As the Covid crisis pummels the global economy, it’s becoming clear that there’s no going back to our previous sense of “normal.” We are collectively facing one of the most volatile and significant socio-economic challenges since the Great Depression. Yet, amid radical uncertainty, great companies have a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to fundamentally re-shape industry paradigms.
This, says Lara Caimi, ServiceNow’s chief strategy officer, is the hallmark of iconic companies.
“Covid has been the ultimate change agent,” she says. “Companies that face this adversity head-on with courage, conviction and creativity will set the benchmark for modern business and become enduringly successful.”
In the short-term, most leaders are focused on “winning the immediate battle”—sustaining productivity (e.g. via remote working and return-to-office initiatives) while keeping their employees safe. But the longer-term implications require disciplined planning, decisions and actions today. “This is an opportunity to create tectonic shifts—the kind of change that one could only have dreamed about doing over a multi-year period in the past,” Caimi says.
For leaders struggling to find signs of hope and capitalize on the opportunities afforded by the ongoing crisis, Caimi offers four pieces of actionable advice:
1. Transform Crisis Into Opportunity
Whether it’s killing sacred cows or throwing out dusty traditions, when it comes to making major decisions in the current crisis, everything is on the table. The time is right to question, and possibly evolve, your organization’s assumptions, practices and policies.
“It’s a unique opportunity to rethink business models, to rethink your cost position, to rethink how you interact with your customers and employees,” says Caimi. “The moment is now because fundamental principles of work are in flux, and there is higher capacity in organizations to absorb changes.”
Take, for example, long-held assumptions about the workplace.
“Overnight, we have upended the paradigm about how and where we work and build culture,” says Caimi. “Now, suddenly, we’re all remote and our employees need different equipment, platforms and workflows but remain incredibly productive. We are realizing that the workplace of the future cannot be one-size-fits-all—choice is the new work perk, and employees will decide when, where and how they want to work and remain productive”
2. Put Your People First
Your employees need you. Amid this disruption, guide and reassure them by acting from a place of care and compassion, Caimi urges. Most importantly, prioritize communication. Do not let physical distancing constraints stop you from engaging deeply with your teams. Her advice for leaders: Listen, connect and empathize.
“Within my own teams, I have found that we share our full selves frequently and transparently. And it’s been a blessing,” she says. “It’s brought us closer together more than ever before, as our personal and work lives have blended and built a rock-solid foundation of trust.”
3. Be In The Trenches With Customers
Customers need your support now more than ever, says Caimi—understand their most pressing problems, firefight with them and help them deliver value in these trying times.
“Our teams are deep in the trenches with customers as they solve complex, global problems. It’s rewarding and energizing to be a part of remarkable leadership being demonstrated by our customers—whether it’s helping schools quickly pivot to remote teaching or [helping departments of health] operationalize their Covid-19 emergency response.”
4. Plan To Come Out Stronger
Leaders must position their organizations to be ready to emerge from crisis stronger and better, says Caimi. In an era of deep uncertainty, planning and preparedness will be key to ensuring business resilience.
Among Caimi’s recommendations: “Build data-driven, actionable P&L scenarios that cover a wide range of possible futures. Actively scrutinize sales pipelines for both risks and opportunities. Create tactical playbooks to execute on scenarios quickly and cohesively—including M&A and strategic talent acquisition. Execute ‘no regrets’ spend reductions to increase flexibility and build toward long-term cost improvement.”
So How Do We Rethink The Future of Work? cross nearly every sector around the world, Covid is changing what the modern workplace looks like. For leaders ready to embrace these unexpected opportunities, Caimi offers these takeaways:
- Prepare for a “work from anywhere” future
One day, the pandemic will end and workplaces will reopen. But work will be different. Agile, distributed, “anywhere, anytime” workplaces will become the norm rather than the exception. “For many industries, there will be no ‘work from home’. There will be just ‘work,’” says Caimi. “An employee’s office will be wherever they need it to be.”
In this next normal, employee effectiveness and productivity will hinge on the simplicity and quality of digital tools offered by employers. Managing complex workflows digitally will be critical to providing employees the services and experiences needed to do their jobs seamlessly and efficiently. Consumer-grade employee experiences in the enterprise will become critical differentiators.
“Organizations will work together in new ways,” says Caimi. “For example, I foresee HR, IT, facilities and security leaders collaborating much more to drive a unified digital experience for their workforce. These functions may even merge into employee experience teams led by a chief experience officer.”
Of course, there will not be a consistent digital, mobile experience across industries and geographies. The digital infrastructure needed to keep employees safe and productive in an office building is different from that of an oil rig, a factory or a hospital. As a result, verticalized AI and mobile capabilities will become even more important for field and line workers.
- Expect Talent Wars Go Global
Caimi predicts that the intense war for talent will continue, but talent pools will be wider. As organizations become more amenable to more remote workers, geography will no longer be a barrier to hiring the best possible and highly specialized talent.
However, as leaders build globally distributed workforces, it will be critical to invest proactively to enable seamless collaboration across boundaries, while maintaining diverse, localized perspectives. HR and recruiting engines will need to rethink their strategies and broaden their apertures for hiring, onboarding, and retaining global talent.
- Emphasize Equity Of Opportunity
The future of work and diversity are inextricably linked, says Caimi, and leaders are recognizing that they have a pivotal opportunity and responsibility to unlock diversity and inclusion at all levels of their organizations. Some, too, realize that technology can be a powerful accelerator for that change. Through investment and action, companies can take sustainable, positive strides toward ending racial injustice and discrimination in the workplace. Workforce training, pay equity, equitable recruiting and career advancement—all enabled through simple, accessible digital tools—are key to developing a just, sustainable, enduring company.
The benefits of diversity extend into the search for talent, as well, says Caimi. “Equity of opportunity can be a competitive differentiator when it comes to hiring the best people.”
In challenging times, it’s natural for people and organizations to focus on survival, says Caimi. But leadership is about learning from adversity and looking ahead.
“Leaders who can see past this crisis will be faster to develop solutions that address new customer pain points. They’ll be faster to adjust operating models to respond to changing business conditions. They will be able to harness the full potential of their employees,” she says. “And they will emerge as the generation-defining companies of this new era.”