If there’s one word we’re all probably tired of hearing by now, it’s ‘unprecedented’. From news briefings to daily conversation, it’s a word that’s been repeated so often that it’s almost become cliché. But, you know… it’s accurate. There’s almost no UK business which hasn’t been affected in some way by the coronavirus crisis, and the ongoing lockdown has required massive changes to our business operations and daily lives, the likes of which hasn’t been since the war years.
What’s more, the rapid speed with which the crisis developed left much of the UK unprepared, and after the immediate threat does recede (whenever that may be), it’s clear that many businesses will be making some significant changes to the way they work, to better insulate themselves from something like this in future. Of course, at the time of writing a lot of things are still uncertain so most of this is currently speculation on our part, but here are some of the things we think will be bigger from 2020 onwards…
On its own, the trend towards the ‘home as headquarters’ is nothing new. In fact, we’ve been steadily heading towards it for a long time now. However, there’s still an understandable element of caution around it. For some bosses, it’s a simple worry that motivation and productivity levels may drop without direct oversight. Others are more concerned about whether employees are physically able to do their jobs without the resources and support that an office full of colleagues provides.
By now though, if your company is physically capable of working from home, chances are you’ve already been left with no option to give it a go. The Covid-19 crisis has forced many businesses to fundamentally change the way they’re structured, and some may find the change to be far less detrimental than they’d feared. This is partially due to the increasingly widespread digitisation of many industries – formerly, only IT and similar jobs could be done from home, but now that definition is expanding to include more and more professions. We may have been gradually heading towards the home as headquarters already, but Covid-19 might be the final nudge it takes for many businesses to finally take the leap.
Closely linked to the ‘home as headquarters’ concept is the idea of a rise in flexible working hours. Again, it’s something that increasing numbers of businesses were offering anyway, but the current crisis means it’s something that more employers are trialling. The dramatic changes to our lives don’t always necessarily neatly align with office hours anymore, so instead of starting at 9am and finishing at 5pm, more people are starting at 7am and finishing at 3pm, or starting at 11am and finishing at 7pm. (For some of us that’s not a novel concept – if you own your own business, your hours probably tend to be pretty flexible anyway, whether you want them to be or not!)
At some point in the short term, it’s likely that the vast majority of businesses will have to implement some form of flexible hours policy anyway, as the government is already advising bringing back employees in a staggered fashion to make social distancing easier. So, while flexible hours policies may be only a short term safety measure for some businesses, they may eventually become a long-term fixture for others. (However we should say that this government advice was true at the time of writing, but may be subject to change in future.)
In years to come, some companies may offer flexible as standard like free parking, whereas others may offer it more like a company perk, awarding a set amount of days to work from home after so many years of service.
Almost every business now has at least a basic online presence, but not everyone has considered it a priority. Now though, the widespread closure of business premises has led to a mass shift to a online business, for everyone who can. Even traditionally brick and mortar businesses are now having to find ways to develop their online presence to provide them with an additional revenue stream which could prove to be a vital lifeline. The sudden significance of digital is likely to provoke a more long-term focus on digital strategy for almost everyone going forward, as companies shore themselves up to prevent themselves from being caught off-guard again.
For real-world examples, look no further than the stark difference between national retailer Primark, and our own client Savoy Timber. Until now, Primark has chosen to have no online presence at all, in order to maintain its famously low prices. Now though, that means it’s gone from making £650m sales a month to literally nothing (although thankfully, the risk of complete financial collapse is being staved off by its parent company AB Foods).
Compare that with our client Savoy Timber, which has long maintained a core focus on its digital offering. Its team entrusted our experts to boost their online visibility through tailored SEO and PPC campaigns, and we successfully gained over 900 page one rankings for the business. As a result, Savoy Timber was comparatively well equipped to deal with the economic effects of Covid-19. Its new users have risen by 277%, and transactions have risen by 345% since the onset of the crisis.
That’s just eCommerce – other companies with an existing strong digital presence are finding other innovative ways to adapt their businesses in accordance with the lockdown measures. Our own client Kitchen Design Centre normally communicates with their customers face-to-face, so recently enlisted us to help them launch their new Designed From Home Service, enabling them to continue making their customers’ dream kitchens a reality.
As we’re sure you can appreciate at the moment, it can sometimes be very difficult to do your job effectively when you’ve only got phone calls to get your point across. Lots of other companies think so too, and across the world there’s been a meteoric rise in videoconferencing and screen sharing technology like Zoom, Houseparty, Google Hangouts and Microsoft Teams, just to name a few!
After all, when it comes right down to it, the ability to communicate effectively can have a major impact on productivity, which ultimately affects a business’ bottom line. Businesses who plan to adopt a remote way of working are therefore likely to invest in new communication technologies and tools to ensure that their teams are always connected, and always communicating. Even businesses who aren’t planning on changing the way they’re structured may adopt similar tools, if they’re spread across several sites in separate cities or countries.
We’ve already been seeing these sorts of technological changes on a long-term scale already – our client Rubber Box recently reflected on how communications have changed just in the past fifteen years or so, and how much more difficult our lives might have been if this crisis had occurred in 2005 rather than 2020.
As we touched on above, most of this is speculation on our part at the moment. The exciting (or scary) thing is that nobody really knows how permanent these changes will be, or how else businesses might evolve in the coming years. We can assure you of one thing, though – here at 21Digital, we’ll always be here to help!
We provide a full suite of digital marketing services to help your business develop and grow, including web design, web development, SEO, digital consultancy, and more. Rest assured that we’re still fully operational throughout the current crisis, and we’ve already published a post on our blog where you can read our full update.