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There is no doubt that the pandemic of 2020 is having an impact on most people and businesses. For many, it is having a profound emotional, social, and financial impact. And for some, it is shattering lives, destroying dreams and crushing companies. It is tragic. But there is also no doubt that this too shall pass, and soon – perhaps not soon enough — there will be treatments and an inoculation that will make Covid a thing of the past.
However, even after Covid is but a faint memory, some of the abrupt changes that were forced upon businesses and people are bound to continue to some extent even after there is a cure. The seismic shift in behaviors are unlikely to fully reverse course in 2021 simply because a vaccine is invented. Companies should come to terms with the reality that some of the changes brought about by Covid will continue long after Covid… like a permanent hangover. For that reason, it is imperative to start mastering now the skills needed to be effective in that new world rather than waiting and hoping it all goes back to the way it was.
Here are some of the changes that are bound to last and the skills that should be mastered to be effective in that new normal.
1. Accept Remote Work
Now that many employees have gotten a taste of working remotely and so many companies have realized that they can, in fact, function with part or most of their workforce telecommuting, it is unlikely that business will be able to un-ring that bell. For the employee, there is just too much to like about working from home…. and too much to loath about the average American’s commute to the workplace.
According to the U.S. Census Bureau, the average American has added about two minutes to their one-way commute since 2009. If that doesn’t seem like a lot, consider that, before Covid, the typical commuter was spending 24 more minutes each week commuting than they did 12 years ago. Over the course of a year, this came to about 20 additional hours spent commuting. In fact, the average American worker spent 250 hours — or well over 10 full calendar days, commuting in 2019. And, as of 2018, there were already 4.3 million workers with commutes of 90 minutes or more daily, up from 3.3 million in 2010. “I miss driving 90 minutes to and from work every day in terrible bumper-to-bumper traffic” said no one ever. No one will miss sitting next to strangers on buses or trains. No one will miss having to spend money dry-cleaning business attire and paying for parking.
And, let’s not forget that remote work isn’t just appealing to employees. It is also beneficial to employers for a number of reasons. An employer with a large remote workforce will need to spend less on office space and furnishings as well as keeping that space virus-free going forward.
Rather than fight for a return to traditional workplaces, accept that remote work is likely to continue… and may just deliver more time and money to the “bottom line”.
2. Facilitate Freelancing
The shift from working at an office to working at home is also causing many professionals to reconsider whether they want to work for an employer at all. Just as an employer is no longer restricted to hiring employees who live within driving distance of the office – allowing them to attract the best and brightest talent available… nationwide… or perhaps even worldwide – a post-Covid workforce will be more inclined to trade the security of traditional work arrangements for the independence that comes with free agency. This will be especially true if the U.S. government passes a Medicare-for-All system for health insurance where independent workers can easily access the health insurance benefits that had been traditionally provided by an employer.
Long after Covid is no longer a threat, business leaders are likely to find an ever-increasing free agent workforce and fewer people who want to be traditional employees. And that could be good for both. The most talented and skilled will opt to work independently. Therefore, employers should establish freelancer-friendly operating models that accommodate project-based or durational work. By the same token, employers will enjoy the benefit of a workforce they can scale up and down based on natural work flow, seasonal fluctuations in work and business growth. It also gives companies the freedom of tapping into top talent without having to carry that talent’s full salary and benefits on a continual basis. Of course, it does come with the limitation that top talent will be able to charge the highest rates and may not always be available when needed.
3. Serve an Above-and-Beyond Customer Experience
After spending months sheltering in place and being forced to find supplies and services online, the shift to online shopping and 24/7 service is definitive. That is a genie that is unlikely to be forced back into the bottle. Customers want what they want, when they want it and where they want it. Going forward, businesses will need to also step up their ability to deliver products or services on demand.
Take, for instance, Grubhub, an American online and mobile prepared food ordering and delivery marketplace that connects diners with local takeout restaurants. Founded 15 years ago, the company is now hitting its stride with over 20 million active users and 120,000 associated restaurants. The company helps users to find and order food wherever they are. A user types in an address, and Grubhub tells the user the restaurants that deliver to that locale as well as showing droves of pickup restaurants nearby. Users can also search by cuisine, restaurant name or menu item. They can filter results accordingly. When the person finds what they’re looking for, they can then place their order online or by phone, free of charge. Users are also provided access to reviews, coupons, special deals and a 24/7 customer care team that tracks each order and makes sure each user gets exactly what they need. Grubhub sets the example for how a company delivers round-the-clock service by combining mobile, social and web technology with staffing and value-added support.
Grubhub’s app is customer-centric. The challenge is for each business to craft a mix of services, products and/or solutions that evolve to include the latest technological innovations in order to deliver a higher level, more satisfying experience for the customer. Every corporate website should be reviewed with the goal of maximizing the User Interface and User Experience (UI/UX).
4. Pursue Collective Feedback
With so much more involvement with customers, vendors and employees, companies can benefit from feedback that is both collective and collaborative in the process of creating new products and services and modifying existing products and services. A function that had traditionally been done by the Research & Development arm of most companies, today it is a role that can be shared with the crowd through online collaborative tools such as Google Docs, Zoom, and survey tools such as Survey Monkey. The idea is to gather as much feedback as possible in order to improve processes and programs. This business model can also lead to the creation of products and services that have built-in demand if it is conceived and developed by collaborators, such as customers, potential customers and vendors who know a lot about the business.
But feedback on business issues and ideas need not be limited to just customers, vendors and employees. There is an additional source for feedback that is now more widely available: mastermind groups. A mastermind group is a concept in which individuals form a group to learn from each other and grow together. Peers help one other solve problems through input and advice from one another. The concept of mastermind groups was first introduced by Napoleon Hill in his book, “Think and Grow Rich” (1937). Hill’s findings were mainly based on studying successful American companies which had some sort of mastermind groups. Hill said, “No two minds ever come together without thereby creating a third, invisible intangible force, which may be likened to a third mind [the master mind].” Participants raise the bar by challenging one other to set goals, brainstorm ideas, and solve problems by being totally honest, respectful and compassionate. In today’s world, websites like The150.com provide business owners with cohort groups of 6-8 peers who gather twice a month to discuss challenges, thoughts, needs and things they’ve learned between meetings. A moderator helps guide the discussion, and groups stick together for six months before they are disbanded and new groups are formed, thereby keeping the “invisible intangible force” refreshed by new minds. By gathering feedback continually, businesses in a post-Covid environment will be able to continue growing.
There is no telling exactly how much longer the storm will last. Til then, it is best for leaders and managers to spend their time preparing for “after”. No one knows exactly what “after” will be like, but the writing is on the wall in some respects. With glimpses of that post-Covid world starting to peek through, isn’t it time to start putting in place some of the strategies that will likely be needed for life after the storm?
Quote of the Week
“What business strategy is all about – what distinguishes it from all other kinds of business planning – is, in short, competitive advantage. Without competitors, there would be no need for strategy. For the sole purpose of strategic planning is to enable the company to gain, as efficiently as possible, a sustainable edge over its competitors.” Kenichi Ohmae
© 2020, Written by Keren Peters-Atkinson, CMO, Madison Commercial Real Estate Services. All rights reserved.