When COVID-19 showed up and became a global pandemic, no one had a playbook – let alone the definitive one – on how to respond and adapt your business continuity to the unprecedented challenges it brought.
As stay-at-home orders and social distancing went into effect and business trips, conferences, and gatherings of any significant size were canceled, we were quickly reminded of how vital the face-to-face human connection is to doing business.
We had little choice but to pivot to all available digital resources for conducting business internally as well as with customers and partners. For many, that meant a major transition to completely online sales and service, as was the case for Minnesota-based Legacy Toys, which had been established and developed based on providing an in-store, hands-on customer experience.
However, owner Brad Ruoho told Fortune that “he had to quickly pivot his business and accelerate plans (which were already in motion before the pandemic) to build an online store immediately.” Ruoho said, “We grew so quickly from literally shipping nothing to shipping several hundred packages a day.”
Adapting and advancing your business during a pandemic
The traditional office culture of commuting to a physical office building and gathering with colleagues or traveling thousands of miles to meet with clients has been such an ingrained way of conducting business that many organizations were reluctant or outright refused to offer a work-from-home or virtual option. Why? Because that’s the way we’ve always done things, and nothing was forcing us to change. Enter: COVID-19.
The world discovered simultaneously how much it needs both the human and the digital aspects working in collaboration to enable life and business to pivot, adapt, and reinvent normal. It’s nothing that digitally mature businesses didn’t already know. But such scale and diverse application required continued innovation and adaptation to each unique context and circumstance, whether business, education, social, or personal.
While in-person office life is sure to remain important in many respects, thousands of companies discovered that they can indeed function with a largely remote workforce. Because they had to.
Suddenly, the world had to find ways to manage stay-at-home orders while working, schooling, socializing, and even entertaining from home. Thankfully, digital tools had been developed to the point of enabling these many adaptations across sectors, industries, and businesses.
Now it is time to recognize that the digital era has fully begun. Finding ways to begin, continue, and accelerate the digital transformation of your business is now a clear necessity for moving forward into the post-pandemic world. Ready or not.
That world is still developing and ever-changing and is sure to present many unforeseen challenges. But we can be sure of a handful of lessons that we’ve learned since early 2020. These lessons are not so much best practices as they are guiding principles for reinventing business using digital solutions to create a better world for all people.
Leverage real-time customer insights
Even before the pandemic, customers were changing from moment to moment and businesses used intelligent digital tools to gain real-time insights from customer data to keep up with evolving consumers. Data analytics helped businesses see changes in their customers’ behavior and better understand what they need, want, and how they’re feeling. This enabled data-driven action to effectively respond in real-time.
According to Deloitte, “COVID-19 painfully shows that digitally native organizations that are “insight-driven by default” show much higher resilience… These organizations are equipped to manage the crisis more smoothly, and we also expect them to recover and excel faster…”
Companies with greater digital maturity have been able to respond with agility to customer needs. And sentiment during the COVID-19 pandemic as it changed even more rapidly and drastically than it had before.
For example, many companies found innovative ways to respond to customer needs by making services and resources available, such as making the Adobe Creative Suite available to college students when they no longer had access to tools in university technology labs during the Spring 2020 semester, in addition to other programs offered to help students and faculty continue to be creative and productive.
Enable agile communications through the pandemic
Here’s where your real-time, data-driven customer insights become actionable as you adjust your messaging and communications accordingly. With information and, consequently, customer and employee sentiment changing so quickly and so often, it’s essential to be able to pivot your communications with agility based on real-time data.
Many organizations established regular newsletters, updates, and digital channels for sharing company communications with employees and customers as well as providing spaces for them to ask questions and find out how colleagues and counterparts across organizations and industries were responding and adapting.
According to a McKinsey report, “Leaders may be inclined to defer to governments and media outlets for clear and simple safety instructions. Don’t. Employers often underestimate how much their employees depend on them as trusted sources.”
Creating centralized spaces for communication and engagement with employees has been important for Walmart, as their employees have used OneWalmart, the company intranet site, to stay informed about rapidly changing policies as well as access resources. Helping employees feel engaged and informed will help them to be more confident, engaged, and productive on the job as well.
Nurture human connection as an essential aspect of your digital transformation
This is what makes agile communication so important since communication is essential to human connection. Monitoring and supporting employees during the adjustment to working from home, which included schooling children from home as well, has been a major area of focus during the pandemic to ensure mental and physical health. Part of that effort is checking in on your employees, maintaining communication to keep them in the loop and engaged with each other and company culture. This has taken the form of Zoom happy hours, trivia nights, and other virtual social events.
Some ways to maintain the sense of connection and engagement alongside integrating digital transformation include continuing onboarding welcome traditions, check-in emails, and measures to fight burnout as well as make meaningful connections.
Ultimately, communicating clearly and authentically, providing spaces for engagement among customer and employee communities, and demonstrating care and concern for your employees and customers as human beings will continue to develop and strengthen your company culture and brand value through the pandemic and beyond.
As we’ve heard before, digital and human transformation are complementary, two essential aspects of the same process. Machine computing power and algorithmic intelligence expand and augment human capabilities, and uniquely human traits such as empathy, strategic thinking, and contextual awareness make effective use of machine learning insights. The human connection remains essential.
Embrace the digital revolution
As Stacy Martinet, VP of Marketing Strategy and Communications at Adobe, said, “We’re not going back. The digital revolution is here. This is the beginning of whatever chapter is next, and whatever people learn now will serve them well for this next era.”
The old normal isn’t coming back. And that’s a good thing. Make the best of the challenges and opportunities to grow and evolve, for you and your customers. Work, school, business, entertainment, travel, and everyday life must change, and we have this opportunity to shape our reinvented world.
Get more in-depth insights into the reinvention of normal and check out the Adobe Business Continuity Playbook for lessons on adapting and advancing your business during a pandemic.