Norbert Wicki is a consultant and serial entrepreneur with multidisciplinary career interests.
Last year, if someone would have told you that 2020 would bring record-breaking unemployment levels, millions of forced business closures, and a global disease outbreak that would claim the lives of millions of people worldwide (and counting), you would have thought they were crazy. Yet, here we are.
It's unthinkable to try and make sense of COVID-19's far-reaching impacts, so individuals and businesses have had no choice but to figure out measures to ensure — or at least defend — their survival. For businesses, that has meant reducing any physical interactions between employees and customers to reduce any causeless exposure to the virus. So, non-essential businesses had one choice: exploit digital technologies or shutter their doors.
But I believe we would have arrived at this digital mandate eventually, the coronavirus just accelerated its urgency. Business longevity will soon be impossible without digital transformation.
COVID-19 has been a reality check for leaders who have stubbornly shrugged away disruptive technology and are now finding themselves severely unprepared as their digital adaptation is coerced by the pandemic. Those who were bought into pre-pandemic are in a great position to surpass their competition. These executives have already accelerated the digitization of their internal operations by three to four years as compared to where they expected they'd be by now.
But don't write off the stragglers. If 'necessity is the mother of invention,' then the pandemic is what will open up everyone's eyes to the technological solutions that will usher in the 'new normal' for businesses across the globe. And here is what this new normal will look like:
Remote work isn't a new concept, but it was once only a luxury afforded to a relatively small handful of workers. Before the pandemic, only 7 percent of American employees knew the perks of telework, despite the entire nation advocating for more flexible work-from-home policies for some time. In just a few short weeks, COVID-19 accomplished what these employees have been trying to do for years.
Leaders didn't believe that productivity and collaboration could be feasible outside a traditional office space, but the pandemic proved them wrong. Employees are not only as — if not more — productive when they work from home, they are also happier and more engaged.
While there are glaring benefits to telework, it can still be a profound adjustment for organizations that are more unfamiliar with work-from-home policies. But leaders are successfully managing this transition with helpful technologies such as video conferencing platforms in lieu of in-person meetings, applications that promote team collaboration and organization, and online tools that allow employees to track their hours and tasks.
Some companies, like American Express and Airbnb, have already committed to a new standard of remote work even post-COVID. And while some companies will choose to gradually return back to the office in part or in full as the virus de-escalates, COVID-19 has made telework's value impossible to ignore.
A business' survival doesn't just hinge on their operational resilience as it applies to employees, processes, and methodologies, it must also extend into their external offerings as well.
Consider how consumer buying behavior has already progressed under the pandemic. Individuals turned to technology to replace the in-person shopping experience. Over half of Americans started buying their groceries online, Amazon doubled their profits as consumers turned to their one-stop-shop for all their product needs, and even their expectations for brands have evolved from this new standard of shopping. 97 percent of customers have reported that they would abandon a purchase if a company's digital offerings weren't up to par.
Businesses are being judged by their ability to successfully integrate technology into the consumer experience unlike ever before. This means digging deeper beyond convenience, user-friendliness, and accessibility, however. Companies that will leapfrog over their competitors are the ones who explore early-stage technologies like artificial intelligence.
Despite still being in its infancy, AI has already declared itself to be a critical component of a company's success. Consumers already prefer automated chatbots to human customer service reps, but companies can also use artificial intelligence to transform their marketing strategies, enhance predictive analytics, and increase their sales efforts.
Innovative technologies are like a life float during times of crisis, but they are also the tools that will cement your organization as an industry leader as we enter into a post-COVID world.
There will be no returning to normal after this pandemic. COVID-19 has pushed industries to a point where widespread adoption of technology is no longer an option but a fundamental requirement.
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