Digital Transformation & COVID-19: Changing Workplaces Forever

Think back 12 months ago. If someone told you that most businesses would be running with almost 100% of employees working from home in mid-2020, would you have believed them?

COVID-19 has hit the fast-forward button on digital transformation. The trend towards working remotely has been gaining traction for some time, but the “work-from-home” requirement changed organisations in a matter of a few short weeks - in a way that otherwise would have taken years. It’s been referred to as a ‘forced digitisation”

So if your business has been “making do” with provisional remote operations, how can you hone your processes for lasting digital transformation?

A permanent shift to remote work

Most professionals, especially knowledge workers, are working from home presently. But even post-pandemic, global research firm Gartner has predicted a permanent shift to remote work for almost 50% of us. Recently Twitter has committed to allowing some of its employees to work from home indefinitely. Apple and Facebook have followed suit.

Remote readiness is an essential investment that reduces risk and prepares for the future of business.

Simplify remote work with digitised processes

Small businesses can prepare for continued remote operations by investing in digital technology like cloud-based applications and automated processes.

Although the sudden shift to 100% remote work hasn’t been easy for many businesses, the transition has been much more straightforward for those who had previously invested in digital transformation.

Communicate effectively with collaboration tools

When you’ve got a team on-site, it’s easy to talk things out at your desk. Remote work can make collaboration a bit challenging, but it can be improved with the right tools and processes.

Although you’re probably no stranger to video calls these days, virtual meetings that have 20 people talking over each other just aren’t very productive. You could fine-tune communications by scheduling shorter, smaller meetings, which better suit a remote workplace.

Collaboration tools like Quip allow teams to chat and work on documents together, which makes remote communication more effective. You can download some free Quip templates like the team meeting tracker and the daily email communications guide to see what you think.

Small businesses need to rapidly embrace a digital transformation strategy

Between March 16 and 23, 2020, the ABS surveyed Australian businesses and found that half of all small businesses already felt a negative impact from COVID-19. More than 80% were expecting further adverse impacts. The main issue raised was a huge decrease in local demand, which makes sense - if you’re told to stay at home to keep safe, you can’t visit the local cafe, the laundromat, the florist, the mechanic.

So how can small businesses who are potentially on the brink of collapse use a digital strategy to remain relevant in a remote-operating world? Push your online services; if you aren’t already selling online, look into it. Offer free contactless local delivery. Restaurants and cafes can promote gift cards and vouchers to be used when restrictions are relaxed. Encourage reviews from loyal customers to help others find you online. If you have pivoted and adapted your products to function in the “new normal”, tell people about it. Advertise on your community Facebook page. Innovation will always be popular. Promote virtual events, courses, and classes for a fee.

Preparing for a sustainable future post-pandemic (the new normal)

1. Create flexible and supportive working arrangements

When this is all over, many employees are likely to ask for a regular work from home arrangement. If you feel like that is the right step to take for your business, make sure you have the tools and processes in place to create a positive employee experience wherever your team may be. As a bonus, businesses that are flexible about work options may appear more attractive to job-seekers in the future, as well as incurring lower costs with fewer overheads and salary demands.

2. Focus on results

Businesses that measure employee performance through good results and customer feedback, rather than the hours they put in, are well-placed for the future of work. Leadership is likely to shift to be less about time-keeping and more about supporting employees to achieve a shared goal. 

AgriWebb, an agricultural software product, is reaping the benefits of results-focused employees aided by digital transformation. Farmers don’t work 9-5, which means AgriWebb’s reps needed to adapt and connect with farmers when they were ready to have those conversations. Since using Sales Cloud, AgriWebb’s sales reps have increased incremental revenue by 50% year-on-year.

3. Adapt to business models to meet consumer expectations

COVID-19 has likely changed consumer behaviour and expectations forever. Why would you want to go to a busy shopping centre when home delivery is so convenient?

Now is an opportunity for smaller businesses (those with fewer than 20 employees) to take a look at their models. Investing in digital transformation to meet changing customer expectations could include automating the supply chain; using the cloud; crafting a digital strategy; and bringing in experts and consultants to offer guidance. 

A Team Tuition was prepared to adapt to disruptions in the education system. When COVID-19 closed schools, A Team Tuition knew many students would require more frequent tutoring on a remote basis. Using Community Cloud, the transition to remote learning was made easier through access to learning resources.

4. Capacity planning

COVID-19 has hit supply chains hard. While the pandemic has shut down some parts of the supply chain, it has created massive demand in others. For example, as bricks-and-mortar businesses lost in-store sales, the uplift in online shopping created a huge amount of pressure for distribution channels.

Businesses can redeploy employees to help departments under pressure. Customer-facing retail staff, for example, could help in virtual service centres.

5. Transparency in customer communications

In these uncertain times, it’s more important than ever to maintain customer trust. Out-of-stock products, delayed deliveries, and poor customer service can cause major damage to a business’ reputation.

Use all your available communication channels to let your customers know business isn’t running as usual. Most people are understanding of the current challenges, as long as you are open with them.

Up to 30% of The Warehouse Group’s inquiries are from customers checking the status of their orders. The Warehouse Group is now improving customer communications by investing in an Einstein-powered chatbot that can answer simple enquiries quickly. If a customer needs more help, the inquiry then gets passed to a human.

6. Adopt cloud services

Gone are the days of in-house servers and missing portable hard drives. With improved security and flexibility, cloud-based storage and applications give businesses a long-term competitive advantage in a changing world.

They are also generally more cost-effective than out-of-the-box options. Most cloud-based services offer options to suit all business budgets and needs.

Lead through change

Businesses that adapt to changing times are the ones that survive and thrive. Find more advice for leadership, remote work, leading your business and more in the Leading Through Change series – our community is sharing insights and expertise to help businesses survive and thrive.

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