The pandemic-induced workplace digital transformation in 2020: how are workplaces changing?

by | 1 Oct, 2020

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Covid-19 has hit many businesses hard. Yelp.com’s Local Economic Impact Report announced that more than 97,966 businesses in the US permanently shut down due to the pandemic – and that was from reports in September of this year. Businesses may have experienced even further impact and closures in the last few months.

According to the McKinsey & Company survey in ‘How COVID-19 has pushed companies over the technology tipping point—and transformed business forever‘ digital adoption has made ‘quantum leaps.’ The study claims that many businesses across the world have enhanced their digital strategy by 6-7 years. From increased remote working to migrating services to the cloud to changing operations tactics and supply chains to security updates and changing customer needs and expectations, many businesses have met the increasing demands of new ways of working.

But even for those businesses that have managed to keep the doors open, they have been forever changed by the pandemic and, in some ways, for the better. Operating in a Covid-19 world requires ingenuity, investment, insight, and resilience. Almost all businesses have had to change the way they operate and at an unprecedented rate. Let’s take a look at the pandemic-induced workplace digital transformation. How have workplaces changed in 2020? 

Increased reliance on technology

For businesses that already had digital elements, the pandemic may have had less of an impact on operations but even many of those businesses have become more interactive with customers on digital channels. Many have invested in chatbots and increased customer service technology. McKinsey & Co record that rates of digital product development differed in sectors ‘the reported increases are much more significant in healthcare and pharma, financial services, and professional services.’ These types of businesses that are vital to a running economy have needed to change tactics to meet consumer needs.

For the medical industry in the US, many in the healthcare sector are switching to telehealth and conducting online appointments for non-life-threatening queries and follow-up appointments. 

One of the more notable uses of technology that has helped in the pandemic is the track and trace apps to let people know when they’ve potentially been exposed to the virus and need to self-isolate. Although, the effectiveness of such apps has been called into question as this Wired article, ‘Why Contact-Tracing Apps Haven’t Slowed Covid-19 in the US’ notes. In a famous more recent example, the UK Prime Minister Boris Johnson was told to self-isolate by the NHS track and trace app as reported here in The National. The PM has been working from home during his quarantine. 

Forbes reports that the pandemic has increased investment in AI technologies to meet growing demand and that online shopping has skyrocketed. Although some worry that AI can replace jobs, often AI is used in conjunction with agents since it can help funnel customers to the right representative so that he or she can deal with the customer’s complaint or query the first time, which increases customer satisfaction.  

For many educational providers from schools to universities – although not strictly classed as ‘businesses’ – the shift to a more online education came as a result of lots of work to teachers and administrators. But, as The New York Times, reports in its piece, ‘As School Moves Online, Many Students Stay Logged Out: Teachers at some schools across the country report that fewer than half of their students are participating in online learning,’ that shift online has not always been a successful one, especially in low-income areas. In the UK, the BBC reported how students who weren’t able to take their GCSE and A-level exams were assigned grades based on their work at the time of leaving school and many are left unhappy. The long-term impact on education remains to be seen but the pandemic has highlighted some ways the system needs to be improved over time. 

McKinsey & Co notes, ‘Across regions, the results suggest a seven-year increase, on average, in the rate at which companies are developing these products and services.’ Those businesses lucky enough and innovative enough to adapt to the suddenly changing business landscape have often done so successfully but some businesses have realized they cannot adapt as fast as they’d hoped or their services have areas of much-needed improvement. 

Remote working and adapting to change

Gallup notes that US remote workdays have doubled during the pandemic. Before the pandemic, around 20% of workers worked from home at least some of the time and now 42% of workers work from home some of the time and 26% of workers now say they work from home full time since the pandemic. Many digital businesses have had an easier time. McKinsey & Co in ‘What’s next for remote work: An analysis of 2,000 tasks, 800 jobs, and nine countries’ noted that ‘Finance and insurance has the highest potential, with three-quarters of time spent on activities that can be done remotely without a loss of productivity. Management, business services, and information technology have the next highest potential, all with more than half of employee time spent on activities that could effectively be done remotely.’ What many businesses have found is that their services have not been interrupted when switching people to remote work and they have often been happier and healthier working from home. 

