I often hear people say that they are hoping we get back to normal. It feels like there is no normal anymore. Everything we used to take for granted has changed. Simple things like sitting at a restaurant and being served the food of your choice are now exciting, and different.
While we all yearn for life to return to something close to what it was before, there are at least ten business practices that won’t ever return to “normal.” In fact, our work and personal lives will continue to change and adapt as the world and our local governments and leaders figure out how to minimize the economic and business impact of the current pandemic.
Here are at least ten business practices that have changed forever:
1. Remote Workforce
The genie is out of the bottle. Employees that have been asking for flexible work at home policies have been granted their wishes. Most employers have now figured out how to enable remote workers and maintain productivity. The long-term impacts are unknown but according to surveys by many businesses, employees like working at home and it is going to be hard to get them back to the office full time. This will impact client relationships as well, as both private and government entities will move to a partially remote workforce. Firm’s that get great at utilizing remote employees will have a competitive advantage in the future.
2. Business Travel
Business travel is almost completely gone for the foreseeable future and I believe it will be drastically reduced due to improved technology and the recent success of online meetings. It no longer makes sense to send an employee cross country for a one–day meeting that can be held effectively on Zoom. This will affect airlines, hotels, restaurants, and meeting planners (see next).
3. Live Events
Live events will never be the same. From implementing health restrictions and practices to social distancing, attending live events has changed forever. Conference planners are going to have to win back the confidence of business patrons and show a much better cost benefit analysis to get the same attendance they had pre-COVID-19. My prediction is that there will be less conferences in the future and less attendees at the ones that continue.
4. Going Paperless
Because of the pandemic stay at home orders, most companies had to improvise how they got their administrative work done. After a few weeks of working at home, many HR, accounting, and contract professionals have been forced to go paperless (I wrote about the importance and benefits of going paperless in 2013). Paper is now risky and requires personal handling and increased risk of spreading disease. Many businesses have reduced paper use to the bare minimum, and this will not only improve productivity but reduce storage costs and increase cash flow by reducing billing and collection cycles.
5. Leverage Technology
Most firms we surveyed have indicated they have taken the money they are saving on travel and investing in technology. Technology investments that improve productivity, staff utilization and automated workflow will have a long-term impact on a company’s ability to grow without additional administrative human resources. Companies are really seeing the benefits of technology with employees and clients at home. Use of Microsoft Teams has been expedited because of the crisis. This trend will continue as technology such as meeting and conference software, artificial intelligence (AI), robotic process automation (RPA) and Internet of Things (IoT) drastically improves and businesses can feel and measure the benefits.
6. Business Development
With employees and clients working at home there will be fewer in-person meetings. This will impact the way meetings are held, who is invited, and primarily how business development is conducted. More effort will be needed to reach and stay connected with clients and potential clients. With less live events, BD professionals will have to work harder to leverage existing relationships with clients, business contacts and teaming partners. LinkedIn and other social media will continue to grow exponentially and those people and firms that leverage it best will be rewarded with greater visibility and projects.
7. Employer Health Responsibilities
Employers can no longer expect employees to take the primary lead in ensuring the health of their workforces. It is now the burden of employers to ensure a healthy work environment, both in the office and out in the field. This factor alone will help to loosen remote work policies as employer risk has increased. Employers face increased risk on two fronts – both from employees holding them responsible for a healthy place to work, and from delays on projects due to employees getting infected. The workplace as we know it has changed and will never go back to the way it was before the pandemic.
8. Disaster Planning
Before COVID-19, most large businesses had a disaster recovery plan to prevent losses from Cyber-attacks, hurricanes, earthquakes, fires and other natural disasters as well as theft, sabotage and other employee crimes. Almost none, except those that had offices in Asia and other countries that have experienced epidemics before, had a plan to deal with the type of crisis we are going through in 2020. Now every business will need to include health crises in their disaster plans – and small companies that never had a disaster plan before will now need to have one. Overall, this will strengthen companies and make everyone better prepared if this happens again.
9. Financial Practices
With the booming economy the last few years many firms had become more relaxed about their financial processes. The impending financial downturn has forced many leaders to revisit the way they spend money, manage the business and manage accountability of staff. Remote teams have forced more meetings and scrutiny of the numbers. Lower costs from reductions in travel, printing, and employee events have provided surprising increases in profits. And the fear of impending work shortfalls has encouraged leaders to implement better timesheet, billing, and collection processes to manage cash flow. All in all, the crisis has forced firms to create better financial practices. Firms that have made these improvements will protect profits from decline in the economic downturn.
10. Online Learning and Training
Just as schools and colleges have had to transition to virtual learning, businesses that have primarily developed employees in person have had to change overnight. Most outside organizations providing training to your firm or in-house custom training you create for your staff have had to be quickly reinvented to be online. This has caused a lot of inferior training approaches to be offered to employees. Effective training is based on how adults learn to ensure successful adoption of new skills and behavior changes. Most training programs offered since the COVID-19 crisis were taken from a live classroom venue and stuck in a PowerPoint on a Zoom call and not adapted appropriately. Programs such as bootcamps and project management training courses meant to move an employee further in their career and prepare them for leadership are now ineffective online.
Training and educational materials need to be completely redesigned to work online to ensure they are interactive, engaging, and valuable. With the huge reduction in travel and live events described above, employees will not want to waste time on ineffective Zoom meetings that do not challenge them or are not applicable to their jobs and careers. Training specifically designed to be offered online such as the Find the Lost Dollars business training program will transform employee mindset and behavior and engage employees to deliver more profitable projects.
Every firm can benefit from these ten permanent changes to our business practices. In some cases, the new practices will lead to increased productivity, improved efficiency and cash flow and ultimately higher profits. With the current uncertainty we face, embracing these new practices as your “new normal” will make you stronger, more competitive and effective in weathering the impending economic storms.
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