Although flexible and remote working were already becoming more commonplace before COVID-19, there was still that barrier of reluctance in a lot of companies. Some leaders’ attitudes were still embedded in traditional working practices and presenteeism, resulting in a reluctance to move with the times. But enforced remote working as a result of the crisis has given us all an opportunity to think about the way we’ve always done things, and to bring our working practices more into line with market conditions that are challenging in a way we’ve never before experienced.

For the more progressive and change-hungry leaders, this has been a chance to push through transformations in many areas of the business, that may otherwise have taken years to adopt.

Office space

The office is an age-old concept that we all seem to have stuck with through force of habit. With their staff now working from home, companies are taking the opportunity to reduce their real estate – without any impact on their productivity – and making huge cost savings. Is this likely to spell the end of the office? Perhaps not, but perhaps it will signal a significant change in the concept of the office as we know it. With people still craving that human interaction, we’re likely to see the office become a place for multicompany collaboration, with a significant increase in demand for shared workspaces such as WeWork, Areaworks and Fora.

Business travel

After almost a year’s practice, people have proved they can communicate via Zoom, Teams and other platforms, which begs the question – why were we previously sending our staff on expensive travel expeditions for the sake of attending a meeting? Remote working has massively reduced the need for companies to subsidise trips to other locations, and this is something that’s likely to continue beyond the current crisis.

Refocusing

Stepping back from the business norm, executives can more clearly see the areas that add no value to the business, and others that add more value than they previously thought. The universal impact of COVID-19 has also given us the chance to think about what’s really important, and how we can stay purposeful when our main function is not being utilised as much as usual. For example, with the automotive industry hugely affected by the pandemic, we’ve seen the likes of Honda and General Motors diversifying into the production of ventilators and facemasks.

Direct selling

Forcing us to focus on what’s essential, the crisis has allowed us to modify our approach to selling. Many companies are now adopting a more direct-to-consumer model. By manufacturing and shipping products directly to the consumer, they’re bypassing any third-party retailers, wholesalers and other external organisations, simplifying their operations.

Tech

Companies have fast-tracked tech transformations to make sure their people have the best setup for remote working. Key to this has been the rollout of cloud-based computing, which has not only allowed them to move to remote working models overnight, but also given them a great deal of resilience and flexibility when they really need it. Many companies have also revisited transformations that they initially rolled out early in lockdown and now have the opportunity to improve, thanks to what they’ve learned over the last few months.

Perhaps the biggest problem for companies at the start of the crisis was uncertainty. How would their people work? Were their products or services still relevant, and if not, how could they shift their operations in order to provide something people needed? Would they still be able to operate at all? While times remain tough, the pandemic has proved to the slower-moving companies and the more traditional execs that change was needed throughout their organisation – and at the same time, it’s given the more progressive leaders the business case and the impetus they need to bring about that change.

Although there are still a number of sectors that are continually impacted by the coronavirus pandemic, the optimism within the C-suite at the start of 2021 has been incredibly refreshing. There has certainly been a necessity for businesses to be more entrepreneurial than ever, pivoting in directions that most would never have planned. Having entered lockdown 3.0 in the UK, organisations are in the best possible state to continue to operate remotely, and with the rollout of both the Oxford-AZ and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines, the outlook for 2021 is certainly a more positive one.

We all now have the chance to work smarter than ever before. If you want to know more about how you can adapt your ways of working or strengthen your executive team for the year ahead, please speak to one of our experts.

GILES MCINTYRE | PARTNER

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