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5 Things That Covid-19 Has Changed Forever

While many companies have found a rhythm during the global pandemic, most are still struggling. It is crucial to be able to predict which workplace transformations are here to stay.

It is as if everything you learned about business has been turned upside down. In the wake of the pandemic, our business norms are under siege.

We experienced three years of digital transformation in five months. You can literally order cocktails to go. We call this progress.

While our narrative focuses on working from home and adopting collaboration software, permanent changes to our business culture cut much deeper. The following trends are ubiquitous:

1. Corporate structures will be agile

Just when you thought agile was passé, almost everyone adopted some form of scrum or daily huddle. Frequent communication became a survival skill. 

In the long term, organizations will adopt a new style of working where cross-functional teams solve problems using methods that promote flexibility and speed. It may be necessary to have departments such as HR and Finance to protect certain fiefdoms, such as employment practices. But our ability to complete projects and serve clients will become the responsibility of working groups with project managers that span several departments.

2. Collaboration apps are king

Last year, I sat with a client from a stodgy industry and demonstrated various collaboration tools they could use to be more productive and reduce the burden of email. They looked at me like I had three heads. Then the pandemic hit, and companies adopted Slack, Teams, Zoom, and Monday at warp speed. In many organizations, these implementations were rushed and lacked structure. Our clients feel like they have a shiny new toy, but are late to meetings and can’t find customer files.

According to a McKinsey report, the average knowledge worker spends 19 percent of their time (1.8 hours) just looking for information.

All companies should:

    Reevaluate their software and ensure systems are integrated

    Develop best practices and work instructions for how to use collaboration software

    Formally re-train all employees on these practices

3. Vertical integration

I’ve been shouting from the rooftops for years about the momentum of vertical integration and the impact it will have on every industry. Some of the younger folks thought I had misplaced my pills.

Consider the state of retail. Six months ago, every U.S. mall featured an anchor such as Macy’s or Neiman Marcus. Today, most of the nation’s leading department stores are in dire financial straits, shuttering entire stores and divisions.

The Simon Property Group, one of the largest operators of U.S. malls, has contemplated strategic alternatives spanning from operating stores to leasing them to Amazon to create local fulfillment centers. Amazon says it has 75 fulfillment centers–imagine if the company had 500.

But the more remarkable element within this story is that a commercial real estate company is looking for ways to operate within retail locations, or to build an alliance with an e-commerce provider. That was unthinkable a year ago.

Every management team needs to think about whether vertical integration could permanently alter their industry. One way to consider how your place in the world may change is to conduct a value chain analysis.

4. Digital experience

Omnichannel used to be a fancy description for the morphing of brick-and-mortar and digital into one client experience. Enter digital transformation–trade shows are virtual and menus are replaced by QR codes.

All experiences now have a digital component, and failure to consider digitization of every step of your sales process could have dire consequences. One way to improve UX is to map the customer journey from your initial touch through conversion and post-sale transactions.

5. Office of the future

Our company has been virtual for more than 15 years. Many managers told me their employees couldn’t be trusted to work from home. These are the same managers who, today, knock off with an umbrella in their drink by the pool at about 4 p.m.

America’s work-from-home experiment is a resounding success in most companies. As we consider the long-term ramifications, most are moving toward a hybrid model with the intention of having both office workers and remote workers. 

We foresee:

Changing office designs that promote agility and flexibility

Work schedules that center meetings and collaboration during convenient times like the middle of the week and workday

Adoption of distinct meeting types, including monthly strategy meetings and daily standups for operational issues

A new feedback loop with consistent digital check-ins

That some companies will view work-from-home as a privilege to be earned

Management teams need to remain vigilant not only in terms of keeping employees safe, but also in constructing new ways of working that ensure ongoing sustainability.

The opinions expressed here by Inc.com columnists are their own, not those of Inc.com.

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