What’s next? A question that most of us have been pondering over of late. The New Year sure does feel different, with a sense of cautious optimism that the worst is behind us. Economists’ predictions on how long it will take to restore the world economy are wide-ranging, and businesses are trying to figure out the next. Even as we witness multiple waves and newer strains of COVID-19 across key cities worldwide, the news on multiple successful vaccine trials has given hope and optimism to people and businesses. The conversation has now shifted from how we navigate the pandemic to what is next in a post-pandemic era. In a world that will never be the same, companies are gearing up to take advantage of this new era.
Resetting the pandemic fatigue
It was March 2020 when we realized that the business plans we had created for the year might lose its relevance. Like many other organizations, the questions we faced were, how much do we pivot? and by when? Now, with almost a year into the pandemic and having experienced many phases — high adrenaline reaction initially and then the uncertainty of an end-date, followed by the realization that this could last longer by many quarters — it’s been a grueling time for most of us. The biggest challenge has been to sustain effective connect with our teams, employees, clients, and partners. Pandemic fatigue is real and has impacted both mental and physical health equally. The effect on people and organizational performance is visible, and this is higher in industries that have been deeply disrupted by COVID-19.
Overcoming pandemic fatigue is essential and shared responsibility between the organization, its leadership, and employees. The good news is that the vaccines are here and expected to shorten the end-date of the pandemic. Frankly, I’ve been highly impressed with how well we’ve been able to navigate a completely unknown crisis and been able to accomplish so much in an almost 100% remote environment. Many organizations have perished during this time, and there are quite a few examples of companies that have thrived simply because they were better prepared for the “new world” than others were. As we begin to unfreeze from this event, the learnings have been immense, and organizations have displayed resilience and creative ways to overcome the challenges.
The consumer has evolved
Almost everything has changed today — the way we work, engage, shop, and spend. Consumer preferences will realign sharply, and the newfound changes in behavior are expected to remain post-pandemic. Some of the daily routines that needed external physical space have become virtual — Fitness, Education, Personal events have all gone digital in this new self-help, self-heal world. A crucial factor that will impact behavior change is the “work from home” trend with high-income groups as many organizations continue to embrace this change and a few of them make it permanent too. This is expected to alter consumer spend structures and preferences in a big way. The cascade effect will be felt on industries dealing with office real estate, coworking spaces, business travel, hotels, and even lead to a rethinking of people’s preference to live in big cities.
We already see that in the need people have to come out and experience entertainment, despite the pandemic. A year of exposure to technologies like Zoom and online shopping with superior experiences has increased customer expectations from digital. How are these experiences shaping the way organizations respond? Will brands redefine their purpose? Or will they invest more in digital technologies? A rethink of superior customer experiences is paramount, given that the consumer has moved away from sub-par digital experiences.
The New Digital Normal
Digital has played a vital role in managing the current situation effectively, and the adoption and dependence on technology have grown manifold. Imagine this COVID-19 pandemic in a world without the internet. That would be an interesting debate for another day. The post-COVID-19 era will be a new digital normal for many industries, and it is no longer an option to optimize businesses for digital.
The prominence of technology as a differentiator has grown manifold in recent months, and areas like AI, Automation, Cloud, and Security have taken center stage. For long, AI has been touted as the next big thing in technology, but today, the moment for accelerated AI adoption is here. In a recent McKinseyi Global Survey on AI, the key finding has been that organizations are using AI as a tool for generating value. AI & Automation together is the magic pill that many enterprises need to navigate the new digital normal. These technologies help businesses solve problems like never before, with AI providing the insights for better decision-making and Automation executing the actions faster and accurately. For example, it has now become imperative for customer-facing businesses to create a contactless experience for their customers, and technologies like AI & Automation are becoming the bedrock of such true digital experiences.
Are you ready?
Over the last two decades, we’ve witnessed many economic downturns and the largest pandemic the current generation has seen. These scenarios are almost impossible to predict when they will happen and when the next normal returns. Organizations need to invest in building enterprise resilience to weather any crisis better and, more importantly, stay prepared when growth is back. Various studies have shown that companies that had invested in a robust digital transformation strategy managed to cope with the crisis better than the laggards.
As part of their COVID-exit strategies, savvy CXOs continue to invest in building digital maturity by strengthening the technology infrastructure aligned to evolving business needs to put their organization in an advantageous position. An organization looking to thrive in the new digital normal will need to figure out how to hardwire the positive employee behavioral changes into their organizational culture and couple that with agile operating models on the back of robust digital transformation execution. It might even be a good time for industry forums and enterprises to collaborate with peers and leading companies from other sectors to create a blueprint to handle similar pandemics in the future.
In conclusion, the expectations from 2021 are high, with hopes for new possibilities. The next digital normal is already here, and organizations that embrace the trend smartly will be able to ride the phase of growth and even be prepared for future uncertainties.