If you think about other crises – natural or manmade disasters, sudden market shocks, even unexpected leadership changes – often they're so fast-moving that we never really get a chance to reflect. We only have time to react, change and "get back to normal." The coronavirus pandemic, since it is slow-moving, lasting longer, and hitting separate regions and cities so differently, has given us a chance to reflect on what we're seeing – to test new ways of working and make some choices about what to carry with us as we go into recovery mode. In other words, to learn.
The best leaders and companies I know are constantly learning and absorbing information to better themselves and their organizations. Those who can should come out of this crisis as deliberately as many of the best organizations went into it. We have a chance to consider what we've done and why, what we've been forced to change and why, then apply the lessons and choose what we become next – how we connect to our colleagues, where and when we work, how we serve customers, even what partnerships look like. By learning, we can find a way not to a new normal but a better normal.
There are universal aspects to this isolating experience
There's no doubt that the COVID-19 epidemic has reshaped our communities. Governments, businesses and individuals have rightfully moved quickly to change their routines and working schedules to prevent a deepening of the crisis. While there are differences in the ways that various governments and businesses have tried to flatten the curve, there is a universality to much of what we are currently experiencing.
Many companies have had to make tough decisions regarding payroll, colleagues and future plans. These shifts have not been easy. Business leaders have had to marry these shifts with strategies that not only put their colleagues first but also sustain the business. Business owners are reexamining operations, changing their price points or product offerings to meet customer demands.
Despite the uncertainty and shift in working environments, many businesses are rising to the occasion, and are creating new ways to support their customers and colleagues. Additionally, in many ways, colleagues are getting to know customers, partners and each other better than before. Let's face it, people are literally invited into each other's homes; they are getting a true sense of who each other is, and that draws people closer together.
Need meets innovation
Due to the worsening economy, and the need for many businesses to maximize spending across the board, almost every company has found itself with little choice but to innovate or in some cases, to reinvent their business models altogether. Family portrait photographers have become "front-stoop" photographers, wedding caterers have become at-home meal service providers, and mom-and-pop restaurants have added a digital presence to accommodate online ordering and deliveries. Businesses around the world have seen the needs of their customers change, and most are striving to meet these new needs in creative and cost-effective ways.
Some of our customers are pivoting their production lines to support the crisis. For example, a manufacturer that builds engines for race cars is now building face shields, aerosol cabinets and various components for ventilators. An industrial netting manufacturer is now putting its sewing machines to use to produce hospital gowns.
In challenging times, the effort of businesses to shift their operations to meet the needs of their customers does not go unnoticed. Customers appreciate companies going the extra mile and thinking outside the box to match their new realities – and this should have a lasting impact on the loyalty customers have for brands.
At Sage, we've provided information on topics, such as the when and how to apply for state and federal loans; insights and webinars on relevant topics, such as how to best communicate with customers during a crisis; and business-pivoting best practices. We are also offering unlimited use of our Sage Intelligence platform, providing extended access on Sage data and analytics, and other expanded learning.
Many businesses may not completely return to their former way of functioning, and, instead, will take some of the learnings and strategies implemented over this time and either continue these or rethink their current model.
The rise of cloud technology
A key trend seen with our customers and more broadly with U.S. businesses is the renewed emphasis on cloud. Cloud technology has become critical to businesses both now and in the long-term. Where a CFO or CTO at a manufacturing company may have struggled to show (or see) value in cloud technology over another investment before, now nearly everyone in the business is concerned with how to run operations with fewer dependencies on our physical locations.
If COVID-19 has taught us anything, it is that things can change in an instant. This has brought about heightened attention on predictive analytics and forecasting. Accountants, small business owners, and larger businesses in complex industries like manufacturing or distribution are now looking to not only predict how the business performed last month, and why, but also how will the business perform over the next three to six months, what the market drivers are, uncertainties and opportunities, and how this information drives production, supply chain/product demands and operations.
Coupled with this, most state and federal loans available for businesses that need assistance during this time require this forward-looking data before approval, making better forecasting information critical now and in the future. Certainly, none of these technology trends are new, but the COVID-19 pandemic has sped up adoption significantly. In a way, it's been a glimpse into the future where there's broader acceptance of the need for this because more companies have seen its value.
A more intimate view
Companies have also been forced to not only rethink norms when it comes to their employees but also to embrace a new vision of what a collaborative and productive workforce truly looks like. Corporations all over the world are supporting colleagues who are working from home. Executives, midlevel managers and entry-level team members now communicate digitally with customers and each other. In addition, many families no longer have their loved ones in nursing facilities, school, childcare or summer camps as out-of-the-house activities are limited.
This is bringing personal and professional lives together like never before. The stronger expectation to turn on video during conference calls and meetings provides a small window into each other's lives. Teams that were strictly professional partners are starting to find more meaningful connections. In addition, with personal and professional schedules often overlapping, colleagues are more understanding of each other and the hurdles each of us faces in working effectively.
Who would ever have thought that video screens, which seemed so cold and impersonal, could connect us in ways that actually feel more human? Having an unpredictable toddler or barking dog interrupt a conference call has, in many ways, helped bring a layer of humanity and flexibility to many workplaces. Deadlines can be extended, after all. There's an undeniable sensitivity that COVID-19 has instilled within all of us, encouraging us to be more understanding of the world outside of work, and that even in a corporate setting, humanity takes precedence.
At our core, and specifically during this time, we are more similar than we are different. In shining a spotlight on this, hopefully, businesses can continue to nurture the growing collectiveness felt within their workplace and continue with the practices that allow workers to be productive in ways that reflect their unique personal circumstances.
A new way of working
As businesses open up and people begin to return to work and participate in leisure activities, we will never forget how COVID-19 changed us. Of course, businesses and individuals alike will take bigger precautions to protect themselves financially, physically and emotionally to mitigate future risks. Colleagues will have a deeper understanding of their customers and each other, and many businesses will be fueled with different revenue streams, operational efficiencies, and stronger bonds with customers and partners.
There's no doubt this has been an incredibly tough time. While we all want to have this crisis fully in the rearview mirror, it's important that businesses remember the lessons and positive innovations they created as a result. And we are not entirely passive partners in all of this but can also consider what we can change in ourselves, our teams, and our organizations for the better. More than anything, I think when this crisis is behind us, we will all have a deep appreciation for the resilience of people and the businesses they run, the power of innovation and a common thread through it all: our humanity.