Six months ago, most of us might have discreetly rolled our eyes when someone brought up the importance of “digital disruption” in a leadership meeting. It didn’t matter that we already understood how vital remaining on the cutting edge of technology and digital-savvy operations was; the term itself was a buzzword. Rather than inspiring action, it was so vague that few people really knew what that implication meant in practical terms.
We felt comfortable procrastinating on digital disruption and dismissing its buzzwordiness. After all, we told ourselves, we have time; we have the leeway to take it slow, stretch our digital transformation over a few months or years. There was no need to rush, no deadline to meet.
But now, we’ve suddenly found ourselves running against the clock. When the Covid-19 pandemic swept across the globe, it forced us to move our business communications, operations and strategies into the digital sphere. The pandemic challenged all of our comfortable norms and undermined our foundational assumptions about modern business.
Now, the race towards digital disruption isn’t a vague imperative—it’s an immediate necessity. One recent survey by DMEXCO found that roughly 70 percent of executives from Austria, Germany, and Switzerland feel that Covid-19 will likely speed their digital transformations.
As one writer for McKinsey describes, “If the pace of the pre-coronavirus world was already fast, the luxury of time now seems to have disappeared completely. Businesses that once mapped digital strategy in one- to three-year phases must now scale their initiatives in a matter of days or weeks.”
In the past, we sought digital disruption in the hopes of bolstering our efficiency, cost-effectiveness and profit; now, we turn to it for an additional reason: safety.
After months of closures and isolation, businesses are tentatively reopening in the hopes of ushering employees and consumers back to a more “normal” experience. But fear is inherent to a pandemic state of mind. Today, many people are hesitant to return to pre-Covid norms.
According to a recent Biz Journals report, more than three-quarters of surveyed workers said that they would continue to work from home permanently unless employers take stringent precautions, or only go into the office for specific purposes. Five percent of those surveyed say that they’ll find a new job that permits full-time remote work.
Employers are in a position where they need to turn to digital disruption or risk losing their employees and consumers to a pervasive fear of in-person contact and illness.
“The Covid-19 crisis seemingly provides a sudden glimpse into a future world,” McKinsey authors noted in a recent report. “One in which digital has become central to every interaction, forcing both organizations and individuals further up the adoption curve almost overnight. A world in which digital channels become the primary (and, in some cases, sole) customer-engagement model, and automated processes become a primary driver of productivity—and the basis of flexible, transparent and stable supply chains.”
Now is the time for business leaders to stop postponing their vague plans for digital disruption and act. Covid-19 has posed tremendous challenges, yes. But by throwing business norms into flux, it also represents an opportunity for significant positive change. This is the time to implement the drastic digital changes that leaders might have deemed too forward-thinking or bold in the past; now is the moment to redefine “normal” for a post-Covid working world.
What gains could we make if we pivoted our business models to suit digitally-dependent, post-Covid consumers? How can we break down our old protocols and allow for all-digital products and services? Can we soothe our workers’ health concerns by facilitating all-remote work? We are establishing a new standard for what it means to do business in America; now, more than ever, is the time to be bold.
Some companies have already taken this challenge to heart. In March, Geekwire profiled the sudden pivot that Pathable, a Seattle-based developer that focuses on developing mobile apps for conferences, made when the pandemic effectively canceled all in-person events. Rather than accept the loss, Pathable made a swift pivot to supporting digital-only conferences. The company facilitates interpersonal conference events, provides the infrastructure for discussion forums and supports small-scale meetings.
But Pathable’s story isn’t just one of survival — it also demonstrates how the digital-only, socially-isolated, and convenient solutions we posit now will persist even after the current crisis ends.
“Will all these events that were forced to go online, forced to have virtual events, look around and say, ‘That actually wasn’t so bad’?” Pathable’s CEO, Jordan Schwartz, asked in the interview with Geekwire. “I’ll bet you that we will at least see a continued interest in hybrid events. You don’t have to pay the full [in-person] price, but you can still attend from home, and you get the networking, and a limited set of educational sessions delivered webinar-style.”