We all knew the modern workplace would eventually go fully digital. Before 2021, remote work was already becoming commonplace. With the continued growth of the gig economy and a growing population of freelancers and independent contractors, businesses were slowly embracing distributed work.
Slowly seeing the myriad competitive advantages it could give them:
- Job satisfaction. In its 2019 State of Remote Work Report, videoconferencing agency Owl Labs found that full-time remote workers are both more satisfied with their jobs and more loyal to their employers.
- Productivity. As noted in a blog post from staff monitoring solutions provider Hubstaff, remote teams perform better and remote workers are more productive than they would be if they were stuck in the office.
- Talent acquisition. By laying the necessary foundations to support remote staff, businesses can draw on a far larger pool of potential hires when looking to fill a position. They’re no longer limited to local workers or people who are willing to relocate.
- Lower operating costs. A distributed workforce means you can spend less on office space, supplies, and utilities, while also having a lower environmental impact. Some businesses are even going fully remote and ditching the office altogether.
The case for distributed work is compelling. And had we continued along our current path, there is little doubt in my mind that we would have witnessed a slow, inevitable transition away from old-school offices and the traditional nine-to-five. Unfortunately, COVID-19 had other ideas.
Instead of gradually laying the necessary groundwork for digital transformation, businesses all around the world were thrown into the deep end. At that point, it was either sink or swim. They could either scramble to adapt, or shut their doors and hope they had the operating capital to make it through the pandemic.
Per analyst McKinsey Research, COVID-19 caused a quantum leap in digital adoption. Digital journeys that should have taken years instead happened in weeks or months. For a time, we were all thrown into chaos, desperately trying to keep in touch with clients and colleagues while protecting corporate assets.
It’s been almost a year since lockdowns began. And in that time, something curious has happened. Businesses that successfully made the leap to digital found that, in spite of the initial growing pains, the shift was largely a positive one.
It isn’t just the workplace itself the pandemic has disrupted, however. Everything about us has changed, from the way we work to the way we consume content to the way we connect with friends, family, and colleagues. And that, in turn, has fundamentally changed how we interact with and relate to brands:
- No time for games. We don’t have the mental energy to deal with aggressive sales tactics, nor do we have the patience to read through several pages of copy. Your focus needs to be on treating your customers like human beings and empathizing with what they’re going through.
- Social good above all. COVID-19 wasn’t the only crisis in 2020, which saw countless businesses, brands, and celebrities showing a very ugly side of themselves. You need to distance your brand from that sort of behavior and show that you care about something more than your bottom line.
- Connecting through digital. In-person marketing is on the way out. The best way to reach your audience now is through the web. Figure out the social networks your target demographic frequents, and direct your efforts there.
The way we work. The way we play. The way we live.
None of these will ever be the same, but that isn’t necessarily a bad thing. Digital transformation and distributed work was always the future. It just came early because of COVID.
And now that it’s here, the best thing we can do is embrace it.
The original version of this article was first published on Future of Work.