July 14, 2020 – As countries around the world ease their lockdown restrictions, workers are looking forward to getting back to normal. But what will “normal” look like in the post-COVID business environment? In two new reports, Philippe Tschannen, global managing partner of H.I. Executive Consulting, outlines major changes your company can expect and explores the impact this will have on digital transformation.
The pandemic has been a life-changing event that is likely to continue to have major repercussions in the months and years to come. In “The New Normal After COVID-19,” the search firm zeroed in on a few of the key areas that are likely to be transformed, and how to prepare for the changes.
1) The Pace of Automation Will Accelerate
The automation of both routine tasks and key processes has been at the forefront of business development for a while now. In 2017, McKinsey & Company estimated that 60 percent of jobs would be affected, with 30 percent of key tasks automated by 2030. “Before the pandemic, automation was looked upon as a way to boost efficiency while cutting costs,” said H.I. Executive Consulting. “With social distancing directives likely to stay in place for a while, more and more businesses are accelerating their automation efforts in order to reduce close human contact to a minimum, free up employees to manage crisis response and focus on providing essential services.”
2) Supply Chain Disruption May Continue
Worldwide lockdowns created a considerable degree of supply chain disruption in a world based on global manufacturing. In February, Fiat Chrysler Automobiles NV halted production in one of their factories in Serbia because they were no longer able to obtain automobile parts from China. “Many businesses are aware of production and delivery schedules only for their Tier 1 suppliers, but have little visibility on what’s going on further up the line,” said the report. “In order to make supply chains more resilient in the post-COVID era, companies need to build strong digital infrastructure, move away from paper-based processes and institute data sharing with suppliers in order to gain visibility and be better prepared for future shocks.”
3) Consumers will expect optimal online experiences
Even before this all started, brick-and-mortar stores were experiencing competition from E-commerce, a trend the pandemic has done a lot to accelerate. In Italy, a country severely impacted by the pandemic, online transactions have seen an impressive 81 percent rise since the beginning of February. “Out-of-home events and campaigns are likely to be off the cards for many months to come, while online conference formats are growing in sophistication as platforms work to provide experiences inspired by the real-time interactivity of social media,” said H.I. Executive Consulting. “Companies need to reflect on how they can adapt their media mix and reach out to audiences online in the next few months.”
4) Remote working may well be here to stay
Before the pandemic, remote working was common in some industry sectors, especially tech and communications. As restrictions ease, it’s looking like flexible and remote working may become an integral part of the new normal. “For many businesses, this is a bigger undertaking than it may seem, with a successful distance working policy requiring more than just a shift in company culture,” said the report. “Companies need to develop new strategies for collaboration, scale existing access solutions to manage higher traffic levels and account for increased security threats caused by workers logging in from outside enterprise networks.”
5) The Need to Plan for Economic Downturn
The pandemic has changed our working lives in ways we would not have expected even a few months ago, and at this point no-one quite knows what the future holds. Experts however agree that economic disruption is inevitable. There are however ways in which companies can prepare for the unexpected in whatever form that may take.
H.I. Executive Consulting (HIEC) is a global executive search firm focused on hiring board, CEO and senior-level executives. HIEC was established by several senior partners from leading global search firms to disrupt the traditional approach to executive search by placing a premium focus on hiring transformational leaders across the sectors its serves – digital & technology, financial services & real estate, industrial & automotive, consumer, retail & leisure, and business & professional services. The firm operates across 13 offices in North America, Europe, Middle East and Asia Pacific.
“Lessons learned in the decade since the last recession show that organizations that fared better had several things in common: They moved to increase productivity levels, improve balance sheets through efficient cost-cutting and make savvy mergers & acquisitions decisions,” said the study. “The volatility of the current economic climate will further require a flexible approach, strong leadership and anticipation capabilities.
“It’s worth keeping in mind that the coronavirus crisis will also come with some silver linings,” said the search firm. “Companies across the world are demonstrating their ability to come up with creative solutions in times of crisis. A judicious use of technology combined with strong policies will undoubtedly play a role in building a resilient, shock-proof ‘new normal’ for business over the months to come.”
