19.
As CEO of SquareFoot Jonathan Wasserstrum shared on our Age of Agility podcast, projections had remote work fully taking hold around 2030 – a gradual change in the marketplace, as digital technology came up to speed to enable the change and reluctant organizations became ready.
Obviously, that change took hold immediately in March 2020. Organizations had to quickly find ways to support a distributed workforce, in living rooms and bedrooms across the world instead of in central office locations.
Some organizations, though, found that the remote culture had a lot of benefits that are worth keeping even as there is a return to offices seemingly around the corner. Spotify, for example, decided that they would continue to allow employees work from anywhere, citing that employees should work from where they can “do their best thinking and creating.” Similarly, Salesforce is scaling back its real estate footprint and allowing employees to remain remote even after the pandemic.
With the advantages of acquiring the best talent from anywhere, building more diverse teams outside of your geography, and giving employees flexibility, working remotely may be here to stay, much sooner than was originally projected.
Related to this new remote culture is an embrace of digital technology. McKinsey’s survey in late 2020 found that in response to COVID-19, organizations have sped up the adoption of digital technology by several years. Globally, they found that as of July 2020, 58% of customer interactions have now become digital, a massive spike over 36% in December 2019.
And just as important, 55% of products and services that organizations are offering have become partially or fully digitized, a 20% increase from December 2019. With McKinsey also finding decreases in time expected to make changes such as utilizing advanced technologies and migrating assets to the cloud, the digital era of business came to stay much faster than anybody anticipated.
The last 365 days have put a spotlight onto vulnerabilities in all industries, with supply chain-focused industries near the top of the list. Before the pandemic there was a focus on reducing risk, but without the same urgency as before. Harvard Business Review detailed some risks that became much more prevalent, such as sophisticated materials, a lack of diverse supply base, and specialty suppliers with a narrow focus.
Going forward, supply chain professionals are going to need to better spot and resolve issues quickly, and minimize the impact of possible changes. Further, improving visibility across functions will increase reaction times to change and make more data actionable.
Lastly, over the last year, we have seen organizations need to embrace agility and flexibility. In life, we have all needed to adjust plans, build new habits, and find new and creative ways to navigate COVID-19. That is just as true in business. Before COVID-19 took hold, organizations knew that they had to start preparing for disruption, but did not put as many resources into doing so. Afterwards, organizations immediately saw the impact of needing to become more resilient and prepare for disruption.
Harvard Business Review Analytic Services found a 33% increase in organizations that see improved business resiliency as a major goal of digital transformation efforts. So while major digital transformation has been a constant focus for organizations looking to modernize, COVID-19 put into stark relief the major goals for those programs.
COVID-19 is clearly not done shaping our world and businesses in all industries. But after just over one year of constant upheaval in all aspects of life, the impact that COVID-19 is making on the future of business is becoming clear. The clearest lesson is this – being ready to react to change, as quickly as it may come, will be a key to surviving in the future. An increased focus on flexibility – in workplace culture, workflows, processes, and planning – will be the future as organizations look to prepare for any disruption around the corner.