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Why We Won’t be Going Back to “Business as Usual” after COVID-19

As we all try to assess the impact of coronavirus, inevitably some of those thoughts center around how this is impacting our work life, and some of the longer-term impacts for businesses.

While the world is dealing with the worst health crisis of the last 100 years, I’m trying to avoid the constant deluge of bad news as much as possible. But it’s hard not to reflect on the potential ramifications for businesses and the knowledge workforce. I believe this is arguably the most significant disruption of our lives, and hopefully we won’t see anything of this magnitude again for another 100 years. So, what could be the implications for business professionals like us?

First, let’s look backwards and try to put this into context. Historians say that there have been four industrial revolutions. The first two moved us from an agrarian to a manufacturing society. The third modernized society in the 1950s and the fourth, of course, is the technology revolution of the last twenty years.

What about our experience today as a result of the coronavirus? How far-ranging will the business and societal effects be? I believe that the nature of work has been changed forever. Some industries will fail, and some will thrive. We are already seeing examples of this all around us.

The concept of working remotely has been around for a long time and the current situation is simply accelerating the need for businesses to fully utilize available technologies to resolve it. Companies must now enable a more flexible workplace and ensure their knowledge workforce is fully productive while working remotely; there is no turning back and this is no longer a nice to have. This is now business critical. That is not to say that we will all be remote from now on, but we won’t go back to the way it was either.

Some companies were better prepared than others to have a productive, engaged remote workforce when this pandemic hit. I happen to work for a company that provides seamless access to documentation and workflows, while ensuring data security and compliance.

M-Files is truly an example of how companies that are well prepared with useful technologies can ensure the same worker productivity in a remote environment. However, companies that weren’t proactive and prepared for a quick shift to remote work are really struggling. In the near term, their workforce may be propped up and running, but not as efficiently. Employees may find themselves trying to access or recreate documents, managing document chaos, unable to ensure data security, and finding it difficult to provide adequate service and support to their customers.

The long-term implications of this are relatively easy to imagine. The other day I was listening to an economist at one of the top financial firms and she said that “the cat is out of the bag as far as remote working goes.” This is a trend that has been making slow progress for years, but the immediacy of the current environment has forced our collective hand. It’s hard to believe that we’ll go back to the way it was. Millennials have been pushing for this flexible work environment for some time. Many companies will rethink how they structure their workforce and office environments. Why pay for expensive office space for every employee when more flexible office spaces could prove very workable?

I can think of a few other big shifts in the way we might work after the pandemic is under control.

Business travel will change going forward. It is becoming obvious that more can be done virtually than we ever thought. More sophisticated technologies will emerge that continue to blur the lines of what can be done virtually and what requires an in-person meeting. Also, right now, companies are forced to look for savings because of the serious economic impact of COVID-19, and one area of significant potential savings is non-essential business travel. Companies are beginning to realize that travel isn’t as necessary as they once thought, and they can generate substantial savings from reduced travel. Yes, this is an extreme situation, and obviously traveling will resume, but I don’t believe it will be with as much abandon as before. I believe travel budgets will be appreciably smaller than they have historically been.

Virtual events will replace many physical events. I can attest to the fact that there is a substantial shift going on right now in the events space. All physical events — trade shows, partner events, customer events, conferences — have been cancelled and we are all making a hard pivot towards 100% digital events. We are spending money that perhaps we wouldn’t have spent previously on sophisticated virtual event platforms that can provide an immersive, interactive experience remotely.

I view events as a double-edged sword. They are a necessary component of the marketing mix, but they come at a great cost. Marketing teams spend a large portion of their budgets on physical events, because we have always felt that they were necessary. Generally, they can be a great way to build brand recognition but typically have low measurable ROI. Are we going to do physical events in the future? Absolutely… but certainly not as much as we used to. I, for one, welcome the opportunity to host engaging digital events. A virtual event has the potential to be a much more tailored, individualized and relevant experience. I hope that we can reach more people and deliver virtual experiences that are truly meaningful to our audience. Above all, transforming events from low ROI physical gatherings to digital experiences that drive new opportunities with better ROI is extremely compelling. Isn’t that what we always wanted them to be? There is an entire events industry that will need to find ways to adapt to this new reality. Personal connections are and always will be an important part of life and business, but I believe the shift to digital events is here to stay.

And lastly, there is a question about how this will affect our broader decision-making. Before COVID-19, Millennials were making certain decisions that many of us questioned. They chose experiences over career advancement, opting to move to a city because of the desire to live there, and the job was a secondary consideration. They seemed less willing to make compromises with their personal lives. How will the experience of living through COVID-19 affect the rest of us? Will all of us be less willing to make compromises now?

This leaves us with a lot of unanswered questions, but with a sense that we will be forever changed by this experience in ways that we don’t yet fully understand. As with all things, the companies and individuals that quickly adapt, innovate and transform will come out far ahead after this experience.

  • Author: Maria Carballosa
  • Published: April 16, 2020
  • Publisher: M-Files

About Maria Carballosa

As Chief Marketing Officer, Maria guides the go-to-market strategy for M-Files, driving functional best practices with a metrics, and data-driven approach. She leads a team of global marketing professionals, coordinating their efforts to bring intelligent information management to businesses throughout the world.

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