The Corona Virus pandemic has changed the way we do business.
And while we can debate how and when things will return to "normal," it would be naive to think that the business environment post-COVI-19 pandemic will be like the one before it.
How will it change?
Dramatically. And Forever.
Here's why. Online meetings, chat, and collaboration technologies have been around for a long time. But their adoption outside of the tech sector has been relatively slow until now. The Safe at Home requirement enforced in most states is now forcing us to change the way we do everything. In the process, we are all learning new, remote working skills. These skills will permanently change the way we shop and work. Indeed, the broadband revolution, previously driven mostly by entertainment demand, in the post-COVID-19 world, is forcing the adoption of work-from-home technologies.
Since the arrival of the COVID-19 pandemic, most white-collar workers -- from lawyers to reporters to accountants to salespeople to human resources professionals -- have had to learn how to use these technologies from home or stop working. And adopt they have. Dining room tables and spare bedrooms across the country have turned into impromptu offices. This trend will continue. Look for more and more remote work as employers and employees alike become more comfortable with these technologies, and the costs of maintaining large offices become increasingly dangerous (and economically redundant.)
Call centers provide another example. Companies with call centers, especially those in high-cost metropolitan areas with good residential bandwidth, began leveraging Virtual Private Network (VPN) technologies nearly a decade ago. Pioneering employers developed the capability to manage telephone queues, route calls, monitor performance, and deliver all the technology available in the call center to employees working remotely. Implementation amounted to creating a platform to transfer the telephony, call routing, management oversight, and any call center desktop software into something that can work over a VPN, then training workers to use that technology from home in a "virtual call center" solution. This capability saved thousands of dollars in office costs for employers and provided great flexibility in disasters. It also made employees happy because they no longer had to commute to work! In places like Atlanta, New York, or Los Angeles, these initiatives were a home run. Now, this technology also makes those same employees safe from the virus and, increasingly, assures the economic viability of their employers.
Grocers and other high volume retailers have grudgingly moved into online shopping services. For many, this was mostly a defensive measure in response to competitive incursions from Amazon, but in the post-COVID-19 competitive environment, this adjunct service is becoming essential. Look for customers to increasingly avail themselves of delivery services and drive further change in the retail sector. Look for workers to organize and gain power as they become increasingly important. And look for their employers to automate those jobs away in response.
In the manufacturing realm, in March 2020, Reuters reported, "A shortage of workers and restrictions on human contact because of the coronavirus pandemic is driving up demand for service robots in China." So it will go around the globe. Robots can't get sick, and their relatively high fixed cost becomes increasingly attractive as workers become scarce.
Small businesses are adapting too. A few examples:
- Car Repair. High-end auto repair shops have, for decades, offered to drive customers home while they waited for repairs. With only a slight change in the model, innovative auto mechanics are offering to pick up, repair, sanitize, and drop off vehicles once they finish the repairs.
- Churches. Even before the COVID-19 outbreak a little church we attend used Facebook's free live streaming capability to electronically share church services with its congregation because many of the members of this church have to travel on weekends. They also use an electronic e-giving application for donations. If your church doesn't do this yet, now is the time to learn.
- Dry Cleaning. Dry cleaners who offered drive-through, pick-up, and delivery services targeting their most prominent customers have had to refocus their offering to provide this service to everyone. In the face of declining to nonexistent traffic, offering remote laundry pick up and sanitization services seems to be one the few ways forward.
- Restaurants. Take out and food delivery, once the focus of fast-food restaurants is moving upscale as restaurants must deliver or close.
- Pet Groomers. Pet grooming is nonessential, but sooner or later, Fifi, the labradoodle, is going to need a cut. Remote grooming services that pick up, groom, and return dogs curbside in front of their master's home, provide an agile response.
- Hardware Stores. An ingenious manager at the local Bearden Elder's Ace hardware store took some plexiglass and a couple of two-by-one strips of wood and fitted the checkout with a clear plexiglass cover at face level at all the registers. Shouldn't all stores have these?
You get the gist.
The bottom line? Business leaders, as you ponder your business and its economic future from home over the next few weeks (or months,) think hard about how your company works, sells, and delivers services to people who aren't allowed to leave their homes. The time to improvise, invest, and test is now.
How can you meet customer needs in this strange new world? The answer is your opportunity. It may even be the key to your business's economic survival.