In these uncertain times, a lot has been written concerning ‘the new normal’, specifically regarding the topic of working from home. Businesses are rethinking the way that they engage with both colleagues and customers, developing new methodologies to remain productive and profitable.
Among some companies, there is still the feeling that remote working is a poor relation to face-to-face interactions, that once the current situation subsides efforts will be focused on returning to business as usual. More forward-looking businesses are seeing the silver-lining, noting distinct benefits from remote working.
But by focusing solely upon this one issue, maybe we’re missing the bigger picture? Remote working is certainly part of ‘the new normal’, but it’s not the whole story…
Take a step back
If ‘the new normal’ means anything it’s this: that in the business world of 2020 the only constant is change. Yes, the scale of the current challenge is unprecedented (at least in Europe in the last hundred years), but it’s only one of many that companies are facing – and will continue to face. Change itself – and the speed of that change – is the new normal. Technological disruptors, AI, automation, and rapidly evolving buying patterns are changing the nature and future of the workforce faster than ever. In the same way that data usage increases at an exponential rate, year on year, so the speed of technological advance forces us to constantly reassess our techniques and skills at shorter and shorter intervals.
If the current situation has done anything, it is to force us to confront the issue head-on – to realize that if we’re not equipped to pivot, adapting techniques at the same speed as the market evolves, then we won’t remain competitive for long.
We are in the middle of perhaps the largest unplanned social experiment of our time – we’ve been forced into changing our work practices by necessity, not choice, but the companies that will thrive going forward are those that assess their situation now and change their processes accordingly. Two surveys conducted jointly by eConsultancy and Marketing Week (the first on 16th March, the second on 31st March) came to some interesting conclusions:
In the first survey, less than 59% of those working in large enterprises had changed policies relating to remote working, travel, or bonuses. The second survey showed that figure leap to 95%. Companies are adapting – fast – and the disruptive effects of remote working are slowly diminishing:
- Survey 1 – productivity affected by travel restrictions/new processes – 60%
- Survey 2 – productivity affected by travel restrictions/new processes – 58%
- Survey 1 – level of absenteeism in enterprises – 21%
- Survey 2 – level of absenteeism in enterprises – 13%
Even more significant is the way that enterprises are monitoring their own processes and learning from the enforced change in working practice. 73% have noticed new ways of working with 44% observing specific processes, both of which they might use post-outbreak.
More than 76% reported innovations that they would deploy going forward, whether in marketing messaging or branding (30%), customer communications (24%), or product or service departments (22%).
The bigger picture
Yes, the above figures refer mainly to remote working, but the more interesting take-away concerns adaptability. Flexibility is a state of mind as much as anything else – companies that can cope with the challenges of adapting to remote working, are also those that can adapt to other, unforeseen situations. The key to success for companies moving forward is to be able to quickly pivot, to accept that the unexpected is part of business life and have the potential to retrain and retask their workforce to deal with any new reality.
In the world of sales, this specifically means adopting new skills. Virtual selling, social selling, and familiarisation with the technologies that can empower personal relationships (when you can’t be there in person) are critical when it comes to maintaining client relationships and developing new prospects. These are skills that are especially applicable in the current situation, but it goes beyond that. As we move to an ever more digital, online existence and as we reassess how often we need to (or should) meet in person, these skills will become of primary rather than secondary importance.
Training = the right tools for the job
Salespeople, by definition, are pretty flexible, used to thinking on their feet and adapting to changes in circumstances to get the very most from a client relationship, but they still need to be given the best tools to get the job done. Training is going to be key – but for training to be successful, it will need to adapt as quickly to the changes in the sales environment. It’s going to need to be flexible, agile, and relevant, with scenarios and skills that meet the specific demands of the market, demands that might change week by week.
It also needs to be delivered in a way that can cope with changes in the trainees’ situation (if, for example, they need to learn from home…), presented in a mobile, modular format that can flow around the recipient’s workload.
It also needs to be engaging – the workforce has to want to learn and develop. This can only be done if they can see a real-world, tangible benefit to their productivity – and their sales figures at the end of the day.
It’s still too early to predict all of the consequences of our current situation, or be certain which of the processes that we use to maintain business momentum will prove to be the most useful, but one thing is certain. The businesses that survive or thrive will be those that demonstrate flexibility, innovative thinking, and show a willingness to embrace the new, while empowering their workforce to do the same.
Remote working, for example, should be seen as an opportunity to review best practice – to rethink how we communicate, how we sell, and the effect of our policies and actions on both our colleagues and broader society. Most companies have a sustainable travel policy, for example, but the current situation has made us question how much we really need to commute to work – and how many of our business trips (though often socially enjoyable) are truly necessary?
The facts and figures regarding the economic downturn might make depressing reading, but the companies who will thrive are those that embrace the new reality and take positive steps to deal not just with the present situation but to learn from it.
By learning, by adapting processes, and by giving training that responds to the demands for new skills – quickly and flexibly – we’ll emerge healthier and more efficient, with a well supported, engaged, and skilled workforce.