They say that necessity is the mother of invention, and almost no event in recent history has created necessity to the extent that the COVID-19 pandemic has. Since the start of the COVID-19 outbreak, business owners have rethought their business models and re-visited many of their assumptions about how their business should—and can—be operated. As a result, many companies have been re-born, re-imagined, and reinvented in ways that will change the way we do business from now on.
5 ways COVID-19 has driven companies to operate differently
1. Working remotely is embraced
Prior to COVID-19, companies felt that building a solid business meant providing a physical space to accommodate every employee. Although from a technology standpoint, work-from-home has been feasible for over twenty years, most employers still felt that allowing employees to work remotely was a threat to productivity.
COVID-19 forced these employers to experiment with work-from-home—and, in most instances, work-from-home has proved to be a viable option. In a survey by Global Workplace Analytics, 68% of global respondents reported that they are very successful working from home.
Realizing that moving forward, they can accomplish their goals without having every employee be physically present every day, has enabled managers to think about workspace more creatively. Many are considering permanently offering to let employees who want to work from home, at least several days a week. This would be supported by a system where employees take whatever space is available when they come in, rather than having their own, dedicated workspace–which would enable business to reduce spending on rent and facility costs, office furniture, and office supplies. It also enables companies to recruit key employees who live outside their immediate area and to provide employees with flexible work schedules.
One of the most notable examples of this is retailer REI Co-Op, who plans to sell its new corporate campus. Among the reasons REI gave for this move are: to use the proceeds from the sale to shore up the company from the impact of COVID-19, enable growth initiatives, help achieve carbon reduction goals, make it feasible to recruit employees who live outside the Puget Sound region (and don’t want to relocate), and reduce employee commute times.
2. Companies transition to cost-effective web-based tools
Most companies have a variety of needs that have traditionally have been relatively high cost because they were performed by specialists—either inhouse or through an agency. This includes services such as headhunting, purchasing, and graphic design. Web entrepreneurs have long been creating lower-cost do-it-yourself versions of these services that in most cases, can deliver equal quality results—and save companies money. COVID-19 has accelerated companies’ adoption of these services.
One example is how easy LinkedIn has made it to identify potential employees with specific skill sets. According to U.S. News and World Report, by 2017 about 95% of recruiters were using LinkedIn to find candidates for their clients. Once companies realized this, they quickly started using LinkedIn themselves, effectively eliminating the need for outside recruiters.
PosterMyWall is an example of a low-cost online design resource. The company’s do-it-yourself templates enable even employees with no artistic talent to select an appropriate template to start from, then customize the message, copy, fonts, logo, and images in minutes. Access to stock clip art, photography, and video—as well as the ability to import your own—mean that any company can produce professional fliers, posters, social media graphics, and digital signage content completely inhouse.
3. Virtual offerings are expected
As a result of COVID-19, corporate functions that people had thought about moving online for years—such as expositions—moved there virtually overnight. And now that customers have had these options, they are likely to continue to expect them even after the pandemic is over.
In 2019, the global B2B trade show market was valued at 34.4 billion U.S. dollars. This included about 3,000 trade shows plus a huge number of private corporate events, and the services and infrastructure required to create physical booths, transport freight to the events, set up booths, house and feed attendees, and more. With COVID-19, this industry came to a crashing halt.
With attendees either unable or unwilling to attend in person, the event producers pivoted quickly, creating virtual events that enabled attendees to stream keynote addresses, participate in peer breakout discussions, and walk the exposition floor.
Companies such as Caterpillar, adapted signature in-person events into online experiences. Cat Expo Live 2020, held in virtually September, included product presentations and demonstrations of new products. Combinations of sell sheets, video, animations, and photographs—supported by real-time chat with product specialists—gave attendees as close to a chance to kick the tires as the internet will allow.
At the same time, some manufacturers who participate in trade shows are hiring suppliers to create immersive 3D versions of booth environments that include interactive demos and theater presentations—as Canon Medical did when one of its largest shows moved online. Although creating these events is expensive, in most instances, the assets created have a long and useful life. Sales and marketing can reuse the components both online and in person as sales tools.
These options have been so popular that the expectation is that even after face-to-face live events resume, most events will also include a virtual option.
4. Sales/service models are finally being driven by customers’ needs
Many businesses which traditionally relied on walk-in traffic have introduced new business models that make their businesses more customer-friendly.
The popularity of Amazon should have been a red flag that customers wanted easy pick-up and home delivery. But many businesses still adhered to their old models—until COVID-19 forced them to rethink. Nowhere is this more true than in the restaurant sector. Even some fine-dining restaurants have introduced curb-side pickup options and menus that feature well-priced family dinners meant to feed four or more people.
Bars and liquor stores have taken advantage of relaxed laws by implementing new pickup and delivery options as well. Notably, many microbreweries’ response to being forced to close their tap rooms was to implement curbside pickup and delivery services. There is even a free app, biermi, that was created by microbrewery insiders to give microbreweries an easy, cost-effective platform to manage their delivery orders and scheduling.
A less-expected–but very welcome–improvement to the consumer purchasing experience is what is happening in the car industry. Dealerships like David Dodge of Glen Mills, PA, have taken steps to save their dealerships in the wake of COVID-19 that will permanently make buying a car a far more customer-friendly experience.
The David Dodge sales team now actively prospects over email, the phone and by text. And the sales experience for interested prospects was re-designed to be completely non-contact. For instance, customers can engage with a salesperson by Zoom so they don’t have to come into the dealership. The sales team uses FaceTime to join customers on their test drives rather than riding along with them. Paperwork can be completed remotely and once a vehicle is purchased, it can be delivered right to the customer’s home.
5. Companies target more diverse markets
Companies who, prior to COVID-19, stuck to a niche, are now learning how to find other markets that can benefit from their core competency. A great example is the exhibit design and production companies. These expert specialty builders traditionally focused on trade shows, museums, and permanent architectural installation work. Since the pandemic, they’ve broadened their service offerings and target market to offer COVID-19-related safety installations such as drive-through testing centers and sneeze-guard installations for retail settings.
Although the pandemic drove many of these shifts, the expectation is that these trends will continue long after there is a vaccine for COVID-19. While not every company will survive COVID-19, we are all learning valuable lessons that have made us less married to the way things were done in the past—and make us more ready to reinvent and pivot in the future.