10 Business Lessons From (Almost) 3 Years Of The COVID-19 Pandemic.
I’ve been meaning to write this blog post for a while based on a list of observations I have made during almost three years of the whole world living and working with the new normal caused by the COVID-19 pandemic. Although the pandemic has receded massively it’s still very much with us in all that we do and many of our behaviors and perspectives have been permanently altered. That being said, there are many immutable lessons that we have learned from the pandemic experience that can continue to inform our current and future ways of living and working. So, here are my 10 business lessons from (almost) three years of the COVID-19 pandemic:
- The office is overrated. Work is not a place you go to, it’s a thing you do: Many businesses and organizations have still not yet fully returned to their offices and operate a hybrid working model with their employees working remotely a few days a week. Some businesses like mine, Dotsavvy, are still remote even though we have an office. Others completely gave up their offices and have no intention of getting one in the future having opted for a full-time remote working model. How well you work though is a function of learning how to focus and block out distractions to get quality work done in a reasonable timeframe with acceptable quality from home or a remote location. There is also a very real risk of overworking when there is nowhere else to go or things to do from home.
- Nothing is immune to digital transformation: Digital transformation ended up being the only way some businesses and organizations could stay viable during the pandemic. Digital transformation is not changing what you do as a business but how you do it. Small restaurants signed up for home delivery services. Businesses added e-commerce services to their websites. Employees started working from home. All these are forms of digital transformation. Heck, even Kenya’s judicial system went online with court hearings being done via zoom – how crazy is that?! Digital transformation touches everything and during the pandemic, this accelerated massively across the board.
- Highly quality and always-on Internet access is a basic human right: In the new normal we live in, going online is something that many primarily did at the office or during their downtime at home. Many homes in Kenya did not have always-on home Internet access with many relying on data bundles and hotspotting to their phones or WIFI dongles. However, the pandemic changed everything as the Internet became front and center for living and working in the new digital normal. Thousands installed high-speed Internet connections at home for the first time as it was the only way they could operate, and continue to do so, for work, play, school, and everything in between. The Internet has quite literally become like oxygen in the context of the new normal.
- Virtual meetings on Zoom, Google Meet, and Microsoft teams will always be poor substitutes for face-to-face meetings: There are so many nuances and increased engagement levels that a virtual meeting can never replicate when we have in-person meetings. However, we learned during the pandemic to do what could not be done in any other way via virtual meetings. Don’t get me wrong as this was a lifeline for so many use cases in both work and personal contexts but the in-person meeting is still the best one for them all even though virtual meetings continue to be essential.
- Mental health, for the first time, became a high-priority matter in many organizations during the pandemic: Mental health is something that had been derided and stigmatized before the pandemic as a problem area for a limited number of people in society at large. However, the pandemic finally revealed, at scale, that mental health issues are very real for many of us as we started living and working from home, losing our jobs, and learning to operate in an entirely new and alien context. Human resource policies and procedures had to be created and updated to accommodate mental health considerations as remote workers increasingly struggled with the work-from-home model for an extended period and were isolated from in-person engagement with colleagues and their families.
- Businesses massively reduced investment on traditional marketing and doubled down on digital marketing: In many instances, they saw a much better return on investment during and beyond the pandemic from digital marketing but also opted to not return to the same spending levels they once had on traditional media channels altogether. As a result, businesses today are making more sales and growing their brands whilst spending less money on marketing across the board. This transition has obviously increased the demand for digital marketing services and digital media ad placements across the board to the detriment of traditional media channels that are struggling post-pandemic.
- Don’t move fast and break things. Pivot fast and save your business: The accelerated nature of digital transformation during the pandemic taught all business leaders an invaluable lesson – the art of the pivot. In a nutshell, pivoting, in silicon valley parlance, is when you change your business model to take advantage of a change in an industry or sector in-line with market trends. Pivoting can be the difference between closing shop, staying viable, or even thriving exponentially. We saw lots of businesses in Kenya do this to take advantage of the shifting landscape created by the pandemic. Businesses that had no e-commerce channels created them. Insurers created mobile apps to serve customers and partners digitally. Schools acquired school management systems to enable e-learning. Some businesses closed branches or shuttered certain products and services to become digital-only businesses. All of these are forms of pivoting.
- Not everything that mattered during the pandemic matters anymore: Digital platforms like Club House and Twitter Spaces spawned social audio, an entirely new category of social media during the pandemic, that has fast become almost irrelevant. Social audio really mattered during the pandemic as it became a proxy of sorts for in-person events, albeit only audio based. Social audio proved especially popular for in-between moments for those working from home. However, as the world has slowly returned to some form of pre-2020 normal, social audio has become somewhat staid, even if still relevant. Ultimately, we all would rather meet in person, apparently. It’s a human thing!
- We learned how to ‘hack’ time better, for work and life: One of the biggest offsets of the pandemic is that we all learned how to hack time. What I mean by hacking time is that we learned how to optimize time to get more things done in less time. This came in all sorts of shapes and forms. For instance, by not commuting to work and back every day and working from home instead we could get back as many as 4 hours of productive time in a day. This ‘productive’ time could be used for work or could be used for play or even learning. Time could also be carved out from previously mundane but necessary tasks like shopping at the supermarket when we realized, thanks to the pandemic, we could shop online for groceries and other essentials and use our ‘spare’ time to do other things. Humans have become incredibly adept at optimizing time for convenience because of the advent of the pandemic.
- Businesses learned to do more with less: If there is nothing else we learned during the pandemic from a business perspective is that we can always do more with less. Businesses had to scale down operations by reducing headcount and office sizes or locations. Businesses deployed technologies and digital platforms that meant one person could do the work of five. Businesses cut back on marketing spend and got smart about digital marketing. Businesses outsourced non-essential operations to third-party suppliers and partners. Basically, businesses learned how to make a shilling work like a cent during the trying times of the pandemic. This trend is accelerating too as every major global business today is bracing for an imminent global recession and cutting costs on all non-essential resources and activities.