In a second report, “Digital Transformation After Covid-19,” H.I. Executive Consulting said that in the aftermath of the current health crisis, digital transformation will be more important than ever. “In a matter of weeks, the COVID-19 pandemic has caused global disruption,” said report. “As countries across the world lock down their populations and close their borders, anxiety over economic disruption is growing.”
At this point, no-one knows when or how this is going to end, nor what the impact on business at whole will be. “But one thing is for sure: the COVID-19 aftermath will have to be approached with both resilience and creativity,” said the search firm.
Professional services firms will be on the frontline when it comes to rebuilding a post-COVID business environment. Here, said H.I. Executive Consulting, is how you can prepare for the aftermath:
The Crisis as a Wake-Up Call for Businesses
In the first weeks of the crisis, many businesses understandably went into survival mode. This included postponing or reviewing planned infrastructure and tech investments, including digital transformation projects. As many countries went into lockdown mid-March, Econsultancy and Marketing Week research found that half of the U.K. and U.S. marketing professionals surveyed said that strategic initiatives in their companies had been delayed or reviewed. At the same time, 53 percent were planning to delay or review recruitment plans.
Finding Opportunity in the Face of a Crisis
Challenging times can provide opportunities for positive transformation, says Raj Kumar Paramanathan, of IRC Malaysia & Thailand, in a new report. By focusing on agility and innovation, leaders can deliver growth, increasing value for shareholders, employees and society in the long run.
“Several weeks later, however, many businesses are choosing to review those decisions,” said H.I. Executive Consulting. “According to Sandy Shen, senior director Analyst at Gartner, ‘The value of digital channels, products and operations is immediately obvious to companies everywhere right now.’ The impact has been widespread: research by Rakuten Intelligence has shown that order volume for online grocery retailers had increased by 210 percent in mid-March 2020, compared with the same period a year beforehand. While only five percent British workers regularly worked from home in 2019, millions are now doing so.”
The crisis has served as a digital “reality check” across industries, with the need for widespread remote working, an unprecedented boom in online shopping and a shift towards contactless payment methods creating new habits that may well be here to stay
COVID-19 is Changing Digital Transformation Priorities
No one was able to foresee the full impact of the pandemic, but that didn’t stop many businesses from pivoting to offer crucial services during the crisis. “From distilleries producing hand sanitizer to opera houses making protective equipment for healthcare workers, organizations are demonstrating their ability to shift resources towards priority areas,” said the report. “As the dust settles, the ability to transfer skills and investments over to digital platforms will enable companies to mitigate the negative impact of the crisis, both in the immediate aftermath and the years to come.”
Businesses, said H.I. Executive Consulting, would be well-advised to prioritize the following aspects:
- Remote working capabilities — Remote working will play an important role in the post-COVID “new normal.” Not only are social distancing measures expected to continue for at least a few months, but companies are coming to realize that productivity doesn’t necessarily depend on sharing the same office space. As a result, organizations are having to integrate the needs of a remote workforce into their digital transformation priorities.
- Online customer experience — “Digital transformation projects should focus on providing customers with optimal online experiences at a time when supply chains may continue to experience disruption and face-to-face contact remains limited,” said the study. “Businesses are advised to focus on leveraging technology to handle routine queries and operations, thus freeing up service reps to mitigate more complex situations. Options can include chatbots, smartphone apps, email or online self-service platforms.”
- Cybersecurity — With more and more operations taking place online, security is more crucial than ever before. “Furthermore, malicious actors are exploiting vulnerabilities in existing systems to their own advantage, leading to a spike in phishing attacks, malware and ransomware,” said the search firm. “Companies must act now to ensure the safety of their data and that of their clients.”
“Working to effectively reallocate resources and focus on priority areas will reinforce companies’ ability to adapt to evolving needs and thus weather the storm,” said the report. “External expert advice will not only help ensure that resources are distributed correctly, but also provide much-needed support in a complex period for organizations across the board.”
Contributed by Scott A. Scanlon, Editor-in-Chief; Dale M. Zupsansky, Managing Editor; and Stephen Sawicki, Managing Editor – Hunt Scanlon Media