One year ago, the first UK wide lockdown was announced and millions were told to stay at home to save lives. While no end date was set, there was expectation that the restrictions would be short term, with Boris Johnson telling the daily Downing Street briefing that in 12 weeks, “we can turn the tide”. A year later the struggle against Covid-19 is still ongoing.
However, as the rapid vaccine rollout has talk turning – once again – to lifting restrictions and a ‘return to normal’, business leaders need to ask themselves: will everything return to how it was pre-pandemic? The answer is no. Some things have changed for good, and we need to understand these shifts and adapt accordingly.
1. Customer behaviour has changed, and so have customer expectations
With non-essential retail shut and everyone being encouraged to stay home, our purchasing habits changed. And then, as social distancing guidelines came into effect, digital channels become many consumers’ only connection to organisations.
For most organisations, relationships with their customers will have changed forever, and customer experience will be a key differentiator. Yours needs to be seamless: your digital channels must be easy to access and navigate. Your support services must be quick, clear and straightforward. Business leaders should look at how their organisations interact with customers and ask: does our customer experience inspire brand loyalty? The bar has been raised – are we keeping up?
2. Cybersecurity was thrust into the spotlight and must continue to be a priority
With the world shifting to working remotely, and many organisations migrating their entire business model and operations to the cloud overnight, it is no surprise that there was a rise in cyber-attacks.
Of course, cyber-attacks have been making headlines for years. Yet for many businesses, particularly SMEs, there has always been a sense that they would not be a likely target. In the wake Covid-19, attitudes to cyber security have changed: 1 in 5 small businesses experience cyber-attacks or data breaches. Even without social distancing, remote working looks set to continue – so all business leaders need to ensure they have the right security in place to prevent their organisation being vulnerable.
3. An investment in tech skills is essential
As astounding as it may seem, technology was still seen by many as a support function. But with the lockdown came mass remote working, changing customer personas and priorities, and increasing the need to be cyber secure. With it was the removal of any doubt: technology and digital skills supported organisations through the tumult of the last year, and will drive our recovery.
Consequently, there has been a huge surge in demand for tech skills: software developers, infrastructure architects, data analysts, and cyber security professionals are all highly sought after. But organisations must also ensure they have the right tech leadership in place. The past year has proven beyond doubt that tech is a key strategic function: one which has the power to drive your business forward and allow you to capitalise on future opportunities.
4. Attitudes towards wellbeing and mental health at work have changed for the better
We have talked more about mental health and wellbeing over the past year, often to admit how difficult it is to live, work and parent during a pandemic. We’ve lived and worked through a unique time in history, and the toll this may have taken on us should not be underestimated. Many organisations were quick to offer support for their employees, and business leaders tried to communicate with staff regularly about how best to deal with so much change. In many ways, Covid-19 has changed the conversation when it comes to mental health and wellbeing at work. Businesses are better, more supportive and inclusive environments for it.
5. Flexible working arrangements are now expected, but may be a challenge for employers
It’s not yet clear whether we will see a return of the old ‘9-5’ way of working. In fact, in a recent survey, we ran the nation appears to be divided, 34% of workers believe we will return to this traditional way of working, and 35% believe we won’t. However, there is no doubt that after a year of working from home, many employees feel they have proven they can remain productive despite not being in the office every day and have welcomed the benefits that come with this.
Of course, we know that there are drawbacks to an entire workforce working remotely. Communication, creativity and learning from others can all be negatively impacted, and some employees struggle with isolation and loneliness in such a set up. Realistically, in order to attract and retain the best talent in the next few years, business leaders need to consider offering a degree of flexibility – one which gives employees the opportunity to work remotely part of the week where possible, but which doesn’t jeopardise the many benefits of a busy, vibrant workplace.