Finally, we’re starting to think about a future where coronavirus isn’t the first word on everyone’s lips. But the normality we once knew won’t be the one we are returning to.
A year of dealing with the unexpected has given business leaders a 180-degree view on how they thought their organisation best operates. Faced with a newly distributed workforce, disrupted global supply chains, and having to forecast the unpredictable, there are many learnings that they will take back to business-as-usual.
Here are what five business leaders are taking away:
The Cloud is crucial to support remote workers
“Cloud-based services are already well known and widely used to overcome many of the home working issues organisations have experienced during the pandemic, which is why we have seen such a huge uptake in the past 12 months,” said Jonathan Bridges, Chief Innovation Officer, Exponential-e. “And thankfully, the rise of hybrid cloud means there is now an appropriate cloud model out there to meet every business need.
This flexible approach is all about smoothing customers’ path to cloud. It delivers peace of mind because it addresses the challenges of handling growth in volumes of data, allows them to rapidly scale to support innovation and fluctuations in demand, and enforces a proactive stance on issues like privacy, security and compliance.”
You don’t have to meet colleagues in person to lead successfully - you just have to be creative
Rob Walker, MD UK&I, Cognizant, has had the unique experience of joining a global company right at the very peak of the pandemic, which means that he has still not met any of the thousands of UK&I employees.
Commenting on the experience, Walker said: “I’ve had to adapt my leadership skills from my very first day to be able to provide my team with the support they need by solely relying on video calls and internal systems to communicate. For many of us, this was a new, daily way of working we had to get used to.
“Under these circumstances, it has been essential to acknowledge the difficulties we’re all operating within and explain how the company is addressing these concerns. Being sensitive to specific employee circumstances, taking the time to thank individuals for their contributions and personalising messages rather than cascading corporate communications has also been key.
“To build rapport with my senior leadership team, I’ve had much slower, in depth conversations, tuning into the nuances of conversations and practicing active listening. Prior to the pandemic, this was far easier, as I would have been able to quickly assimilate what makes an individual tick over a relaxed, informal setting like coffee or dinner. For now, this requires a more creative and patient approach.”
Data is not only for data scientists
“Over the course of the past year, our relationship with data has drastically changed,” stated James Fisher, Chief Product Officer, Qlik. “Ever since coronavirus took centre stage in our lives, we’ve seen data become increasingly prominent in public discourse. We quickly adapted to a world where the R-number would dictate many of our civil freedoms as we transition to and from lockdowns, transforming the way in which the general population engages with data: suddenly it underpins almost everything we read, conversation we have, and decision we make.
“Any previous misconceptions that data is only for data scientists have undoubtedly been debunked. As our exposure to visualisations and statistical analysis increased, we witnessed a growing army of armchair epidemiologists. The appetite for access to trusted data has never been greater as its relevance to the decisions we make every day became increasingly clear.”
Upskilling is key for overcoming the skills gap
“When COVID-19 hit, companies were forced to digitally transform at pace, and with a freeze on head-count had to look inside the business at the talent already in place to roll out new projects, spin up new revenue generators and manage new technologies,” explains Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA, Pluralsight. “As such upskilling became a necessity, not a pipedream.
“A year on, businesses accept that fast digital transformation is imperative for survival, prosperity and competitiveness, and see learning and development as key facilitators. Going forwards, it's clear that the skills gap will continue to grow as artificial intelligence (AI), robotics and other technologies advance, while the very nature of jobs change.
Therefore, the focus on upskilling must continue, both from individuals pushing their own development forwards and companies providing their staff with the tools, support and investment needed to advance long-term skills development strategies.”
Start thinking now about the skills you’ll need tomorrow
“The events of the past year and the pivot to homeworking emphasised the importance of digital skills in today’s economy. This has emboldened the role of digital skills on the national agenda, for example with the launch of Help to Grow: Digital. However, with innovation continuously shifting job profiles and business models, it's important that we take a balanced approach,” commented Faisal Abbasi, Managing Director Western & Southern Europe, MEA & LATAM, Amelia, an IPsoft company.
“Many companies found that their teams’ success over the past year was not just a result of technology investments, but also the focus on leadership and soft skills that helped us adapt to new ways of working with our employees, many of whom faced additional challenges, like homeschooling or elderly care responsibilities.
So, as we start to look beyond the pandemic and how the next generation of business will evolve to become a truly hybrid workforce – not only with distributed working practices, but increasingly also with digital colleagues – we need to take a balanced approach to skills, valuing both hard STEM competencies and soft skills, such as analytical thinking and complex problem-solving.”
Making the most out of a bad situation
When chaos strikes, it’s important to find opportunity in the disruption. While the pandemic has undoubtedly been a tumultuous time for most businesses, here are five learnings that these leaders will be considering to make their post-pandemic future a success.