Those of us who ran businesses during 9/11 or the 2008 economic downturn have had almost a decade to forget the traumatic effect a sudden, global recession can have on a company. In a rapidly evolving situation like we’re facing with COVID-19, it’s almost impossible to balance what’s best for your company, protect your employees, and still deliver a great experience to customers amidst the chaos. For the last two weeks, we’ve been facing unprecedented stay-home orders that have tragically decimated some industries and tested the resolve of others.
This is certainly a before-and-after moment in the history of the economy and the digital transformation. Even when the COVID-19 outbreak is contained, it’s unlikely things will return to normal. Instead, we’re seeing the forced acceleration of previously slow-moving trends that are likely to shape the future for the long haul.
The mass adoption of telecommuting is the most explosive change to occur as a result of the COVID-19 outbreak. While remote work is more normal now than it was a decade ago, a recent survey found that 49% of workers never worked from home. Whatever objections businesses have previously had to telecommuting, COVID-19 may be the moment that brings it into the mainstream and shows leaders that with the right technology, culture, and expectations, employees can be just as productive and effective from home.
Both in-office and from-home work has its benefits, and it will be worth it for businesses to figure out how to bring the best of the two together. Flexible, shifted, or shortened in-office days could help minimize office sizes and reduce commute hours, and online collaboration practices will accelerate work cycles to offset those shorter hours.
On-demand food and services
With thousands of small businesses forced to shut their doors to enforce social distancing, work from home won’t save everyone. Countless brick and mortar stores (especially cash-poor small businesses) are likely to shut their doors for good, and many of those will be restaurants.
If it works for restaurants, we may see new aggressive adoption of drive-up or on-demand local delivery of essential goods as a result. Some businesses might even find this model is lower cost, helps manage inventory, and makes revenue more predictable. Still, it won’t all be upside. Communities and surrounding businesses may need to compensate for a decrease in foot traffic in certain anchor locations, and it could also mean the painful loss of jobs in the retail and service sector.
One of the biggest and most immediate victims of the COVID-19 outbreak was the events industry and the travel and hospitality industries that support it. Globally, conferences, trade shows, and even the Olympics have been canceled or postponed to mitigate the spread of the disease. Some of these events are being respawned as virtual events, which in the end may not just be a 2020 phenomenon but the new standard for experiences.
Whether this format sticks is unknown. The measure of success for trade shows is in the value of the sales they generate and peer to peer connections they build, so it remains to be seen whether virtual events can drive business with the same success as physical ones. But if they can, their appeal may be lasting. With lower costs for attendees and promoters and more flexibility in content formats, I wouldn’t be surprised to see some events remain virtual in the future.
The cloud helps businesses handle the challenge
All of these disruptions have one thing in common: many businesses are able to rapidly pivot their plans because of cloud technology that enables instant communications from anywhere. The digital transformation has already saved millions of jobs, helped slow the spread of the virus, and allowed businesses to maintain a level of normalcy amidst a chaotic situation.
We’ll keep our fingers crossed that we can return to even greater normalcy soon—though, after COVID-19, we should be ready for normal to look very different.