The rapid spread of Covid’s Delta variant has derailed family vacations, delayed office reopenings and heightened fears that our suspended reality will go on for years to come.
But even with the continued disruption and changing government guidelines, business leaders are resolved to press ahead, even as they find themselves at a challenging intersection. In the face of a shifting public sentiment, breakneck pace of innovation, worker shortages and supply chain delays, how can they drive their businesses forward?
Fortunately for all of us, the rapid adoption of technology during the 2020 lockdowns have provided a roadmap for businesses to accelerate into the next decade.
Before the crisis, businesses and government alike were experimenting with ways to digitally lead, manage and govern. The crisis merely hastened adoption, and over the past year we have grown, matured and become more sophisticated with how we use technology. The current coronavirus resurgence will solidify this transformation even more.
Here’s how businesses and their leaders should prepare for the new digital landscape.
The remote work conundrum, solved
Underlying the debate whether to reopen offices is the pivotal question of how to do so. Balancing employee productivity and well-being with real estate and technology investments creates tough decisions for managers. Ultimately technology that can appease employees who desire flexible options, mitigate uncertainty and create win-wins for their companies.
Rockstar employees who relocated during the pandemic can stay where they are and use technology to bring different ideas and open new markets. Monday morning team meetings can be done from anywhere with video conferencing and digital whiteboards. The fancy HQ can be downsized in favor of remote satellite offices, connected by seamless cloud infrastructure.
Yet leaders and organizations must clearly define the new rules of the hybrid workplace, to indicate when—and how—technology can supplement or replace the IRL office.
The recent Delta variant surge is making some business travel untenable again. We’ve learned, however, how well meeting and networking tools fill in the gaps; there’s no reason to not reallocate those travel budgets to additional headcount, product research or marketing. Similar to the way our personal lives are now split between real life and the “metaverse,” employees will figure out what conferences to attend in person and the best ways to network virtually.
Innovation within the business
Now that consumers are primed for digital interactions, this is the time to push for innovation—not pull back from it. Leaders should be looking for new ways technology can help them experiment and evolve how business is conducted.
Already, the used-car buying process has been revolutionized by online purchasing, digital paperwork and at-home delivery. Local hair salons, landscaping companies and catering firms are migrating to cloud-based platforms to manage their marketing, scheduling and payments. Eagle-eyed entrepreneurs can spot an opportunity at the beginning of the week and be open for business by the end of it.
Just as importantly, managers should turn to their employees for new, tech-enabled growth ideas. At the onset of Covid-19, businesses leveraged their teams’ creativity and scrappiness. When concert venues went dark, promoters quickly launched new digital platforms so the show could go on. As restaurants shut down and the food supply chain was disrupted, local farmers quickly set up their own online stores to sell directly to customers.
Embrace the metaverse
The digital lives we created during the pandemic offer tremendous opportunity.
Social channels such as LinkedIn, Instagram, Discord, Reddit, Twitter and even Clubhouse have blurred the lines between professional and personal conversations. Over the past year, our colleagues, clients and partners have gotten to know us more deeply through our Zoom backgrounds and erratic scheduling choices (time to take the dog for a walk!).
The platforms allowed us to connect more deeply, despite the distance. Leaders need to recognize this new reality and leverage it as an opportunity to create a better work culture, foster stronger customer relationships and develop deeper brand loyalty. Companies that build broader digital connections with clients will be more successful than those that don’t.
How managers can prove their worth
Given the rate of change over the last 17 months and continued high degree of uncertainty, now is a crucial time for managers to prove their worth.
Companies everywhere are reporting high employee turnover. Competitive forces are allowing firms to offer significant promotions with salary and benefit improvements to lure away top talent. Employees themselves are reprioritizing and may want a fresh start from a challenging year. Leaders can use technology to manage employee sentiment and productivity for warning signs so that they can proactively manage churn.
We are also seeing a generational transition, with boomers starting to retire, millennials reaching management positions and Gen Z starting their careers. The younger work force is digitally native and poised to utilize technology in ways never imagined. Leaders need to incorporate this mindset into their operating framework to be attractive to the best young talent who will drive the business for decades to come.
Rather than observe or even resist, great leaders will lean into technology- and values-driven change. Covid-19 has created once-in-a-generation opportunities across nearly every industry. Leaders that embrace this opportunity, leverage technology and lead their organizations from the front will be in the best position to succeed.