There’s so much content around about COVID-19 currently that it’s getting hard to remember that we ever talked about, or read about, anything else. However, this isn’t another message to remind you all to wash your hands, or to get you spending more money in a panicked flurry – it’s a message to stimulate more thinking and to bring some hope.

This week, the operational reality for all businesses changed dramatically. Even those who are deemed “essential services” and are still operating are having to consider and reshape their processes and procedures to mitigate risks that didn’t even exist two months ago, and to keep their people safe. Many of us are having to work in new ways.

However, amidst the challenges that all of this brings, there are also incredible opportunities – and those are what I want to look at here. I’ve stayed quiet and avoided commentary on the current environment until now for a couple of reasons. One is that I believe we are reaching a fatigue point for information, as I alluded to earlier. The other is that I’m very conscious of not being opportunistic, not wanting to benefit from an awful situation that we wouldn’t ever wish for. However, I am an optimist, and I think it’s worth sharing the possibilities I can see too.

The world’s not going to look the same – well, at least I hope it won’t

We’ve never experienced a global event on this scale and with this level of impact, so it’s impossible to imagine that we will all come through this unchanged. People and businesses are being confronted by new constraints, new perspectives, and new realities. And while we don’t quite know what the new normal will look like yet, it’s unlikely that we’ll go back to the old normal. At least, I hope we won’t. We would be wasting an opportunity if we did.

We’re being forced to rapidly assess and change the way we do things. Where we might have had an idea before that we needed to adapt, we also had a head full of perceived and imagined barriers – reasons that we couldn’t, or why the proposed changes wouldn’t work. Now they are being forced upon us; will we go back? My hope is that we’ll see other methods work and we’ll venture further.

Now that many of us have saved the time we previously spent commuting, there is the chance to look forward and imagine how we’d like our world, our lives, and our businesses to look. It’s an opportunity for us to transform if we choose to.

Refining, reinventing and transforming

I often talk about the difference between refining and reinventing the way you do things, and true transformation. Where the former is effectively ‘putting lipstick on a pig’, transformation is about creating something sustainable and evolving.

Refining is about processes and procedures, which many of us are being forced to look at now – from remote working, to contactless deliveries, to distance learning for school kids. Reinventing takes this a step further with a look at how a business might deliver its products or services – as in training providers switching to online offerings, or one-on-one consulting adopting a one-to-many approach – or the development of new products or services to meet an emerging customer need. Reinvention tends to be a once-off event, whereas transformation keeps an eye constantly to the opportunities and consists of continual reinvention.

The other point I make is that whether or not a business reaps the benefits of true transformation (whether that comes via technology or otherwise) comes down to mindset and culture. The same applies to transformation right now. We can approach this time with a transformational mindset – taking the opportunities and imagining a completely different way of being after this experience – or we can wait for ‘normal life’ to recommence and fall back into ‘business as usual’. It’s the difference between coming back to work after this lockdown and working to put better business continuity plan (BCP) measures in place, versus reimagining your organisation, rethinking your operational models or working towards ways that you could make your part of the world better. 

However we make the most of this time, I can’t help but think about what I believe is one of the core purposes of a digital workforce; freeing up people to do the special, empathetic, creative and complex work that only humans can do. More than ever now, it’s time for humans to show their magic. I hope we will see empathy, creativity – and compassion – in spades!

Remember, great ideas are often stimulated by dialogue, so please don’t hesitate to post a comment or some feedback. I’d love to see your ideas about the opportunities at this time.