Businesses in the new normal will never be the same again. Everyone agrees that life as we’ve known it will not be back soon, or perhaps ever. The prospects of the global pandemic lingering until at least a vaccine are found and made available on a global scale will transform the way people live and how businesses operate.
“History teaches us that short-term measures taken in response to global crises lead to changes that last for decades,” said IndustryWeek.com. “What most of us consider normal has already fundamentally shifted.”
An interesting stat came out of the U.K. recently. Despite the country’s difficult battle with Covid-19, only 12% of people say they would welcome a return to the “old normal” before the trials and tribulations of 2020.
There’s obviously a lot involved in how and why Brits answered the way they did. But it does show a broad embrace of the much-touted “new normal” — you’ve probably heard the term.
In a business sense, the new normal is how we usher in a new way of working, taking lessons from the past months, and deciding what to keep and what to throw out. How we work, the role of business in society, and the likelihood of similar pandemic events happening again are all things that affect what the new normal will (or perhaps should) be.
The Work From Home Trend
While the definition of the new normal is up in the air, some things seem certain, including how we work, the role of technology, and why we work.
3 Things We’ll likely see in the new normal.
1. Faster Innovation For Recovering Revenues
Master chocolatier Lindt had been planning to launch its e-commerce channel sometime in 2021. After closing its stores toward the start of the year and becoming at risk of significant revenue reduction, Lindt launched its online store in only five days.
With their hands forced into making fast, potentially business-saving decisions, brands have responded more quickly than they perhaps ever thought possible.
Even when things go wrong, the speed at which brands can innovate has been unveiled. Zoom may have had some much-publicized security issues as the business went from 10 million to 200 million daily users due to the pandemic. Still, it also made the platform an overnight household name and put the business on a fast track for operational innovation.
I believe the new normal should include this newfound ability to quickly find and prioritize revenue-making opportunities — whether it’s for growth or survival. A recent report from McKinsey recommends some ways businesses may now look to innovate, from highly impactful but slow processes like restructuring sales to faster short-term moves like demand planning.
Whatever companies now do, they now know they can do it with speed.
2. Renewed Emphasis On Digital Marketing
Although it may seem impossible, there are opportunities to start new ventures and explore new areas in existing businesses, even in the midst of Covid-19. Fortunately, technology and digital processes have allowed us to stay closely connected to consumers.
Although many businesses already knew the importance of having a social media presence, I predict that this will be even more important after the pandemic. Entrepreneurs can focus their marketing efforts on digital platforms to continue to reach their target audiences.
3. Companies accelerated their adoption of digital, automation, and other touchless solutions
When the emergence of voice assistants (like Siri, Cortana, and Alexa) was speculated upon a few years back, it felt optimistic, to say the least, that there would be more voice-activated devices than people in the world by 2023. Besides the fact those projections didn’t account for a situation where everyone is stuck in their homes, they don’t seem so outrageous today.
Voice interfaces go beyond what we see in our living rooms. Gartner predicts that by next year, 25% of the workforce will use these voice-activated virtual assistants daily — barely 2% did last year.
Now think of the kiosks we use for self-service throughout everyday life — in the supermarket checkout, in fast-food restaurants, in the cinema. As we become more aware of the surfaces we touch, businesses will likely look for more sanitary and touchless solutions. Voice technology is now in the perfect state of development to be applied at scale.
Work From Home Opens new Opportunities.
From my view in the digital human’s industry, I’ve seen already seen plenty of businesses considering how their brand sounds, even pre-pandemic. You can show more character through voice than text alone, after all, which could result in an acceleration toward better, more emotive digital brand experiences.
Businesses stepped up using digital tools, automation, and AI to cope with constraints on physical proximity, sharp surges in demand, and other sudden shifts required by COVID-19. Retailers like Amazon, Walmart, and Target enlisted industrial robots to pick, sort, and track merchandise in warehouses to manage surging e-commerce demand. AI-powered chatbots were used to reduce customer contact. Robotic process automation helped financial service firms cope with a surge in small business loan applications and assisted airlines in issuing travel refunds.
Businesses engaged in a burst of bold innovation and speedy decision-making in response to the deepest economic shock since World War II. According to a McKinsey survey, companies digitized many activities at rates 20 to 25 times faster than previously thought possible. For instance, one large retailer developed a curbside-delivery business in two days; its pre-pandemic plan had called for an 18-month rollout. There may be more to come. Three-quarters of executives in North America and Europe surveyed by McKinsey in December 2020 said they expect investment in automation to increase through 2024.
4. The Rise Of Social Responsibility
There are plenty of reasons to be a socially responsible business. Unilever in 2017 found that 33% of consumers choose to shop with brands that are doing social or environmental good. The younger generations are almost three steps ahead of that. Nine in 10 millennials said they’d switch to a brand associated with corporate social responsibility in line with their values.
But the stats won’t really matter to many business leaders. Being socially responsible is just the right thing to do, and it’s top of mind now in public and our business lives. Going back to that Guardian report in the U.K., only 12% of people want a return to the “old normal,” and many say they’re willing to pay higher taxes for a kinder, fairer society.
That leaves business leaders with a lot to think about to help create the society people say they want and need, arguably now more than ever.
Business leaders need to clarify to customers that they care and show a little empathy in tough situations. They need to be aware of their unconscious biases when it comes to employing fairly across society. They can look at ways to use their workforce to make a difference in local communities. And that’s no exhaustive list.
The options for kindness are numerous, and the “new normal” calls for more support of each other, as many businesses were supported so far in 2020.
