Forget ‘the new normal’, this is normal

Over the past few months, we have all had to make changes to the way we live, work and interact with one another. The global health emergency has expedited a paradigm shift in individual behaviours and demand for digital services. Across the business landscape, fortunes have been polarised; some have seen demand for their products and services skyrocket, others have seen their pipeline plummet dramatically…

The conditions imposed by lockdown have had a profound impact on our day-to-day routines:

  • For many businesses and organisations, a wholesale shift of entire workforces to remote working has put IT teams under tremendous strain to respond: There has been a frantic rush to procure and build laptops for workforces that previously used desktop PCs; bandwidth and capacity upgrades have been rushed through to ensure remote access solutions are up to the task; Service Desks have been forced to handle a much higher proportion of support requests online.
  • For retail businesses, the High Street has closed, driving customers to make much greater use of online, mobile and other digital channels. Cash payments have been in decline for some time; the move to contactless and mobile payments has accelerated markedly since March (in a single month, between mid-March and mid-April 2020, 6 million people (12% of the UK’s adult population) downloaded their bank’s App for the first time).
  • For us as individuals, there has been a rush to collaboration tools and solutions. Daily routines are now characterised by a steady cadence of Teams meetings, Zoom calls, BlueJeans workshops… the humble phone call has taken a definite back seat. And we’ve all honed our skills as network engineers and desktop support to make sure our Wi-Fi is optimised and our laptops are purring.
  • For established operations, it has acted as a catalyst for innovation: Initiatives that previously couldn’t escape the backlog have been ushered through change frameworks; funding has suddenly been made available to implement chat bots, automate processes and open-up new channels.

So what does this mean for the future?

  • Go-to-market strategies for products and services will accelerate digital adoption. A clear positive that has emerged from such extensive use of collaboration and telepresence solutions is a better understanding and greater trust of technology amongst decision makers, in particular. In the past, this has been one of the most intractable barriers to digital transformation.
  • Businesses are reconsidering their location strategies; not only in terms of where they have a physical presence, but to what extent. There’s a natural appeal to a lower footprint; lower costs means savings can be passed on to customers to drive higher sales/ market share or increase margins.
  • Talent acquisition strategies for those based in more far-flung locations can be opened-up to attract people from further afield. Traditionally metrocentric industries will likely see a shift away from workforces being as physically proximate as they have been in the past. This will bring a wide range of benefits including financial (lower rents and rates), environmental (less travel), social and cognitive diversity, and greater investment in rural economies and infrastructure to name but a few.
  • Organisations will need to adapt new, more innovative ways of engaging with workforces to foster collaboration and teamworking and to sustain motivation and productivity. Developing cultures for success will be more challenging, but this is by no means insurmountable.
  • The long-term mental health impacts of us having less face-to-face contact with other people are yet to be seen. As restrictions are lifted, consideration needs to be given to the anxiety many will feel at the prospect of returning to conventional office settings, when previously mundane aspects of daily life such as the journey to work take on added significance and a very different risk profile.
  • Similarly, the health and safety imperatives of business premises being COVID-19 Secure have to be given adequate consideration; not just in the immediate return to offices and branches, but on an ongoing basis as regulations change in response to the evolving situation. Here too, technology has a crucial role to play in improving the customer experience. Communication is key; location-based services and digital media can be used to good effect to safeguard the health of customers, staff and visitors.

What do we see as markers for success?

A robust, dynamic and adaptable digital strategy, underpinned by well-designed, scalable technology run by enabled, effective teams using consistent methods. If you can achieve all these, you’re well-placed for normality.