As we approach the final quarter of this most tumultuous of years, it’s nearly time for us all to start considering our strategies for the next one. Soon the ‘predictions for <insert anything> in 2021’ will start flooding the Internet, so we’re throwing one of our hats into the ring early.
It would be naïve, presumptuous or extremely brave to believe that there isn’t a significant level of uncertainty when looking ahead right now. And this unpredictability isn’t just caused by the shadow the global pandemic continues to cast over us. Seemingly endless political, economic and social instability all make business planning that little bit more challenging, as do rapidly changing technologies and customer expectations.
There are some broad predictions that are relatively easy to make though: the world will take a long time to fully recover from the barrage of 2020, many more businesses will still fail and, for a while at least, toilet paper will be appreciated more than it has been for decades.
But amid all this uncertainty, one particularly pressing question is what the rapid and enforced workplace transformation we’ve just experienced means for the future.
Through my work with Dell Technologies over the past few years, the inevitability of seismic change in the workplace has become a given for me. But the expectation was always that change would come gradually and steadily – guided by the demands of Millennials and Gen Z as they take their seats as business decision makers, and by the enabling technologies that would accompany them.
Cloud infrastructure, edge computing, enhanced cybersecurity, 5G and the new technologies it will empower – these were the engines that were to drive ever greater productivity, security and collaboration, and to transform the way we work.
None of us could have predicted that, in the space of a few months, businesses of all shapes and sizes would be forced to embrace a work culture that was previously the territory of start-ups and Silicon Valley trend-setters.
But that is where we find ourselves. So what happens next?
In some industries, the return of the majority to the office, store, factory etc is vital. However, many businesses have started to see the benefits of having a more flexible working environment. They have had their fears about lost productivity and security allayed, and have become used to the idea of their workers not being in the office all the time.
For those businesses the challenge is not to go back, but to continue building what they have started.
According to a recent McKinsey study, 15% of executives said at least one tenth of their employees could work remotely two or more days a week going forward. And in some Western European countries this percentage was as high as 20%. This may not sound like a lot until you consider that only 8% of executives said this before the pandemic.
Because of the required speed of action, many employers were forced to put emergency measures and policies in place to facilitate remote work. Those ecmployers should now be looking to reinforce their measures into permanent solutions, or to replace them with more robust and scalable alternatives.
That could mean anything from renewing IT infrastructure, putting solutions in place for ensuring the wellness of their people, to updating marketing, sales and customer engagement ecosystems. Let’s look at these three important examples.
Even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the development and maintenance of legacy IT had become highly restrictive in business environments, with many companies still reliant on outdated technology that is no longer sufficient for competitive business operations.
The acceleration of cloud adoption, not only to ensure BAU but to enable greater insight and business innovation, has been on the rise for a while. But in one recent study, 87 percent of respondents said Covid-19 had caused organisations to accelerate their migration to the cloud.
This accelerated move from physical to virtual infrastructure isn’t going to reverse, and as IT transformation becomes a core consideration across all industries, its implications will become more mainstream.
Expect to see powerhouses like Amazon Web Services and Microsoft Azure gravitate away from just being the subject matter of IT folks towards being central to all areas of business. Those who invest the time and money into the scalability, advanced analytics and accelerated innovation that the cloud can bring will be the long-term winners.
People and communications
Most people are still getting used to this new working reality, and businesses will need to look after their workforce in ways they haven’t had to consider before. For many that will mean (sometimes extreme) cultural and operational changes.
Many people’s lives have changed significantly over the course of this year. Extra financial and family burdens coupled with lifestyle restrictions have left many needing more flexibility from their employers. As a business, ‘how you handled lockdown’ will live long in the memory of your current employees and influence your attractiveness as an employer brand.
And let’s not forget that huge changes are still unfolding. Employees will continue to want and need flexibility, and that will require long term change for many. Even in the office environment, much needs to change in order to ensure the health of the workforce.
Businesses will also start to realise that flexibility has fringe benefits. For instance, more elastic working hours potentially allows for increased customer service coverage, whether that be extending support hours, or supporting other time zones.
All of these changes call for genuine transparency and clarity of communication, both of which will be vital for keeping a mixed workforce motivated, happy and productive. For many, the levelling up of internal communication will be the biggest challenge of all.
Marketing and sales ecosystem
Aligning sales and marketing has always been a challenge, and one we constantly work hard to overcome in a number of ways.
The way we interact with our customers is going to be different from now on. That’s the case whether you are a retail business refining your online/offline customer experience, a business consultant instigating operational change, or anything in between.
Now more than ever, intelligent sales and data-led marketing will be the keys to standing out in a competitive digital marketplace. The technology to achieve this is readily available, but success relies on more than simply procuring it.
It is imperative that businesses have the right tools set up in the right way, delivering the right messages at the right time to the right people.
As it becomes clear that it is the successful enterprises who embrace this mantra, businesses will need to start exploring new ways to transform their digital marketing capabilities, or risk being left behind.
Part of the solution is to partner with someone who understands the challenges and has the experience to help you navigate this transformation.
Call us when you are looking for that partner.