With the world still reeling from what is surely the single biggest pandemic since the plague, businesses of all shapes and sizes are wondering what the future will hold. Will we be plunged into a deep recession? Will we survive? Budgets across all departments are being slashed left, right and centre.
But the reality of surviving challenging times is not as simple as saving money in the short term. From marketing to employee communications to day-to-day operations, the brands that do well will be those that can identify where to invest what budgets they have to create the most value for the business.
Because this crisis could also be a huge opportunity for many brands. That’s why it’s important to spend time exploring all your options, looking at both short and long term projects and thinking both externally and internally.
By understanding the changes that are happening, identifying trends and being smart about what the future might hold, innovative businesses can adapt and not only survive but actually thrive.
Remote working is here to stay
It’s been coming for a long time but lockdown has swept any excuses completely off the table. Remote working is here to stay and, having done it for several weeks, employees are no longer going to accept the excuse that it “couldn’t possibly work for their role” or it “just isn’t cost effective”.
The patch up job that many businesses will have been forced to do since March may well have worked in the short term. But if remote working is going to be a significant part of your digital transformation strategy for the future then it’s worth investing the time, effort and budget in doing it properly.
Any tech project that supports the digital infrastructure and supply chain to enable more efficient remote working is a good bet right now. If your remote teams can’t get onto the intranet or they’re constantly dropping out on video calls, you’ll soon see the cracks beginning to show fast.
The impacts of home working - security, comms and more
But it’s not just the actual set up that requires thinking about. Working from home has wider implications, one of which is security. This covers everything from the physical security of the tech that people have at home (do you need to update your insurance?) to GDPR compliance and cybersecurity.
Then there are the systems that support team working. If you’ve survived on print outs and spreadsheets this far, now is the time to start thinking about cloud based systems that allow multiple users to work in real time without duplications, oversites and errors.
And then there’s the human factor. Remote teams can be very effective but home workers can also feel isolated. Internal comms is extremely important for virtual teams, so how can your technology support that? Does your HR portal need an overhaul? With the cost of employee churn so high, it’s important to invest in this in order to protect the business.
Seamless human experiences
When it comes to consumers, the need to deliver digitally has been gaining in importance for years now. Today it’s no longer enough to have a digital presence, you need that presence to operate as smoothly as possible and go beyond that to deliver a top quality human experience that acts as a differentiator between you and your competitors.
Lockdown has forced people to rely more on digitally enabled services than ever before, whether that’s shopping online or connecting to customer service teams via smartphone apps. In this context, the brands with exceptional customer experience have stood out.
If there is potential for you to improve the way your customers experience your brand digitally, now is the time to invest in it. And make sure that the strategy is interconnected so that as people go from browsing on their laptops, to using a smartphone app, to calling a telephone helpline, to visiting a physical store, their experience is smooth and of the same high quality at every touch point.
The importance of real values
One final key trend worth being aware of is the increased demand from customers for the brands they spend money with to demonstrate real values. The pandemic gave businesses unprecedented opportunity to put their money where their mouths were and support their customers, their communities, the NHS and more.
From Pret offering discounts and free coffees to NHS works, to Headspace making more of their meditation library free to everyone, the pandemic inspired some fantastic acts of genuine support from brands. And consumers are not going to lower their expectations now. Ditto employees, who will consider whether a company’s values fit with theirs when making their choices about where they want to work every day.
Where can you demonstrate your values? Can you audit your operations and implement a new system to make them greener? Can you invest in an employee training programme? Can you rethink your customer service processes to better serve vulnerable members of the community?
When it comes to investing in tech projects, think about the why. Getting a good ROI isn’t enough. Does your proposed project add value internally or externally in a way that shows your business genuinely cares?
Whether it’s rolling out a digital employee wellbeing programme or devising an app that makes it easier for your customers to get hold of your customer service team, consider how tech can help you demonstrate your values.
Bonus tip: get the experts in early
Ultimately, making the decision to invest in technology is always one that needs a lot of thought - and right now, with the future feeling so uncertain, that’s even more important. Which is why it’s worth getting as much input and advice from the experts as early on as you can.
Don’t wait until you’ve got a brief ready to go before you call in your development partners. Get them in from the outset, taking advantage of their expertise and experience to help you decide on priorities and shape your project so that it delivers the right results, first time.