We’re likely to hear more and more about the “new normal” until it’s just “normal.” With a little luck and by learning some important lessons, it might be the best normal yet.
5. Businesses shifted to remote work and virtual meetings
Whether your business is a large company or a smaller enterprise, it will be necessary to examine your processes and reinvent the ones that need updating after returning to “normalcy.” In this context, remote work and the question of employment becomes important.
Although many companies expect to resume normal in-person operations, this won’t be immediately possible for every business or even for every team member within your business. The “home office,” or perhaps a hybrid remote and in-person model, is an excellent option to maintain your company’s output and safety during this transition. It can also reduce overhead costs, which is an additional benefit.
Employees who could work remotely set up offices in their homes, driving sales of standing desks, office chairs, and other equipment and tools for kitting out home offices. To assess the future of remote work, we analyzed more than 2000 work activities across 800 occupations to see which could be done without a loss of productivity from home. We find that 20 to 25 percent of the workforces in advanced economies could work remotely without losing effectiveness.
That is four to five times as many as were working from home before the pandemic. Already companies are devising hybrid remote work plans that allow them to reduce office space. That, in turn, may change the geography of work and urban centers and reduce business travel.
We estimate that 20 percent of business travel may never recover as virtual meetings replace in-person ones. Already companies are devising hybrid remote work plans that allow them to reduce office space. That, in turn, may change the geography of work and urban centers and reduce business travel. We estimate that 20 percent of business travel may never recover as virtual meetings replace in-person ones.
6. Consumers shifted to digital channels
Socialization underwent a rapid transformation due to Covid-19. In-person gatherings and meetings were no longer possible under social distancing measures, which allowed digital meetups to become more relevant.
From the entrepreneur’s point of view, it’s important to understand the opportunities in the digital communication realm, take advantage of its strengths and think strategically to reach consumers. If you aren’t already making use of new digital tools and processes for communication, this is a challenge you must take on — or risk getting left behind.
Retail got a jolt. E-commerce surged during the pandemic, increasing its share of total retail sales by two to five times its pre-pandemic rate across eight countries representing 45 percent of the world’s population and more than 60 percent of global GDP—China, France, Germany, India, Japan, Spain, the United Kingdom, and the United States.
Many of the consumers driving that growth was new to online transactions. We found, for instance, that first-time online grocery shoppers accounted for 30 to 50 percent of total US consumers shopping online in July 2020, driven largely by baby boomers nudged by the pandemic to make a digital transition they otherwise might not have needed to make. “Home nesting” became popular, with many consumers investing in enhancing their new homebound lifestyle (see sidebar, “Consumers focus on “home nesting”). Other virtual transactions took off, too. Telemedicine, for example, languished until COVID-19 came along. Online medical consultations via Practo, an Indian telehealth company, grew more than tenfold between April 2020 and November 2020. In France, the state health system reported 1.2 million virtual consultations in September 2020, compared to 40,000 in February 2020.
While curiosity about consumer behavior after COVID-19 abounds, we found that the actions of companies and governments matter at least as much in determining whether new behaviors are likely to stick, including signs of a move to more sustainable consumption in some places.
Companies made decisions that set the choices consumers could make during the pandemic, and governments established guardrails with their stimulus policies. For example, surveys show that between 30 and 50 percent of consumers indicate an intent to buy sustainable products—although such products account for less than 5 percent market share of sales in part because companies charge more for them. Governments offer no incentives to purchase them. To determine how enduring shifts to new digital channels may be, we examined consumption using a “stickiness” test we devised that considers companies’ and governments’ actions and consumers.
7. Rapid expansion in digital banking.
On the other hand, financial institutions expect the rapid expansion of digital banking in the wake of this pandemic. The transition from cash to digital transactions will definitely pick up the pace, while the experience of physical banking — customers going to a bank branch for their transactions — will have to accommodate new health requirements such as physical distancing, temperature checks, face masks on everyone, and the frequent disinfection of premises.
However, to handle the projected surge in online banking, banks will need to invest in technology or upgrade their existing ones. Even the biggest banks saw their computer systems stretched to the limit during the lockdown, with the majority of their clients restricted to their homes and communities and relying on digital banking more than ever for their financing requirements. For instance, a major bank had to plead for understanding and patience from its customers who had difficulty accessing online and mobile banking services due to the surge in log-ins and digital transactions caused by the lockdown.
Besides beefing up their technology, banks should also expand their reach to not leave behind micro and small enterprises, especially rural areas. The overarching need for banks and other businesses alike is to find new ways to reach out and serve customers. “Re-imagining customer experience must happen—and it must happen quickly—as it could be the only way for businesses to survive in the current environment,” noted Forbes magazine.
Conclusion: Ready For Change
In today’s world, change is inevitable: Consumer demands are evolving every day, and business leaders must adjust accordingly. Although Covid-19 represents even greater upheaval than we expected in 2020, the pandemic may have only accelerated changes that would have gradually occurred in the business sphere.
One example of this is e-commerce: Although it is not a new trend, the pandemic highlighted its use cases and made e-commerce operations even more relevant. I feel confident in asserting that e-commerce is here to stay a key element for any forward-looking company.
The imperative for entrepreneurs is to face our new normal in the most productive way possible to continue being present in consumers’ lives.
In these uncertain and difficult times, the majority of employees and students are choosing to remain at home. As a result, you want workplace productivity tools that are capable of meeting the daily demands of business and family.
Microsoft is aware of your needs. It offers the most effective productivity tools for any type of home or business situation. In the new normal, you can effortlessly deal with a wide range of scenarios and demands.
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