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Q&A: Reopening after Covid-19 - what to look out for

(Image credit: Image source: Shutterstock/Peshkova)

Adam Spearing, Senior Area Vice President, Platform & Communities, EMEA at Salesforce, discusses Covid-19, the challenges business will face as they look to recover, as well as the balance they need to maintain employee health and wellbeing.

What are some of the key challenges businesses are facing as they’re working to recover and reopen?

In the early stages of the crisis, the main challenge was the need to make important decisions quickly. For business leaders, decisions and innovations which previously took weeks were being made and delivered within days.

Businesses’ first priority was to stabilize – to take care of employees, customers and communities, and begin a second slower phase of recovery and reopening. As we continue to transition recovery plans, businesses are evolving their operating models for the new in-crisis normal. This involves prioritizing resources to serve customers effectively, while protecting business continuity. During this phase, complex challenges of return-to-work readiness across locations, employees and visitors will unravel new health and safety regulations, shift management and a future of work that is agile and underpinned by digital. Businesses need to provide employees with the agility to move seamlessly between central and home offices. Executing this requires secure, mobile-first applications and management solutions such as the command center to know who’s where and when at any given time.

How do they balance the need to maintain employee health and wellbeing, but also support customers as best they can?

First and foremost, nothing is more important than the health and safety of your employees, customers and communities. Every company should continue to ensure their employees and customers have what they need during this difficult time. At Salesforce, we believe that the only winning strategy is to put the customer at the center. This crisis brings into sharp relief that it is the efforts of employees, and the loyalty of customers, that will see a company through these times.

We’ve been tracking the evolving trends around a number of core capabilities. Framing and focusing crisis planning and execution around these helps ensure you’re working towards a future we know is coming vs. one we know has passed. Ways in which to support employees include, enabling them to care for themselves and their families, stabilizing internal communications and productivity, programmatically scaling new ways of working and ongoing evolution of the workforce to increase readiness for change.

 When it comes to supporting customers, companies need to engage, ensure that they are reprioritizing resources and redesigning customer experiences and offers based on their needs. Deepening the personalization of customer engagement through digital is crucial.

What’s the role of technology likely to be after this pandemic, and into the future?

Technology will continue to play an important role in helping businesses to make informed decisions and communicate clearly, whilst prioritizing customers’ needs. Reinforcing data gathering and interpretation can enable organizations to prioritize resources based on information, not assumptions. Businesses will require the ability to manage their workforce and shift patterns effectively, providing personalized rotas for all employees, not just those on the shop floor. Cloud-based apps can allow organizations to operationalize the advice they’re receiving while platforms like can provide a 360-degree view of return-to-work readiness across locations, employees, and visitors.

What has the situation done to shift business initiatives like digital transformation?

During the early stages of the crisis, organizations had to prioritize their most mission-critical functions to stabilize. There were examples of businesses who had to go to extraordinary lengths just to keep things running - in some cases transporting executives’ laptops to frontline workers. Those lagging behind in terms of their ability to support remote employees or serve customers through online platforms had to invest and adapt at speed.

The pandemic has highlighted the need for digital solutions to everything from healthcare provision to e-learning. In recent months we’ve learned that if you don’t have a digital connection to your customers or employees, then you will struggle to adapt and ultimately, grow. It’s a case of change now or your competitors will leave you behind. If not your competitors, a technology disruptor will come along and leave the entire industry behind.

Digital has become the lifeline for every business and it has become increasingly clear that the CEO must also be the organization’s Chief Digital Officer, leading the digitization of their business. This is important for every organization, especially given today’s challenges of reopening physical workspaces, leading business recovery and returning to growth. Moving forward, digital must remain a board-level initiative - a recurring agenda item at every board meeting. It is not an IT issue, but a business transformation priority. This will be critical to how organizations prepare for and respond to crises in future, as well as to their growth and progress as a company.

How important is customer/workplace data likely to be in this second phase?

There is an opportunity for businesses to become more data-driven in their strategic planning, as well as their customer and employee engagement. Most businesses operate based on models designed around assumptions. Many of these assumptions are decades old, products of an analogue world. Leaders need to reassess their customers’ needs with a beginner’s mind to maximize relevance for both today and tomorrow. Part of this process is about operationalizing the data available to them in such a way that it informs strategy and culture. Salesforce’s platform provides a 360-degree view of the customer which allows businesses to access, analyze and action all their data.

The beauty of engaging with customers through digital channels is the ability to see what is working and what isn’t. The challenge is how you use these learnings to improve the service you provide. When it comes to employee data, many businesses have collected vast amounts of employee feedback as they sought to stabilize and normalize. This insight can be used to better understand employees’ priorities and values. This will be crucial to building an inclusive and productive culture in the next normal.

What are some of the considerations in play when so much of the workforce is set to work remotely for the foreseeable future?

The key consideration is that the workplace is not going back to the way it was. Not everyone is coming back to an office, anytime soon. An all-digital, work-from-anywhere world is the new normal. Organizations must ensure employees are prepared for the future of work, which many are already living.

Are there distance learning and training initiatives in place to ensure employees learn the softer skills required by their work? Skills such as communication, adaptability and empathy will be different in the new normal. They are also picked up through interaction with others, which has changed significantly. The affect of the new normal of fostering an inclusive, communicative and empathetic culture will also be profound. Business leaders must ensure employees feel included in the workplace and when working remotely. This relies on all employees feeling comfortable with the technology they use every day.

There will also be new challenges as businesses look to nurture talent remotely. Each require different techniques, platforms and approaches, which should be planned and modelled by a team dedicated to managing the organization’s next normal transformation. Platforms such as Trailhead help everyone from the digitally naive to the digital native, improve their technical and soft skills through thousands of free, online courses.

Why is it important for companies to consider the communities they operate within?

How a business handles its stakeholders in times of crisis, not just customers and employees, but how it serves society and the communities in which it operates within, determines how trust and loyalty survive afterwards. This is a time when businesses must shift resources towards solving the needs of all stakeholders. That means doubling down on a culture of giving, mobilizing company resources to serve communities and demonstrating civic leadership.

In the first phase of the crisis, Salesforce focused on helping, delivering 50 million units of personal protective equipment (PPE) in affected nations. In the UK, a group of Salesforce employee volunteers created an app called “Pop Ups for Heroes” alongside partners including Ocado and Fresh Direct. Built on the Salesforce platform, the app helped NHS staff working long, unpredictable hours to get the food essentials they needed brought to them at hospital locations.

Especially during times of adversity and uncertainty, a businesses’ core values are its guiding force. Salesforce’s values include building trust, supporting our customers’ success, ensuring equality and driving innovation. It’s more important than ever to put those values into action now.

Adam Spearing, CTO, Salesforce (opens in new tab)

Adam Spearing, Senior Area Vice President, Platform & Communities, EMEA at Salesforce, has been responsible for all aspects of the Salesforce Platform across EMEA since 2012. He spends time helping Executives understand the power of the Salesforce Platform and how to get the most value from it.