Business Transformation – How to Make the Best of COVID-19

21st May 2020Change Management

The COVID-19 pandemic has forced dramatic business transformation on organisations, large and small, in countless sectors, right across the world.

In a few short weeks so much has already changed. Although no one can clearly predict exactly how the post-COVID-19 business world will operate, there is one thing on which nearly everyone agrees:

There is no going back to the way things were before the coronavirus crisis struck.

The big question is:

“How can you succeed in this changed business environment?”

This article sets out the key business changes and how you and your company can make the most of them.

1. Blended Working

As I wrote in a previous article, the coronavirus crisis can change work for the better.

Right now, almost everyone is being forced to work from home. Whether you as an individual like or loathe remote working, you cannot deny that some people are actually proving that they can be more productive away from the office environment.

Remote working does not suit everyone, of course. There are also job roles for which it is impossible.

Equally, sustaining connection, focus, and wellness over the long term are 3 big issues we can all relate to.

A practical solution is to develop a “blended work culture” where managers provide greater flexibility for people to accomplish their best work wherever it suits them best.

For most people this will result in a combination of working from home as well as from the office with greater autonomy over working hours.

To take advantage of this cultural shift, you will need to move away from measuring hours worked to assessing quality of work done and outcomes achieved.

Blended working also mandates a change in the way offices are configured and managed so that you can finally ditch the outdated 9 to 5 working pattern once and for all.

Key learning: Blended working has the potential to increase flexibility, productivity, and even employee retention via an improved work-life balance. Over time, you may also be able to reduce business costs by decreasing your physical footprint.

2. Being Virtually Present

During the lockdown, we’ve finally discovered that virtual meetings work nearly as well as face to face meetings. What’s more, they’ve tended to be shorter, less formal and considerably easier to arrange.

As a result, virtual meetings have now come of age. Clearly, you no longer need to be physically present to fully participate in business teamworking.

What’s true for meetings applies also to many other activities such as job interviews, training, and business conferences. Out of necessity these have all gone online.

The consequences of this shift from physical to virtual may be huge for certain sectors such as the corporate business travel industry.   

For example, 3 weeks ago British Airways announced the loss of 12,000 jobs stating that air travel will take years to recover from the current crisis.

Other sectors such as higher education institutions are drawing up contingency plans to move some aspects of their teaching programs online.

Remote consumption is clearly a trend that cannot be ignored. Whether you are delivering education, consulting services or restaurant meals.

Key learning: Social distancing and cost controls dictate that your business must find ways of delivering your products and services virtually as well as physically.

3. Digital Business Transformation

By now, I’m sure you’ve seen the spoof survey circulating on social media that asks, “Who led the digital transformation of your company? A) CEO B) CTO C) COVID-19.” COVID-19 is circled.

It’s funny because it’s topical and rings true. Undoubtedly, the coronavirus crisis has accelerated digital transformation in organisations throughout the world.

The reason this has happened so dramatically is because the underlying technology enablers were already well understood by organisations before the outbreak of the pandemic.

However, in many instances they were not yet fully deployed. Or, if used, underutilised due to budget or buy-in barriers.

Suddenly, COVID-19 has swept away caution and prejudice in the same way the last global recession of 2007/2008 cleared the way for cloud computing. Or the way the 2000/2001 Dot Com crash accelerated the SaaS business model.

Clearly, now is the time to capitalise on the digital transformation of your business. Your priorities must include:

  • Internet of things and artificial intelligence to drive operational efficiencies in our now socially distanced world
  • Data and analytics to support decision making on business change
  • Customer survey data to understand how expectations may have changed as a result of COVID-19 and a re-engineering of customer journeys with a “digital-first mindset”

Key learning:  Accelerating your digital transformation will not only make your business “fit for the future”, but it may also enable you to recover more quickly from the current crisis.

4.  Business Agility

“Winning organizations will embrace Agile. They will be adaptable”

Bain & Company Blog

Some observers have noted how the coronavirus crisis caught many businesses flatfooted.

