UK lockdown has changed the country as we know it – with many businesses having to completely adapt their way of working, or come to a halt completely. However, with restrictions across Europe beginning to ease, there is an overwhelming desire to regain a sense of normality. Retail stores, the service industry, even airlines, are beginning to prepare to reopen. However, it is still very unclear what this ‘post-pandemic’ future will encompass.
After all, many businesses, having to adapt to managing their employees remotely for the first time, have undergone rapid change in the last few months. A recent DMEXCO study reported that 70% of European executives said the pandemic was likely to accelerate the pace of digital transformation. A survey by O2 Business also found that 45% of employees predict permanent change to flexible working post-lockdown. From retail, to finance, to technology, the pandemic has changed the way businesses function, and will continue to function, moving forward.
Online and multi-channel retailers will rein supreme
Retailers and consumers alike have a massive desire to get back to normal – whatever that new normal may be – but the longer the lockdown continues, the bigger the adjustment will be for people, with a potential reluctance or nervousness to venture for non-essential tasks.
“Post-lockdown, we’ll see two types of consumer,” said Rob Shaw, Managing Director, EMEA at Fluent Commerce. “The first will jump straight back in as if nothing has happened – they may even be shopping more enthusiastically than before, as seen in luxury stores that reopened in China recently – and a second who will be more cautious. Focusing on the cautious shopper, in practice, means following government guidance and creating a safe instore environment, one that echoes measures we are seeing in grocery stores up and down the country.
“However, the opening up of bricks and mortar stores doesn’t necessarily mean people will transition offline completely. Savvy retailers should add store stock to their distribution network, with services like ship from store or curb-side collections to draw down excess in-store stock. This also means they can fully stock their stores without the risk of losing the value of the stock. That way they are prepared for the opposite scenario as well: customers suddenly ready to go in and shop and "make up for what they didn't have" as we have seen in some markets that are now reopening."
Bob Potter, CEO at SentryOne, agrees that it is the retailers that have invested in online channels that will prove the strongest competition:
"In an industry such as retail, many businesses are currently at a standstill because of government lockdowns and social distancing rules. The IT systems of these paused businesses will suffer first, because with limited staff or many on furlough, customers are experiencing 'error' or 'try again later' messages on their websites because of system overloads. For database administrators trying to cope with these demands from home, with incredibly high-performance workloads and without being able to discuss any issues face-to-face with their colleagues, it's a challenging time.
"However what we are already seeing, and will continue to see, is that those retailers with online services will emerge from this as the strongest in the competition. People are buying products online more than ever before, meaning that those businesses are making more profits, and therefore will be able to provide more goods for customers now and when the lockdown eases. Therefore, it is crucial that businesses such as retailers prioritise their database management to ensure that they don't suffer from downtime."
A boost for business transformation and flexible working
The shock of how suddenly the current crisis took hold and how dramatically the situation snowballed put every organisation under unequivocal and significant strain. Coronavirus could well act as the catalyst needed for change in the long-term too.
Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Content Guru, comments: “For the contact centre industry, which employs more than 4 per cent of the UK’s working population, the last few months could prove to be a fast-acting stimulant, injecting increased remote working and adoption of cloud technologies. After the height of this pandemic is over, I expect we will see most contact centres looking at how they can adopt a cloud-first approach that allows agents to work from wherever they are based, so they can future-proof their business models against situations like this in the future.
“We are not out of the woods yet, but I believe that the coronavirus will positively impact the way contact centres operate forever. Those that decide to move to cloud-based technology platforms may discover that, since operations can continue to run just as smoothly with home-based agents, flexible working may be a viable option for their staff. Agents may be given the choice to work remotely or from home, where previously this would not have been possible for security and compliance or other operational reasons.”
Simon Bull, Sales Operations & Business Development Manager at Aqilla, argues that the pandemic could be a catalyst for change in the finance industry also:
“The finance department often gets left behind when it comes to digital transformation, largely due to the industry being so heavily regulated, and because of this has found it more challenging to transition to the required standards of remote working. The biggest problem for the finance department, particularly if it’s traditional, is that it will likely be stored on a hardware server on-premise, due to the sensitivity of the data. Up until now, this hasn’t really been a huge problem, but with the repercussions of the pandemic still very much present, the complications that go hand-in-hand with on-premise hardware have been noticeable.
“Post-pandemic, organisations are going to have to seriously review their finance software and begin to opt for cloud-based finance platforms. Things aren’t going to go back to ‘normal’ any time soon. If anything, ‘normal’ as we once knew it will likely change forever, and businesses are going to have to seriously consider how they can operate with increased agility and value-add.”
Harness the power of technology
COVID-19 has changed our lives and created problems unlike we’ve ever faced. Bob Davis, CMO at Plutora, suggests: "To solve these problems not only during the lockdown, but as businesses start to come out the other side of it, they’ll have to harness the full strength and power of technology. But they can’t if businesses are hobbled by the major pain points brought on by the ‘new normal’ of remote workforces; particularly for software development teams.
"The basic collaboration tools everyone has flocked to aren't enough for them to communicate the complexities of a software pipeline, much less the health of the software delivery life cycle. Software delivery teams were used to an intricate web of connection, collaboration and communication that has been upended. Though teams that return to the office may be able to get back to what they're used to, many businesses may find themselves continuing this remote model for much longer, either part-time or full-time.
"The solution for each of these scenarios is a VSM (value stream management) product. No matter where people are, they can collaborate in a way that fits their role. VSM provides a single source of truth across an array of remote workers and remote software development teams, meaning that regardless of whether every employee is able to return to the office, they can still work effectively with their teammates."
Similarly, “data science and analytics can help companies accelerate through this pandemic curve and grab opportunities that come their way when we’re finally on the other side of things,” claims Rich Pugh, Chief Data Scientist and Co-Founder at Mango Solutions. “Importantly, analytics can help companies to react to constant and rapid change as and when it happens, enabling them to quickly adapt, thrive, and, most importantly, survive.
“Planning for uncertain times raises the need to simulate all the different likely outcomes, and then work out what is required for success. If different departments have embedded analysis teams, supported by off-the-shelf or customised tools, they can model the outcome of multiple situations at different points on the development and supply chains, organisations will be better equipped to address potential risk and make informed plans to handle all likely outcomes. Better still, insights generated by data analytics teams can be shared across departments and with the company as a whole to ensure everyone knows the warning signs to look for, and the best courses of action to help the company succeed.”
Over the last few months, businesses across all sectors have been forced to adapt to new ways of working, taking time to reflect on what the future of their company may look like. Whether it be flexible working, omnichannel approaches, or digital transformation – the pandemic has been a catalyst for change. However, whilst consumers and businesses alike are eager for the ‘new normal’, many business leaders are also tasked with how they can achieve something better than ‘normal’: using this experience to become stronger than before the crisis hit.