The pandemic has forced companies to work differently. Here are 5 ways leaders can extend those innovations to create a new work paradigm.
In mid-March 2020, my house suddenly transformed into Grand Central Station.
All 12,000 ServiceNow employees had left our offices and started working from home, and my days became a parade of colleagues on Zoom, cats on keyboards, newborn cuddle cameos, and even the occasional quiet of someone’s closet.
If you’d asked me then whether I thought innovation would slow down or speed up over the coming months, I would’ve bet on the slow side. Back then, the idea of pivoting so quickly and thoroughly to meet the unknown challenges posed by a global pandemic seemed unlikely.
The good news is, I would have been wrong! Especially as it pertains to large enterprises with more than 500 employees that already have digital infrastructures in place. (Sadly, smaller businesses and industries like entertainment and travel continue to struggle.) Still, according to The Work Survey, a comprehensive global study by ServiceNow of COVID-19’s impact on work and the opportunities ahead, the pandemic has sparked new forms of innovation in organizations everywhere.
Say goodbye to the old normal
COVID-19 has forced radical change in how enterprise-sized companies operate and go to market. That’s what happens when the alternative to innovation is going out of business. In fact, The Work Survey found 92% of executives say the pandemic made their company rethink how they work.
According to 87% of employees surveyed, those new ways of working are an improvement. The benefits they cite include time savings, better work-life balance, greater flexibility, and better use of technology.
Still, 47% of executives would prefer to go back to the old ways of doing things.
Here’s the hard truth: The 20th century, office-based business model is over. That includes how we work. The future of work is longer “remote” versus “return”—it’s an entirely new way of working, one where digital workflows support work at home, in physical offices, and anywhere else your employees happen to be.
5 principles of innovation
What does that mean for business leaders who want to stay at the forefront of innovation and be ready for whatever comes next? I suggest focusing on these five principles to ensure your company is set up to thrive no matter what crises may arise.
1. Put people first
I can’t stress it enough: You must put people first if you want to build a successful, enduring business. Recruiting and retaining top talent is always critical for business continuity, especially when you can’t bring folks together in one place.
Listen to your people and know they are likely experiencing the challenges and benefits of remote work differently. I’m especially focused on the disproportionate toll that women are bearing as a result of trying to balance care for families with commitment to work.
The Work Survey found that executives are most worried about delays in product or service delivery (54%) while employees are most concerned about reduced collaboration across business units (48%).
I understand both perspectives. ServiceNow wouldn’t stay in business long if we didn’t continually evolve our products. Yet endless video calls can feel like the opposite of innovation. Find ways to empathize with and support both ends of the spectrum.
2. Focus on safety
Employee safety should be at the heart of any future workforce plan. So it’s alarming that 60% of employees in The Work Survey believe their company will prioritize business continuity over workplace safety. Stunningly, 44% of executives believe this as well!
Reassure your employees that their safety is your priority and then make that reassurance a reality. For tips on where to start, check out our Guide to Going Back ebook and this Returning to the Workplace guide.
3. Digitize offline workflows
Digital transformation was important pre-COVID; it’s now a business imperative. And while our survey showed COVID accelerated digital transformation across enterprises around the world, there is plenty of runway left.
Months into working from home, 60% of executives and 59% of employees surveyed say their companies still don’t have a fully integrated system to manage digital workflows. And 91% of executives admit they still have offline workflows, including seemingly simple document approvals (51%) and more complex IT workflows such as security incident reports (45%) and technology support requests or processing (42%).
It’s time to leave behind the tech drag of 20th century software for a fully integrated workflow platform that connects people and processes across your organization.
4. Prioritize digital transformation investments
According to The Work Survey, the pandemic will likely reduce operating expenses for 88% of businesses surveyed, freeing up resources for innovation, resilience, recovery, and growth.
Business travel, in-person events, and other operating expenses may be temporarily on hold. But the distributed way of working and serving customers will remain even when the pandemic is behind us. If you’re in the majority of businesses that have found cost savings during COVID, reinvest them into the digital infrastructure and processes that help create new business models and create great digital experiences for employees and customers.
5. Eliminate silos
Even though COVID allowed for an environment of innovation to happen, repeatable success is not guaranteed. Survey respondents had little confidence that departments in their organization beyond IT could adapt and implement new workflows within 30 days of another major business disruption.
It’s fair to say that IT leads because of its familiarity with digital systems and relative ease of automation. But if you’re in customer service, HR, finance, or sales and marketing, you don’t have to get left behind just because you can’t code. Reach out to your IT team and other digitally advanced peers and figure out how to adapt their operating models for your functional needs.
One day the pandemic will be behind us. You can prepare for that day by applying the lessons of COVID-19 to build a digitally transformed organization that can thrive in any weather.