The best way to predict what the ‘next normal’ will look like is to create it

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COVID-19 forced businesses into a ‘flight, fight or freeze’ mode, and many have come out fighting. Companies have fast-tracked innovation to survive the challenging business climate they found themselves in. Changes that would have once been enacted over months – such as transitioning to work-from-home models, flexing to accommodate new consumer behaviors, and scaling up digital support channels – were pushed through in weeks. The result? A new world of agility and opportunity.

The challenges created by COVID-19 are not over. Companies now face the daunting job of rebooting the global economy in a world where the old rules of business no longer apply. It is impossible for any of these businesses to predict exactly what their ‘next normal’ will look like in the coming months and years. They can, however, take an active role in shaping it by building on the momentum that the lockdown gave them to drive sustainable, innovation-led business models. This will be key to acquiring the ability to pivot in the face of unpredictable change.

Reimagining leadership and ways of doing business

As business leaders begin to construct the ‘next normal’ they must unlearn the ways of the pre-COVID world, such as the concept of having a fixed destination in mind and a fixed path to getting there. We expect the pandemic to cause further ripples of change over the coming months and years. To respond, business leaders need to be willing to adjust direction regularly and reprioritize to survive – in other words, be agile. This will mean becoming comfortable with following a broad direction of travel on a path that may take unexpected turns. They must also sacrifice trying to come up with the perfect solution the first time around, and instead, focus on moving swiftly in the right direction. To support them in this process, they will need to build teams capable of making quick decisions, driving action and iterating quickly.

The workforce of the future

For employees to successfully support their managers in realizing new ways of doing business, effective management and motivation are key. This requires human resources (HR) to rethink employee engagement for a remote working world.

Flexible working has clearly been a success during the lockdown and is a viable long-term option. That said, employees do feel the strain of not being able to interact face to face with their colleagues after several months of working from home. According to recent research from Vodafone, 41 percent of employees miss workplace humor. With a full-time return to work unlikely in the immediate future, HR must consider how corporate culture can be nurtured remotely. For instance, by creating relaxed virtual forums to celebrate strong performing team members or informally introduce new employees. This will be key to maintaining healthy collaboration between employees and teams.

What’s more, businesses will also need to devise strategies for upskilling staff remotely so that they are equipped with the tools and training to thrive in the ‘next normal’. This will include delivering guidance on how to support customers digitally or to drive sales when face-to-face meetings are impossible.  Companies must move rapidly in enacting these plans to stave off competition and lose business to those who are capable of delivering human interaction remotely.

Combining the human touch with digital power for enhanced customer experience

Positive human interaction is at the heart of effective customer conversations. This has not changed, despite the lockdown or social distancing which has made in-person encounters challenging. In place of traditional methods of interaction, people have turned to digital conversations and phone calls to deliver customer service. The lessons learnt in making these moments with customers matter must be carried forward into the ‘next normal’. Ironically, technology will hold the key to making human interactions more powerful. For example, deploying automation to handle routine tasks, and using analytics to identify and remediate issues, will enable people to focus on delivering valuable human experiences.

The oxygen of business success

In the ‘next normal’, agility will prove to be the oxygen of business success, and we will see standards of innovation we never before thought possible. Business leaders will change business models that are no longer fit for their purpose. Engaged, upskilled employees will pivot to deliver positive human interactions, supported by digital methods. By proactively taking steps to become agile, businesses will shape the ‘next normal’, and capitalize on emerging opportunities at speed to ensure their survival in the post-pandemic world.

This article is written by Sundara Sukavanam, Chief Digital Officer at Firstsource and was originally published at Global Banking and Finance Review 
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