Overnight, they had to transform from being rigid, structured, controlled monoliths into flexible, adaptable organisations: Businesses capable of taking quick decisions and responding without delay to a fast-changing operating environment.

Now, more than ever, creativity, flexibility, and adaptability are essential for future growth in an uncertain business environment.

It’s high time, therefore, to remove three barriers that hamper growth and innovation:

  • Complexity
  • Silos
  • Bureaucracy

As I pointed out in a previous article on big companies and how to survive them, these barriers slow down the giants of the business world. And, in some cases, they cause talented people with a growth mindset to flee to start-ups.

Key learning: By radically simplifying what you do and how you do it, you can create the business agility needed to anticipate and respond to changing customer needs ahead of your competitors.

5. People and Culture

Now that companies have embraced remote working and virtual meetings, managers have had to work hard to facilitate communication and teamwork.

If your organisation is clear on its purpose, it’s likely that you are using your visions and values to empower your people and guide decision making in frontline teams.

In uncertain times, even leaders are not expected to have all the answers.

By displaying openness, empathy and clarity of direction, you have a unique opportunity to build trust and engagement with colleagues at all levels.

“The best leaders will break out of silos and improve workplace culture”

Rosabeth Moss Kanter

Rosabeth and other experts were interviewed at the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic and asked how they thought business practice might change as a result. Their views contained in an HBR opinion piece on rewriting the future of business provide a fascinating glimpse into the post-COVID-19 world.

Key learning: By sharing and caring on a human level, you can break down barriers that have grown up within the organisation and earn trust from colleagues at all levels.

6. Social Responsibility

The coronavirus crisis has thrown the spotlight on community engagement and social responsibility.

Businesses with healthy corporate values and highly engaged employees have stood out in the way that they have given back.

Customers will remember how companies have treated them. They will choose whether to stay loyal or switch to a competitor who has generated positive publicity through its actions.

The same is true of suppliers – particularly those in local ecosystems as well as small service providers more generally.

Doing the right thing by employees, customers and suppliers is already reaping rewards for businesses such as Homeserve.

Hopefully, your company is already using learnings from the current crisis to drive further improvements in community engagement and customer experience.

Key learning: Good business goes beyond the profit motive and shareholder value. It has a social dimension and a human touch. By embracing a wider social purpose you have the potential to make your business more sustainable in the long term.

7. Risk and Resilience

Coronavirus has wrought unprecedented damage to economies throughout the world. In the US unemployment claims hit 33 million within 6 weeks of the pandemic taking hold whilst in the UK the jobless rate rose by 856,000 in a single month in spite of the safety net provided by the furlough scheme.

Clearly, many companies are struggling. Some are even teetering on the brink of collapse despite generous government support to keep them in business, either because demand has dried up or they cannot source vital components for their complex products and services.

Many organisations are therefore developing new strategies to diversify their risk and build greater resilience.

These include:

  • Strengthening and, in some cases, shortening supply chains through onshoring, nearshoring or building local inventories
  • Diversifying from physical to online business activities
  • Building cash reserves
  • Revised contingency planning

Key learning: Risk and reward are inextricably linked. Overstretching or over-specializing may leave you vulnerable to economic shocks.

Beyond COVID-19 Business Transformation

To every dark cloud, there is a silver lining.

Right now, you may still be reeling from the coronavirus crisis. Or already emerging into a brighter future.

One thing is for sure. The impacts of COVID-19 have already changed your business environment.

The winners in the post-COVID-19 world will not only be those organisations that adapt fast to the new realities but also those that continue to change rapidly to take full advantage of them.

The business transformation triggered by the response to the coronavirus crisis is therefore the beginning of a journey into accelerated business change. Welcome to the new normal.

Chris Dunn Consulting partners with organisations throughout the UK to help them to change and grow. Read more articles on business change or contact us for a free consultation.