Admittedly, some sectors are more suited to remote work than others. The service, travel, hospitality, and other highly face-to-face industries have been hit the hardest by the pandemic since these workers cannot switch to remote work. But their adaptability and new ways of training staff can be commended. For hospitality, many have offered discounted mini-staycation packages. For the service industry, many restaurants have learned to operate with increased hygiene practices and Covid-19 safety measures in place or switched to delivering food, doing curbside pickup, or offering outdoor dining and many drive-throughs and take-outs have been able to operate mostly as normal with increased safety measures. For the travel industry, there aren’t volumes of tourists going places but some routes are still operating and flying although with drastically decreased profits.

McKinsey & Co sums up the shift to remote work: ‘In the case of remote working, respondents actually say their companies moved 40 times more quickly than they thought possible before the pandemic.’ Whether working remotely or not, almost all businesses adapted in some way for the safety of employees which did increase employee satisfaction with their organisations

Read our piece ‘Finding Hidden Opportunities for Small Business Owners During a Pandemic‘ to see our tips on how to be resilience-ready.

Cost-saving measures

Many businesses have found business costs have varied during the pandemic. Some have saved on office space; others have saved on outsourcing some costs but others have had increased costs with new measures having to be put in place as well as an increased spend in digital technologies and cybersecurity. Others have, unfortunately, cut costs by cutting jobs. The Harvard Business Review provides advice on other ways to explore options other than layoffs. As notes, other measures can be put in place to save money without losing valuable human resources: the people who work for you who hold invaluable knowledge capital. 

But for those businesses that struggle with HR functions or have increasingly high medical costs, outsourcing those functions can save your company significant costs, especially in areas of construction, financial services, healthcare, logistics, manufacturing, professional services, and the nonprofit sectors

For HR functions, outsourcing to a PEO can improve managerial capacity for a strategic business and HR plan. Using a company like Navigate PEO can save in HR, payroll, benefits administration, and compliance functions by hiring a team of professionals for less than the cost of a full-time employee. 

Navigate PEO manages employee benefits, payroll administration, HR functions, and compliance. Find out ways outsourcing can help your business in our articles, ‘Insurance Brokers and PEOs: A Worthwhile Partnership‘ and ‘What a PEO is and the Benefits it can Provide for Growing Organizations.’ Businesses that used PEOs grow 7-9% faster than those who do not and turnover rates decrease to under 32% (from the usual average of 42%). 

With a PEO, you get an expert for all your HR and compliance needs. No need to train your existing HR employees, a PEO can work alongside your existing HR department or complete all HR functions for those who do not have an HR department or HR manager. 

If you’re happy with your HR department but don’t offer employee benefits, we could help. If your company has struggled to offer competitive healthcare benefits to your employees but your company would like to, we can provide access to insurance plans, including medical, dental, life, and 401(k) plans – all at a competitive rate. Having comprehensive and affordable benefits decreases turnover and makes your business a more attractive and affordable place to work because, let’s face it, many Americans cannot afford to work for businesses (no matter how amazing) that cannot offer the basics. But, understandably, many small businesses simply don’t have the budget to offer competitive plans at an affordable rate, but pairing with a PEO eliminates these barriers. Find out more about how we can help you with your employee benefits

From increasing technology, remote working, adapting business practices to change, and creating cost-saving measures, which ways have you felt your business has benefited most from being resilient in challenging times? Are there ways you’ve been proud of your organisation for its ability to adapt? Are you seeing ways that the company can innovate further? No matter what happens and what people’s opinions are, we have seen worldwide changes to the way businesses operate – sometimes for the worst but most often for the better. 

If your business is looking to save money during the pandemic, get in touch with us and we can discuss how we can save you money.

Tom DiSilva
Thomas DiSilva has been providing professional human resource services for over 30 years and serves as the CEO of Navigate PEO in the Greater New England area where he actively partners with organizations to help them grow and gives back to the community. He is skilled in HR Management, and some key skills and HR services he makes available to organizations of all sizes, such as Negotiation, Operations Management, Coaching, and Employee Benefits Design. He is an active member of several professional organizations including the Society for Human Resource Management (SHRM), the National Association of Professional Employer Organizations (NAPEO), and the American Payroll Association (APA). He deeply enjoys helping through both personal philanthropy and Navigate Cares, which serves several nonprofit organizations like USO and The Boys & Girls Club. Connect with Tom and schedule a time for your organization's free HR consultation!

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Disclaimer: this article does not represent expert advice and is provided for informational purposes. Please get in touch if you would like expert HR advice.