By: John Bonoff
The impacts of COVID-19 on the way we work can be seen just about everywhere, and they can be daunting. But as this new era becomes a little less new, companies in every industry are finding ways to adapt accordingly. Widespread organizational transformation has meant changes at every level, from general policies to individual roles and responsibilities. In this article, we’ll explore some of the most notable changes across three major industries, and how organizations have managed to keep up with the rapidly changing landscape as they return to work.
In an article about the state of manufacturers during the pandemic, Artem Kroupenev, VP of Strategy at Augury, writes, “For the first time in modern manufacturing history, demand, supply, and workforce availability are affected globally at the same time.” While some companies are struggling to keep up with a spiking demand for their products, such as personal care and pharmaceuticals, others are witnessing extreme drops in demand and an ensuing need to cut costs. Every major manufacturer is seeing their supply chains disrupted in some way, and on top of that, 40%-50% of the manufacturing workforce are unable to perform their job duties under new social distancing and safety restrictions. So, how is the industry changing to meet these new challenges?
First, domestic automation is gearing up to make something of a comeback. Overseas manufacturing has long been a way for corporations to maximize productivity and minimize costs, but that has started to look different in light of the obstacles for foreign trade and travel associated with COVID-19. Bringing large-scale manufacturing back to the states will enable safer and more efficient production, and contribute to another positive trend in the industry: the decoupling of supply chains. By further localizing business, and creating more options for manufacture, businesses will be able to expand the number of producers they can count on, making their supply chains more flexible. Manufacturing companies and other businesses that employ a high number of deskless workers can also benefit heavily from change communications solutions, which help organizations align around large-scale changes. Finally, data and the digitization of work will be a critical adaptation for the manufacturing industry. Remote collaboration tools, AI-based operations, and data visualization will help businesses be more efficient and predictable. Companies that have begun to consistently implement these technologies are already seeing a 7% revenue growth advantage over their peers.
Perhaps the most obvious changes of any industry are those in the world of retail. The effects of social distancing and new safeguards on direct employee and customer contact has resulted in a complete restructuring of both the physical layout and mode of transactions for many retail establishments. Those selling clothes, household items, and other products that customers typically handle prior to purchasing are tasked with creating a new experience that leaves customers feeling safe enough to shop comfortably. Anyone who has been in a store lately knows that traditional modes of warm, friendly customer service are more of a challenge for retailers. With protective glass shields for registers, generous spacing, and a standing advisory to maintain six feet of space and keep your mask on, it can be difficult for retailers to cultivate a welcoming atmosphere.
Although things may have changed slightly since the start of the pandemic, predictive analytics company First Insight Inc. reported in March that only a third of Americans said they would feel safe shopping in a mall once stores open. For stores built around the in-person experience, measures like low-capacity shopping, single entrances and exits, shopping routes mapped out on the floor, and accessible hand sanitizer have proven to be a fair compromise for shoppers that prefer the in-person interaction. Unsurprisingly, e-commerce became exponentially more common at the beginning of the pandemic, both as a stand-alone form of shopping, and as a supplement to brick-and-mortar stores, in the form of curbside pick-up. In order to create more agile retail businesses, employees are being trained in multiple areas of the organization. The evolution of digital, direct-to-consumer retail has pushed stores to try to bring more aspects of their business online. This has led some companies to prioritize digital customer relations more heavily, and create a more immersive digital shopping experience. And of course those stores capable of producing personal protective equipment (PPE) using their existing supply chains are doing so, while trying to figure out how to sustainably transform operations beyond COVID-19.
Although glass shields were already in place, banks have also had to make their fair share of adjustments. Amidst the increasingly tumultuous financial climate, in-person banking has dropped off considerably, and banks are pivoting to online and mobile transactions with relative success. This had led some to believe that the higher prevalence of mobile transactions will yield a more permanent digital transformation in banking. So, what are banks doing to create a smooth transition? In addition to a large number of branches suspending face-to-face banking, managers are receiving remote leadership training, and bank tellers are being trained on personal finance, so that they can take a more consultative approach when serving customers remotely. Banks have also started to shift hiring practices to focus on digital and data services, as well as cyber security. For branches that are staying open, there is an emphasis on customer service and safeguards, similar to other retail environments.
One factor that will dictate when and how banks reopen will be the costs of operation for the branches themselves. According to Joe Sullivan, CEO of Market Insights, “Long term, it will be more difficult for many branches to be profitable, forcing community banks and credit unions to make decisions they have been avoiding relative to bricks and mortar.” Banks may discover that they are able to serve customers adequately without reopening every branch. They may also discover that after having to adjust to mobile banking practices, customers don’t feel a need to go back to traditional banking. Or, on the other hand, bank branches may come to provide a much-needed sense of structure and dependability for customers. David Horton, Managing Director and Global Head of Innovation for Thynk Digital, says, “In a financial downturn, if people fear for the security of their money, then branches will again show why they are a cornerstone in people’s perception about how trustworthy a bank is.”
As the pandemic landscape continues to evolve, companies of all industries are doing their best to identify consumer trends in real time, and ultimately capitalize on them. Nearly every CEO is in the process of driving initiatives in a disruptive environment. Each industry faces unique challenges, but there are certainly themes that permeate each one, such as safety restrictions, a push to further embrace technology, employee experience, and a rapidly shifting customer experience. Successful business leaders and their teams are digitally savvy, creative, efficient, and future-focused, as we are still in the very early stages of what looks to be a long chapter in our global economic history. Recognizing the patterns that are taking shape all around us will be critical in the effort to meet the challenges of COVID-19 and sustain changes for long-term organizational growth.