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  • Writer's pictureMark Fitzsimmons

A Business Strategy Pivot – The Covid-19 pandemic and the advent of a remote workforce

As businesses navigate through the COVID-19 Coronavirus pandemic and attempt to chart their course forward, there is a considerable amount of uncertainty around the future landscape. Will we go ‘back’ to normal or is ‘this’ the new normal.

All indications are that from the perspective of interconnectivity, the way we operate our businesses has permanently changed. The trend towards enabling employees to work remotely and e-commerce constituting a foundational component of every business, has accelerated at a dizzying pace.

The first component of interconnectivity is with employees and where they are located. Twitter (NYSE: TWTR) announced to its employees that they can work remotely – indefinitely. Shopify (NYSE: SHOP) announced going forward it is “… a digital by default company”, even going so far as to offer employees $1000 to set up a home office, and Facebook (NYSE:FB) has announced that it expects 50% of its employees to be working remotely within the next 5 – 10 years. These are not anomalies. A study by Gartner found that about 74 percent of the CFOs they surveyed, expect some of their employees who were forced to work from home because of the COVID-19 coronavirus pandemic to continue working remotely after it ends.

The benefits of allowing people to work remotely are many. A Stanford study found that in addition to saving “…almost $2,000 per employee on rent by reducing the amount of HQ office space, there was an astonishing increase in productivity, employee attrition decreased by 50 percent among the telecommuters, they took shorter breaks, had fewer sick days, and took less time off”. There were also the reduced carbon emissions from fewer vehicles clogging up the roads during the daily commute. For those businesses looking for carbon credits or wanting to endear themselves to their customer base with a demonstrable commitment to the environment, take note!

The second component of interconnectivity is digital with e-commerce taking on increasing importance. Interestingly, two of the biggest opportunities are with customers who have traditionally preferred bricks and mortar over a digital experience and providing products and services to people who have not traditionally bought online. From telemedicine to groceries, we are seeing a significant increase in consumers readiness to purchase online, across all demographics. Whether we are meeting with our family doctor via webconference or having our groceries delivered to our front door, those businesses that adapt and deliver a differentiated experience across the different methods of shopping available to customers - the omnichannel, will be the ones who thrive.

The challenge for many businesses is to develop better ways to provide customers with a seamless and consistent experience, regardless of whether they shop in a bricks and mortar store, by the telephone, on a website, or on a mobile app. Businesses must be proactive and manage through the changing landscape to ensure employees are positioned, regardless of where they are located, to effectively manage all points along the omnichannel.

One of the most effective ways we can accomplish this is by creating an omnichannel journey map that includes each of our stakeholder groups: employees, customers, suppliers, and the communities impacted by our business.

1. Identify each omnichannel touchpoint, from product ideation to aftersales support.

2. Examine how business was conducted before, and how you intend for it to be conducted going forward.

3. Engage and involve stakeholders in your research to capture their voice using both quantitative and qualitative data to measure important variables and guide your work. Pivot and adjust where needed or move forward when appropriate.

4. Test or pilot any important changes by selecting an implementation approach that makes sense for your business. Running parallel systems might work in some situations, but not in others. A sudden switch can be catastrophic if the new process fails and there is no redundancy built in.

5. Communications and transparency on how stakeholders will be impacted will be critical throughout. You do not want to surprise important stakeholders, nor do you want to create unrealistic expectations and risk disappointing them.

6. Ensure your new process has a control plan that allows you to monitor its performance. It will be based on those aspects that tell you how well critical touchpoints are performing (or not) and assign accountability to the appropriate people. Include a stakeholder feedback loop enabling you to continually improve the process. Cutting edge today is old news tomorrow.

Good intentions alone do not constitute a plan of action. Change happens whether we are ready for it or not. The key to success will be to actively embrace the future and prepare for it. Those who are proactive, have an opportunity to design and implement systems that propel them into the future where they will emerge in many ways stronger than when they entered the current pandemic. Those who take a ‘wait and see’ approach, do so at their own peril.

Bio: Mark Fitzsimmons

Mark is president of 360 degrees Management Consultants. Through his 20+ year career working with businesses ranging from startups to Fortune 500 companies, Mark has extensive experience creating value through improvements to operations, quality, marketing, and customer experience strategies.

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