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How COVID-19 Will Change Business Operations in 2021

With more than 52 million cases around the globe and 10+ million in the United States, COVID-19 has swept the planet, wreaking havoc along the way.

Image by Engin Akyurt from Pixabay

Tens of millions of Americans have filed for unemployment in recent weeks as businesses of all types and sizes struggle in the aftermath.

Recent research shows that approximately 73 percent of employees are scared about going back to work in the physical workspace, citing concerns about being at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19.

COVID has arguably been the biggest disruptor we’ve seen in our lifetimes, changing everything from the way we interact to the way we work. Even as public health officials scramble to contain the pandemic, businesses are beginning to look toward shifting from reacting to recovering. How it’s all going to ultimately play out remains to be seen but there are several ways that we know the pandemic will certainly alter the landscape, affecting business operations in these four ways in 2021 and possibly beyond.

Supply Chain Disruption

COVID forced major changes for businesses and consumers alike. In turn, that’s had a trickle-down effect throughout the entire supply chain. An estimated 94 percent of Fortune 1000 companies are coping with this issue. Supply chain disruption is causing negative impacts for roughly 75 percent of companies.

Is the pandemic a black swan event that forces companies to rethink their global supply chain strategies? The challenges are complex. In part, some of the disruptions have been caused by lockdowns. Others are the result of talent gaps and increasing costs of supply chain operations.

Businesses are under pressure, suppliers are too. Mapping your supply chain can help business operations professionals better understand how their supply chain works. Lining up alternative supply sources can help businesses cope with delays and shortages. Additionally, it will be essential to keep a close eye on product quality, which can suffer during times of scarcity.

Reopening Delays Abound

Roughly 50 percent of the businesses that closed their doors during COVID aren’t expected to reopen at all. For others, the timeline for reopening keeps getting pushed back. In the early days of COVID, many businesses began planning to reopen physical workplaces by mid to late summer of 2020. As the pandemic continued its destructive path, that timeline largely got pushed to early 2021. And now big businesses like Microsoft, Google, and Ford have delayed reopening until July 2021.

Recent research shows that approximately 73 percent of employees are scared about going back to work in the physical workspace, citing concerns about being at an increased risk of contracting COVID-19. In the meantime, operations managers are making the best possible decisions based on the latest information. That often means readjusting plans on the fly and re-strategizing.

Remote Work Sticks Around

This has been a long time coming. The practice grew by more than 150 percent between 2005 and 2017. Before COVID, more than 50 percent of workers in the U.S. worked remotely at least one day per week. After the pandemic, that number increased to 66 percent, with 44 percent of employees working remotely five days or more weekly according to data from Statista.

Given the challenges of bringing employees back to the physical workplace and the worries surrounding potential COVID infections, it's not surprising that remote work is set to continue flourishing. Although the number of remote workers will likely shift and decrease as offices open, the number of remote workers will likely end up somewhere around 300 percent of pre-COVID levels according to Forrester's predictions. In all likelihood, workers will probably begin splitting their time between working from home and working in the corporate office or gathering in some form for events like meetings and conferences.

Digitization Becomes Priority #1

Before COVID, around 15 percent of businesses made digital transformation a priority. In 2021, every company plans to integrate technology into their operations according to Forrester. And it may just be the key to successfully navigating the way forward.

By all accounts, post-pandemic recovery is rooted in embracing digital. This was already a trend before COVID but the pandemic has accelerated and emphasized the need for digitization. Businesses that already did so — and those that were able to quickly complete their digital transformation — are among those more successful in weathering the challenges of COVID. It allows a nearly seamless transition to remote work.

For businesses large and small, the mantra “digitize to survive” has been a driving force. It’s a key element in supporting resiliency, allowing businesses to remain productive even during times of crisis. From automation to reduce touchpoints in farms and factories to cloud-based applications that facilitate remote work to advancements in healthcare that allow virtual visits and remote monitoring, digitization can (and will) be implemented in a wide swath of industries.

Recovery will remain slow for a while, but the experts at McKinsey & Company are hopeful that growth will start on an upward trajectory beginning in the first quarter of 2021. What that will look like remains to be seen, but preparing now to add agility and resiliency to the business model can help business operations begin the journey.


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