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Don't Look Back and Other Business Lessons From COVID-19

March 01, 2022 Digital Workplace
By John Mancini

Netflix always describes its offerings with three words, which must have something to do with SEO. For example...

  • Emily in Paris — 1. Soapy 2. Campy 3. Quirky
  • Downton Abbey — 1. Cerebral 2) Understated 3) Period piece
  • Caddyshack — 1. Absurd 2. Raunchy 3. Irreverent
  • Outlander — 1. Steamy 2. Intimate 3. Exciting

I’ve spoken with a number of organizations about their plans moving forward after two years of COVID-19, remote work and pandemic-driven changes in customer engagement. The good news is that organizations have had to cram five years worth of transformative change into a short window. The bad news is … organizations had to cram five years worth of transformative change into a short window.

This raises three important imperatives for organizations moving forward.

1. Understand What Really Drives Technology Adoption

The lowly QR code intrigues me as a microcosm of how technologies are adopted in the real world. QR codes (short for “quick response”) have been with us for almost 30 years (they were invented in 1994 by the Japanese automotive company Denso Wave).

As recently as 2019, only 10 million American consumers scanned a QR code. Enterprising marketers wanting to look tech-savvy placed them on all sorts of things, but these were mostly nice decorations. QR codes looked edgy, and certainly worked if anyone bothered to scan them, but no one cared. They were a cool bright shiny object, but not much more. Because if you wanted to access a website pre-COVID, you just typed in the URL rather than fire up the scanner on your mobile phone.

Post-COVID, QR codes are once again everywhere. Only this time, people are actually using them. Anywhere you would normally hand a customer a brochure or a menu or a price list or basically anything paper has been replaced by a QR code in the last two years. For ultimate proof, look no further than the Coinbase ad during the SuperBowl. According to NBC, a 30 second ad on SuperBowl Sunday 2022 cost $6.5 million. The one-minute commercial by Coinbase showed a QR code bouncing from corner to corner of your television screen, similar to how a DVD Video logo appears when a movie is paused. That’s it. The volume of traffic generated crashed the site.

What happened? The demand for contactless interactions due to COVID-19 created a tsunami of consumer demand that overwhelmed 25 years of resistance to a new technology. The network effect took over — the concept that the value of a product or service increases when the number of people who use that product or service increases. And my guess is that customer processes that now involve QR codes won’t be going back. The lesson here for organizations looking at new technologies? Focus innovation around people and processes rather than around the tech.

Related Article: What Your Digital Workplace Needs in 2022: A Little Imagination

2. Don’t Turn Back to a 'Normal' That Doesn't Exist

I recently spoke with a credit verification business about how their business had changed as a result of the pandemic. The answer from the CEO was this: everything had changed. Something as basic as where people worked changed — the typical call center evaporated almost overnight. The security and privacy implications of this change for the company were frightening, dramatic and overwhelming. Organizational dynamics being what they are, especially at large scale, the temptation once a crisis passes is to return to more familiar ground. This credit verification business essentially ported its business to the cloud almost overnight — and it isn't going back.

My guess is organizations will not universally embrace the changes that were forced upon them by COVID. In Category One will be smart businesses that will look at how customer experiences changed over the last two years. They will think through how to build on these experiences and accelerate their march to digitize everything about their business. In Category Two will be not-so-smart businesses that will breathe a sigh of relief that they survived, jettison the lessons they learned, and go back to business as usual — and eventually be overwhelmed by those in Category One.

Related Article: What Positive Lessons Can We Take Away From Our Time Working From Home?

3. How Do We Stay Flexible and Agile — But Under Control?

I wish I had a nickel (or dollar, or better, a bitcoin) for every time I heard some variation of the following over the last six months:

  1. Almost overnight, we changed the way we thought about remote work.
  2. As a result, we quickly deployed five years of collaborative technologies to allow our people to continue to work.
  3. As we get back to “normal,” things are messy, and we’re not sure what to do.

Dealing with “remote work” post-COVID is probably not the right frame to think about the issue. I am convinced what is really in play is how organizations will deal with the demand for flexible work. According to McKinsey, 40% of employees say they’ve yet to hear about any vision from their organizations for remote work post-COVID, and another 28% say what they’ve heard remains vague.

Organizations may have announced a general intent to embrace hybrid virtual work going forward, but too few of them, employees say, have shared detailed guidelines, policies, expectations and approaches. And the lack of remote-relevant specifics is leaving employees anxious. (What employees are saying about the future of remote work, McKinsey & Company)

Flexible work arrangements — at scale, and without the emergency just-do-it motivation of COVID — are really difficult to implement, especially for large organizations. The organizations that are able to work out the dance between control and flexibility relative to the conditions of work will be able to run circles around their more rigid competitors.

As part of the flexibility equation, organizations must rethink the information systems that support flexible work arrangements. As IT staff struggled to find ways to support remote work, they quickly realized that Microsoft 365 Teams was a safe and non-career threatening way to deploy video conferencing at scale. The rapid deployment of Teams was reminiscent of how we deployed SharePoint in the early 2010s: as a quick solution to the problem of project teams needing to share documents. Those with long memories will remember the consequences of that rapid deployment — a decade in which we spent millions to clean up SharePoint sprawl. Teams deployments without effective governance will make SharePoint sprawl trivial in comparison.

The good news is that excellent and automated governance, compliance and records capabilities exist natively in M365 — if organizations implement them properly. And that’s a big if. Per Infotechtion.com,

Microsoft Teams is more than just a technology, it is a platform for a new way of working, getting the most out of MS Teams requires a focus on team effectiveness and governance. Microsoft Teams' adoption without an organized and predictable way to govern the teamwork effectiveness, lifecycle, privacy, and security will always have a direct or indirect impact on the productivity, reputation, and profit of an organization. (Microsoft Teams and Governance are better together)

Related Article: You Rolled Out Your Remote Workplace in Record Time. Now Let's Talk Governance

3 Little Words ...

So, what will be the Netflix three word description for your organization as it comes out of COVID?

  1. Nostalgic
  2. Conservative
  3. Cautious

or

  1. Forward-looking
  2. Nimble
  3. Responsive

There’s a lot at stake.

About the Author

John Mancini is the President of Content Results, LLC and the Past President of AIIM. He is a well-known author, speaker, and advisor on information management, digital transformation and intelligent automation.

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