When the new normal is no longer new

June 18, 2020

First published on Global Banking & Finance Review, 11 June 2020, by Dermot Murray, General Manager of EMEA at Workiva


The COVID-19 crisis has already had long-ranging impacts on the way we work. According to recent ONS findings, 30 percent of UK-based employees worked remotely in 2019. That number changed dramatically when the lockdown in early 2020 to slow the spread of COVID-19 caused a majority of people to work from home. And let’s face it: it wasn’t easy for most businesses to adjust to new ways of operating.

As the new normal becomes no longer “new,” I urge businesses to adopt many of the operations, processes and technology solutions that were necessary during the lockdown as permanent change. These include ensuring business continuity by relying on cloud-based platforms and 24/7 support that provide ubiquitous access, seamless integration of connected data, controlled collaboration and virtual accountability.

Recovery in five parts

McKinsey recently published guidance on the five stages businesses are facing related to the COVID-19 lockdown: Resolve, Resilience, Return, Reimagination and Reform.

These phases are driven by one goal: operating in the most effective and efficient way possible. That includes permanently adopting new ways of doing business that optimize all that our digital economy has to offer.

This time it’s different

We’ve seen it before – the economy gets hit by a crisis and businesses make required, temporary changes – only to revert to their former ways when the crisis is over. Consider the 2008 global financial crisis. After the market stabilised, companies – by and large – went back to pre-2008 ways of working, only to see similar, pre-crash issues resurface. Increasing reliance on debt, unequal access to credit and vast differences in taxation are just a few examples that continue to plague the economy.

McKinsey’s second phase, Resilience, comes into play here: empowering individuals, businesses and whole societies to bounce back and act with hindsight. Rather than returning to what was once safe, companies need to make decisions now, using the momentum that COVID-19 thrust upon many – not just in the short term, but with long-term benefits in mind.

McKinsey explains Reimagination as the ability to reinvent using foresight and insight in business planning. This is critical when companies are looking for ways to alter operations to minimise losses while driving productivity, shock-resistance and ultimately revenues.

Cloud-based technology platforms that offer controlled collaboration and connected data offer enormous opportunities for businesses to become more agile with remote workers.

In a connected platform, information is centralised and all changes are updated everywhere – thereby eliminating risk of errors while providing maximum oversight, regardless of where co-workers reside.

 The final stage, Reform, is defined by McKinsey as the chance to learn and innovate based on unexpected social circumstances. Understanding what innovations will create lasting change and what combination of solutions will be successful will be crucial to making it through all five stages.

The path of least resistance – to revert to old ways – is no longer an option in today’s digital economy.

Sustaining success in a digital world

I see two thematic challenges to businesses as they come through the COVID-19 crisis and look to make long-term decisions about their future.

First, common procedures – such as requiring physical documentation, signatures on paper, and frequent, in-person meetings – will be changed forever. Some legal documentation may take longer to accept digital approvals, but they, too, will adapt.

The second, larger issue is remote working. Maintaining transparency, oversight and efficient collaboration from a distance are big challenges for many people: various versions, unclear ownership of changes and errors are all more likely to happen when teams operate remotely without the appropriate tools. Even as many businesses upgrade their technology, processes and systems, ownership and operations can still be difficult to navigate and manage if they don’t choose the appropriate technology.

That’s when a connected, cloud-based platform becomes essential.

Cloud platforms can improve efficiencies and collaboration, while increasing transparency, oversight and control. Working from home becomes an asset, not a risky liability.

Capitalising on new technology and solutions that support business continuity in any environment will help companies finally transform their operations, moving through the final steps to Reimagine and Reform their ways of working.

Cloud platforms are here to stay.

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