Over the last couple of months, the business landscape has changed beyond all recognition. Priorities around boosting revenue and increasing profitability have been replaced, as organisations of all shapes and sizes have entered survival mode, doing whatever necessary to navigate the new Covid-19 world.
While it’s too early to predict exactly how the current pandemic will differ from that of previous recessions, there is no question that the road to recovery will be a long one. It’s negative impact on the UK’s economy is set to continue in the months, and perhaps even years, to come.
As a result, business leaders – who up until now were primarily focused on keeping their organisations above water - will need a long-term plan in place. Although there won’t be a one-size-fits-all model to follow and strategies will likely vary across industries, with some businesses able to get back on their feet long before others, every organisation will need to continue to be creative and adapt in order to overcome what lies ahead.
Transitioning from survival to the ‘next normal’ will be the next Covid-19 related challenge discussed in boardrooms across the UK.
Keeping the lights on
For many businesses, the first step of getting through the Covid-19 storm has been simply keeping the lights on and ensuring that operations don’t come to a complete standstill. Part of fulfilling this, of course, is to enable workforces to follow government guidelines and work from home.
When the pandemic first hit, organisations realised that remote work would quickly transform from a ‘nice to have’ to an absolute necessity. Although some organisations already had the technologies and strategies in place to support their new remote network of employees, many struggled - and even continue to struggle - to overcome this challenge. In fact, recent research reveals that almost half (49 per cent) were not effectively prepared to make the transition when the pandemic hit.
Therefore, ensuring business continuity and productivity is the first hurdle to overcome. Business leaders need to ensure that their employees still have access to similar levels of interaction and collaboration in order to keep processes and operations running as smoothly as possible and avoid risking mass disruption.
Other than the urgent and unforeseen spend on collaborative solutions to support and enable a wide-scale remote workforce, technology investment was immediately impacted by Covid-19. During the first few weeks of the pandemic, in order to keep costs as low as possible, many organisations made drastic and unavoidable cuts. Many broader digital transformation plans have been temporarily put on hold as businesses try to claw back some profitability.
Likewise, the need to survive the first few weeks of the pandemic saw many businesses having to reduce the level of spend on people. For some, this meant putting staff on furlough. For others, it involved pausing any recruitment efforts. In the worst cases, redundancies have had to be made and there may well be more of this to come, as the true extent of the economic situation unfolds.
Rebuilding for the future
Whilst the Covid-19 pandemic is far from over, many business leaders will currently be wondering what comes next, including getting to grips with how to plan for a future that is so uncertain.
At this point in time, it’s difficult to say with any certainty what the outlook for businesses will be in the coming months, let alone years. However, there are several areas which, if thought about now, should help businesses set themselves up for success beyond these times.
Whilst the current mass-adoption of remote working posed a few initial challenges for both businesses and employees, it’s extremely likely that for some it will become a permanent fixture. In fact, recent research suggests that only one in four UK workers would be willing to return to the office full-time post Covid-19. With some employees reporting increased levels of productivity and many benefiting from the flexibility that working from home provides, the ability to work from anywhere is likely to play a key role in attracting and retaining talent moving forwards. Add to this the rent savings that companies could make by reducing office space and it seems as if everyone's a winner.
As offices begin to transition to the ‘next normal’ phase of reopening in the weeks and months to come, we will find that some companies will continue to adapt their working structures, potentially even deciding to incorporate new remote working requirements into staff contracts. Leading companies such as Barclays, Slater and Gordon and even Twitter have already made their intentions clear, having announced changes to office locations and employment policies in recent weeks.
Therefore, when it comes to technology spend, the key focus should be on ensuring that all employees are able to work from wherever they need to for the foreseeable future. When selecting and implementing the technologies that will enable this, companies should prioritise solutions that enable staff to interact efficiently – regardless of where they are based – as well as maximise productivity and collaboration. Those that have already invested – or are currently investing – in remote working tools that enable this are likely to benefit long term.
Similarly, the current hiring pause doesn’t have to be entirely negative. In fact, businesses are faced with a unique opportunity to provide employees with training in new and exciting areas that they might not have had the opportunity to explore before. Many individuals in event-based roles, for example, will have seen a complete shift to webinars and digitally-held conferences. These require completely different skills and will result in new skillsets. Upskilling and retaining should be part of any recovery plan as businesses save money, whilst also investing in their most valuable asset; their people.
Whilst the last few months have been a challenging time for businesses, there is light at the end of the tunnel. The road to recovery will undoubtedly be a long one which brings fresh challenges and opportunities. However, through smart transformation and investing in the right technologies and people, businesses can start to look ahead and prepare for the future, no matter what’s around the corner.
David McGeough, Director of International Marketing, Wrike