What if customer needs, employee work environments, and the economy all dramatically changed within a month’s time? It happened this spring, of course, and no business was spared. In spite of that, our outlook should not be one of gloom and doom. To weather the storm and plan for recovery, organizations will have to innovate and adapt at a rapid pace, skills that have become part of U.S. business culture.
The massive change and disruption brought on by the Fourth Industrial Revolution better prepared many businesses for a time such as this. For example, advancements in and adoption of Artificial Intelligence (AI) fueled a period of innovation projected to have significant changes on the workforce. According to the World Economic Forum, automation will displace 75 million jobs but generate 133 million new ones worldwide by 2022.
Responding to the disruption caused by the coronavirus is certainly more difficult than responding to the digital disruption caused by swiftly advancing technologies; nevertheless, the tools and skills needed to survive the turmoil caused by this pandemic will likely be the same. Long term, the ability to quickly transform and adjust will have a positive effect on organizations by increasing their agility and resilience, thereby enabling them to better respond to shifts in customer, economic, and regulatory changes. We can look to two important business topics for signs of a bright future when we get through this – and we will.
Future of Work
The Future of Work is the study of the impact of socioeconomic trends on how we work and live. These trends include, but are not limited to, changing workforce demographics, education, digitalization, and human rights.
Remote work is one facet of the Future of Work getting attention due to the huge increase in people working from home as a result of COVID-19. Remote work more broadly refers to working outside of a company’s primary locations and the move to a more remote workforce was a growing trend before this pandemic. Shared services, customer contact centers, the gig economy, cloud computing, and the financial benefits of embracing a work-from-home culture will continue to contribute to an increase in work time outside of traditional offices.
While getting less attention, online or e-learning is equally important for its potential to positively impact business and society. The speed of technological advancement and changes in workforce demographics make e-learning an integral part of our future. This pandemic forced schools, colleges and businesses to increase the use of e-learning tools like video. Research tells us that 98% of educators believe video-based learning is an important part of personalized education, which is why usage is becoming more common. Technologies like chatbots and AI are not as common, but we will see increased usage to improve the speed and quality of learning while reducing educator’s administrative work. These tools can contribute to lowering the cost of higher education, allowing more to attend college, which in turn increases the acquisition of STEM skills, improves diversity and inclusion, and reduces income inequality. By increasing both the number of people enrolled in higher education and the percentage of the workforce with advanced education, the U.S. economy becomes stronger and more innovative.
While educational institutions and their students will clearly benefit from e-learning, it is equally important to businesses. Lower costs, an increase in employee retention, and more scalable and consistent training programs are a few of the benefits companies are seeing from investments in e-learning. COVID-19 has certainly given e-learning a boost. LinkedIn Learning reported a 46% increase in online learning from February to March, but it is the need to upskill or reskill workers that makes e-learning important to the success of many companies. Upskilling is needed when new skills are required for the same job function, and every industry has some job function needing new skills. Reskilling refers to learning new skills for a different job function and is important to create opportunities for internal advancement, which improves retention of top talent.
E-learning will also play an important role as we begin to open up the economy and companies get back to work. There will likely be new policies around hiring, onboarding, health benefits, social distancing and the use of remote work tools that will require trainers and human resources to quickly educate their workers. Those involved in training can take advantage of new developments in e-learning including gamification, AI, and microlearning that can be delivered through a growing number of mobile apps.
The list of reasons behind the growing importance of online learning is substantial but it is our next business topic that is perhaps the largest driver.
At times an overused buzzword used to describe everything from machine learning to robotic process automation (RPA) to document scanning, digital transformation is the continuous rethinking of how organizations use technology to create new revenue opportunities and business models as well as respond to changes in markets and society. When we think of it this way, digital transformation is a journey companies have been on for years. Since every business depends on technology in one way or another it is not a buzzword; it is a business requirement. COVID-19 forced an unbelievably fast pivot for society, customer behavior and our economy — a true test of business dexterity. We can see many examples of digital transformation in response to these forced changes: a virtual NFL draft, Universal Studios releasing new movies through streaming services, and cashier-less grocery shopping using our smartphones to scan barcodes.
However, the one industry where digital transformation was slow is now becoming a leader — healthcare. The best and brightest minds in every nation are trying to develop a vaccine faster than ever before — and one of them will be successful. To restart our economy and reduce the COVID-19 spread, reliable testing and tracing will be required. Using AI and advanced analytics, Canadian company BlueDot issued warnings about a virus on December 30, 2019, and also developed models showing where outbreaks would begin. There are also several examples of advancements in digital health in the U.S., showing digital transformation is critical in healthcare.
- Telemedicine and telehealth usage has increased significantly. There remain some legislative and regulatory hurdles to overcome but we can expect it to become mainstream and continue to improve.
- One of the largest healthcare systems in the U.S. uses a chatbot to assess Covid-19 patient risk and quickly provide answers to questions.
- Several states are working with an AI software company to improve and manage contact tracing.
- Self-care or self-service in healthcare is starting to expand; we can now do things like check our EKG at home, and accurate, self-administered COVID-19 antibody tests are in the works.
Digital transformation of our healthcare systems holds the potential to save thousands of lives now and in the future while improving access to quality healthcare regardless of income or location. Innovations in telemedicine and self-care are particularly important as the number of rural hospital closures is likely to increase due to financial strain.
Adjusting to a “new norm” is inevitable, although what that means and for how long is uncertain. Returning to the way things were may not be realistic, but COVID-19 has exposed many flaws in “the way things were.” I remain optimistic the new norm can be better for both business and society if we continue to innovate and adapt with the needs of all humankind in mind, while maintaining the spirit of giving back and helping one another.
BJ provides organizations with temporary and on-demand business transformation and information management services. He has been a senior business leader for over 25 years, developing and implementing go-to-market strategies designed to increase revenue, improve productivity and advance the customer experience. His extensive experience in business process reengineering, compliance and security enables organizations to improve their agility while reducing their risk profiles.