Rarely has the world of work undergone so many fundamental changes in so short a time on such a global scale. It’s hard to imagine that we will ever completely return to the way we did things before. With that in mind, which of these changes could become a more permanent part of the “new normal”?
More Remote Workers
The pandemic forced almost every business to shift to remote working almost overnight. Meetings switched from in person to Zoom and everyone had to navigate new ways to communicate and collaborate. There’s no doubt that attitudes to working from home have changed as a result of this mass remote-working experiment.
Despite Canadians having mixed feelings on remote working during COVID-19, many will have discovered that people can be productive and happy working from home, and that it is possible to maintain a positive work culture and keep staff connected and engaged. The cost-savings for businesses and work-life balance improvements for employees will no doubt see remote working become an option for many more people post-COVID.
Increased Flexibility in the Workplace
Many businesses are having to look at creative solutions to meet physical distancing and other health and safety requirements that could be in place for some time. As well as remote working, these include flexible or staggered start and finish hours and part-time working options. WorkSafeBC also recommends considering options such as “cohorts” of workers who work together in self-contained groups to help reduce the transmission of COVID-19. Governments around the world have even brought up the idea of a four-day work week, as well as new sick pay programs.
In the past, this kind of flexibility might be considered more of an employee benefit. COVID-19 has made these working practices essential in the short-term, and they could become permanent for businesses that don’t see any big downsides. Potential new hires may even expect more flexibility in terms of where and when they work.
Greater Reliance on Technology
Many businesses automated aspects of their business during the pandemic. Automated customer service, such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) chatbots, showed value as companies had to handle an increased volume of inquiries. AI chatbots quickly handle routine enquiries so human operators can focus on the most serious problems.
Another technology that rose to prominence is contactless-pay. Even as COVID-19 is brought under control, or eliminated, consumers may still want “no-touch” payment options using their smartphones and smartwatches. Many businesses also turned to online collaboration, project management, communication, and other technologies that could be permanently integrated into their operations. Video conferencing, for example, is likely to become more widely used in place of in-person meetings and to avoid the need to travel.
Putting Digital First
Unsurprisingly, Canadian eCommerce sales have doubled since mid-March. Many small businesses had to move fast to provide customers with online ordering and delivery options. Now that customers have experienced the convenience of online ordering groceries, takeout food, and other things they may previously have gone out for, they will appreciate that option in future—especially if the threat of COVID-19 stays with us for some time.
Many consumers also now have an increased awareness and appreciation of how important small businesses are to our communities. It makes sense for businesses of all types to continue to improve your website and make it as easy as possible for people to find and do business with you online.
A New Mindset
We’ve all learned things about ourselves and others from our experiences during the pandemic. Business owners we’ve spoken to talk of how the crisis has reinforced their need to be resilient and adaptable. And, if they didn’t before, everyone now understands the importance of having emergency funds for unexpected business interruptions. Many employees may have had their eyes opened to a world of remote and flexible working, with more time spent with the family and less time at work.
As for your customers, in the short- to medium-term, they want to know it’s safe to do business with you. Long-term, buying habits may have permanently changed. People may be more conscious of the need to save money and so will look for deals and payment plans. They may also expect a higher level of customer service, as well as more online shopping options.
The “new normal” will eventually just become “the normal.” In the meantime, as we carefully reopen for business in B.C. we can all learn from the last few months and begin to plan for a post-COVID-19 world.
Find Out More
At Small Business BC, we’re committed to helping business owners reopen in a safe and successful way. Our Back to Business campaign features specific advice and guidance in the following areas:
- Operational Health & Safety
- Restart Strategy
- Marketing & Communications
Alternatively, visit our BC Business COVID-19 Support Service and connect with our Business Advisors to get answers to your specific questions on reopening.