If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s that the world, as we know it, can be turned upside down with little or no warning. Many businesses were unprepared for the challenges of mandated stay-at-home orders, shutdowns, supply chain delays, diminished production, and dwindling revenue. Some organizations have been able to survive during the global crisis by reducing discretionary spending, relying on some sort of emergency telework capabilities, and just holding on and weathering the storm.
What happens, though, when the worst of the pandemic is behind us and surviving businesses return to “normal” operations? Will they simply pick up where they left off prior to COVID-19 or will the impact of this worldwide wake-up call change the fundamentals of business forever?
"Those most devastated and least prepared may still fail despite government assistance and heroic efforts."
Unfortunately, many businesses won’t survive. Those most devastated and least prepared may still fail despite government assistance and heroic efforts to endure the catastrophe. The Market has seen this happen before with past economic downturns. Surviving businesses will have new opportunities to grow and take advantage of voids left in the global marketplace. New businesses will emerge and create additional competition and innovation in a post-pandemic economy. Although contraction and expansion are nothing new and are inherent in normal economic cycles, there is something very different about what we might expect this time as businesses reconstitute and reboot their operations.
For the businesses that survive and for the new businesses that are created, what changes to business fundamentals will they encounter as a part of the new normal in the wake of COVID-19? There is no doubt the post-pandemic businesses should apply lessons learned about preparing for disasters, catastrophes, and other business disruptions. The new normal will include operational models and business priorities focused on surviving the next big event. Experts and consultants have warned for years about the importance of business continuity planning, training, and testing; however, few business leaders have listened. Forward-thinking leaders that made business continuity a priority will likely be the same leaders that will help define the new normal when the pandemic is over. Others will need to get on-board if they hope to compete, grow, flourish and survive when facing the next major business disruption – and it will happen.
In addition to a stronger and more deliberate focus on business continuity, what else will be included in the new normal? Although there has been resistance to the idea of remote work, many businesses have implemented at least some sort of emergency telework capability during the pandemic. Some have been frustrated by their telecommuting experiences, but the good news is that businesses are now more aware of the possibilities and promise of the latest in collaborative technology. The bad news is many businesses will not recognize the greatest opportunity in the new normal at the intersection of technology, operations, and productivity. Those that figure it out and embrace the shift will dominate the competition and lead the way into the future.
Management consultants have a long history of helping businesses achieve cost savings, productivity, growth, and profitability through crafting and executing strategies focused on optimizing traditional business practices. In the new normal, traditional business practices will be replaced by virtual business processes supported by a seamless integration of business, technology, and a permanent remote workforce.
Remote workforce popularity is on the rise. The benefits for both workers and businesses are numerous. Flexible schedules, no commute, ability to work from anywhere, a greater selection of employers, and less risk of job loss from pandemics and other disruptive events are all beneficial to workers and driving the desire for remote positions. Savings on rent, parking, utilities, insurance, and other facilities-related expenses can be game-changing for employers. Combine that with the benefits of a larger population of qualified and available workers, less impact from absenteeism, and enhanced business continuity, the advantages to employers become quite compelling. Societal benefits also contribute to the growing popularity of remote work through the reduction of carbon emissions, traffic congestion, car collisions, and some of the negative economic and human impacts from pandemics and other disasters.
With the benefits from remote work and the need for effective business continuity, why has it taken a global pandemic to become the catalyst for acceptance and adoption of these emerging business fundamentals as the new normal?
Many business leaders are not visionaries or can-do risk takers with a passion for innovation or change. Most just do the best they can within the boundaries they are given. If leaders don’t have to worry about an issue today or right now, then why risk failure or criticism for suggesting solutions outside of the status-quo? Forward-thinking leaders have already made business continuity a priority and have benefited during the pandemic from proactive decision-making instead of relying on reactive afterthoughts. The new normal has made business continuity a high priority and a new business fundamental. Leaders that embrace the new normal have a greater probability of success for their businesses and for themselves.
As far as a remote workforce is concerned, many leaders have been opposed to the concept for two primary reasons. The first is the antiquated notion that business must be conducted on-site. For some, that may be partially true when manufacturing physical products or providing services that people have traditionally performed on-premise. However, even in manufacturing there are typically back-office roles that can be performed remotely. Processes can be changed to remove dependencies on paper files, wet signatures, physical workflow hand-offs, and workers operating on-site.
Technology is also providing a foundation for human collaboration beyond the physical office. Some, however, argue against remote work claiming technology is not advanced enough to effectively support true WFA (Work from Anywhere). Why, then, have many businesses successfully made the transition already? Although there is obviously room for continuous improvement in existing collaborative technology, the benefits and needs of a remote workforce are driving innovation and adoption in this space at a rapid pace, and new advancements are being achieved every day.
The second reason many leaders have been opposed to the concept of a remote workforce is because they don’t trust that workers will be productive without direct, on-site supervision. They might be right if there were no measures, controls, expectations, standards, training, and oversight built into an effective remote work environment. In fact, without these essentials, on-site work processes won’t be productive or effective either – even with direct supervision. Forward-thinking leaders are already creating efficient and effective processes and workflows tailored to a growing remote workforce. Productivity management is an important and integral part of these new processes and in the business fundamentals emerging in the new normal.
If you are intrigued by the ideas of business continuity and remote workforce being important business fundamentals in the new normal, what should you do to learn more or begin making some of these changes? Change can be difficult. The first thing to do is to be open to the possibilities. Learn as much as you can, talk to experts, and find out what others have done. Next, assess your capabilities and readiness for change. Don’t be afraid to get some help from trusted advisors, experts, and consultants with a successful track record. Finally, if you decide to move forward, you should create a comprehensive plan to address the people, process, and technology aspects of your new normal and then make it a strategic priority to successfully execute the plan and realize its benefits.
Recognizing inherent change in business fundamentals is not easy and being willing to take steps to integrate those changes into your business is even more difficult. Some will get it and others won’t. Either way, there is a new normal for the way we conduct business. The new normal is already here – don’t get left behind.