What do the oracles say about society’s return to normalcy? Bill Gates is pinning his hopes on a semi-normal return to life in the spring of 2021, provided we rapidly adopt the vaccine. Dr. Fauci’s more conservative estimate suggests that we’ll enjoy movie theater experiences, indoor dining, and regular school attendance by late fall. But the experts’ jockeying of vaccine rollout timelines and predictions of how soon we can reschedule that twice-canceled family vacation leave one fundamental question unanswered:
What aspects of normalcy are actually worth returning to?
The pandemic’s clarifying challenges to businesses were not thoroughly negative. Post-pandemic businesses have adapted by interfacing with technology to get the same tasks done with less redundancy and bulk. Daily operations have stripped down to bare essentials, some bearing costs to the customer, but many renewed in their devotion to make a more human connection with those they serve. Data security issues took a tremendous and necessary spotlight as a historic number of the U.S. workforce scrambled to telecommute.
Covid-19 shattered all illusions about how quickly any industry, company, or market can change.
There’s no crystal ball to consult when it comes to making big changes with very little advance notice. Data by McKinsey indicates how businesses stayed lean and financially solvent through the initial shutdowns and subsequent quarantine measures. According to McKinsey & Company, businesses that transformed their processes in 2020 nodded to agility as the key ingredient of their success. In the business sense, “agility” is defined by smaller teams that are built to work with rapid efficiency in place of traditional business models with several tiers of leadership per business unit. McKinsey tracked 25 companies across 7 business sectors in their handling of the COVID-19 crisis.
Here is the resounding sentiment of what they found:
Through our research, one characteristic stood out for companies that outperformed their peers: companies that ranked higher on managing the impact of the COVID-19 crisis were also those with agile practices more deeply embedded in their enterprise operating models. That is, they were mature agile organizations that had implemented the most extensive changes to enterprise-wide processes before the pandemic.
The benefits of agility were measured in overall customer satisfaction, employee engagement, and operational performance. They found that swifter decision-making, less time determining priorities, and faster and more flexible response processes lent themselves to the business’ overall success. In other words, being agile made everything easier.
Nimble, clear-communicating teams enabled with good technology outpaced their slower, bureaucratic counterparts.
A clarion call from a pandemic-tested economy is this: the bustling office setting is becoming increasingly outdated. A small, remote team working closely is capable of outpacing any team that sits less than six feet apart–and with less overhead costs. This is a matter of understanding the amazing flexibility of a business operations model. With technology, we now have the ability to decentralize while staying connected. Sounds paradoxical, but then again, so did social distancing.
While change is good, identifying the right kind of change is essential. Here are three guiding principles:
1. Keep Your Business Unit Nimble With an Agile Mindset
Examples of an agile mindset include giving up meeting-heavy schedules and manual workloads and renewing decision-making agency in small teams. Even if the organization at large is still insistent on doing things the old way, your business unit can lead to small changes with great effect. What’s not working with your current accounting operations model in accounting, IT, or even on the executive level? Can you digitize any of your backlogged manual tasks to alleviate the stress on your team and improve supplier relations?
But don’t mistake agility for speed. Speed is fast but can be blind. Agility is about delighting both the customer and those who serve them in the delivery of a seamless and elevated process.
2. Add Collaboration Tools as a Lifeline Resource for Your Team
The 2021 workforce demands exceptional collaboration tools. As projections still hang in the air of remote work persisting into the better part of 2021, it is essential that good communication infrastructure is in place to sustain team morale. Longevity is about more than just crossing the finish line, but lifting burdens of redundancy and frustration. As willpower to stay connected wanes and team needs inevitably change, it is essential that touchpoints are added between managers and employees to prevent burnout and ensure team goals are attainable and appropriate. Ask your team what heaving lifting they need assistance with and keep an eye toward any solution that may bolster cross-functionality and productivity within your team.
3. Retrofit for the Employee of the Future
Whether or not we retain the same jobs we had at the outset of 2020, job demands will have changed. Safety and wellness concerns have skyrocketed in the eyes of the consumer while values like convenience or ease of access have diminished in proportion to the limitations imposed on our lives. Product models will need adjustment. New verticals that businesses once sought to launch into may have dried up, leaving sales teams to pursue other avenues.
Providing the workforce with more analytical tools, businesses can add value to employee roles by grounding decision-making in data points and allowing for greater transparency to daily tasks. Through new technology, the elimination of legacy technology, needless redundant tasks, and paper touchpoints, the workforce can rest more securely in the face of unanticipated threats to their employability.
Our technology, operating models, and accepted biases of ‘how things are’ must all change when presented with the data on how things can be done differently.
Change is no longer a back-of-the-handbook contingency plan. Grit and ingenuity hold the silver lining to a resoundingly difficult year. Perhaps reversing to the way things were is a farce. The next normal will provide us gradations of clarity as waves of vaccinations roll out and restrictions ease in the late months of 2021. Yet what we do with the clear opportunities already here is a truer prediction of future business success.
Lauren Ruef has collaborated with Nvoicepay, a FLEETCOR Company to write about financial technology since 2016. Nvoicepay optimizes each payment made, streamlines payment processes, and generates new sources of revenue, enabling customers to pay 100% of their invoices electronically, while realizing the financial benefits of payment optimization.