One of the unexpected upsides of the pandemic is that it has made us take a step back and re-examine the way we do things. We are looking with fresh eyes at what we once considered standard practice and, in some cases, necessary evils. Suddenly, GP appointments are being replaced by virtual consultations, while school lessons and university lectures are being delivered online. Business consultants who used to drive thousands of miles a week to meet with clients and colleagues are now working effectively from home. We have found that we don’t always need face-to-face meetings. We needn’t pile into cars and taxis or packed buses and trains to conduct our daily business. So, have we reached a tipping point in the way tech is used in business? Or are we just waiting to return to our old ways?
Successful companies have always used technology, flexibility and agility to stay relevant in a fast-changing world. But with the current pandemic, the pace of technology adoption has increased exponentially with the need to find new ways of doing business when human contact is no longer possible. This has fuelled a mass adoption of digital collaboration tools, which up until now have only been used marginally.
To date, the tools that drive workforces have been developed as a natural extension of traditional workflows. Email replaced the memo, while video chat made the conference call more collaborative. But even more dramatic changes lie ahead. Technologies such as virtual reality, machine learning, artificial intelligence, and more, offer organisations new opportunities to reinvent business processes, promising even smarter, more efficient ways of working.
It is possible that the current situation will make businesses less fearful of change and more open to new innovations such as these. It could even provide the impetus needed to encourage some to move beyond digital transformation to ‘ContinuousNEXT’ (a term coined by Gartner in 2018). This describes a strategy for winning in a world that is continuously changing. It is the idea that once a business is defined digitally, it must continually evolve and adapt just as the technology it uses does.
Certainly, businesses now have a taste of what technology can do – without it most would have struggled to weather the pandemic – and they will be reluctant to give up the benefits. However, they have also seen that technology can lead to isolation, which has no doubt been exacerbated by social distancing and the fact that workers have been separated from their co-workers, and even their family and friends. This serves as an important reminder that as technology advances, retaining the human element of business is vital.
Whatever the future holds in store, smart companies will not return to where they were. They will learn from their coronavirus experience and combine the best of the physical and virtual worlds, retaining the newly discovered advantages of tech use while readopting useful practices they’ve been forced to abandon under lockdown. In this way they will use the progress they have made in the past five months to propel their future success.