Reflecting on IBM’s Report about COVID-19 and The Future of Business

A friend of mine recently shared with me a study conducted by IBM’s Institute for Business Value. Given my experience and our collective experiences in 2020, a year where we were pushed to the limits by the global health crisis which accelerated our need to find new ways to work remotely in the middle of chaos.            

The unparalleled uncertainty in the past year has forced leaders to adapt to new initiatives and ideas that altered the very foundation of their businesses. 

What IBM noted throughout the report was that, even with all the reshaping of behavioral and strategic patterns, the fundamentals of conducting business are still at the core of sustainability and survivability. 

Before COVID-19, executives were already developing ideas about adapting for the next chapter of their business’s life. Throughout the pandemic, where a massive shift to remote work was essential, that issue became even more pressing. We see that to stay relevant and to stay alive, adaptability is now mandatory. If businesses are not willing or able to change quickly, that business will cease to exist. 

While the adaptability has proven beneficial to companies because they can cut their overhead down and utilize existing technology to its fullest potential, this change also brings about a whole new set of challenges. 

First, we are going to need to find a way to maximize the potential of human capital. Automation is essential in today’s world, but that does not mean that we have the luxury to sacrifice our focus on issues regarding employee satisfaction, and the way businesses connect with customers.  

It is not enough to provide safe and flexible work environments for employees. Executives must find ways to harness the science of persuasion to create an effective work environment and a strong team. While we were able to convene, inspire and rally large teams in person, whether on a global tour of locations, or in annual sales meetings and industry conventions, we are now finding creative new ways to keep teams together and motivated. 

To do this, management teams need to stop viewing the situation from the top-down and get on the ground floor to find out where employees are feeling disconnected, the IBV report confirmed through interviews with hundreds of leaders.  

They should start by asking honest questions about ways to make working in the new environment more hospitable. Instead of discussing automation to streamline inefficiencies, management should talk about how new systems will create a seamless symbiosis that will make employee life less stressful. 

When it comes to customer experience, leaders need to realize that even though technology is efficient and cheaper than hiring and training people, it alone is not the answer to all problems. The fact is, people need to interact with other people, no matter what other assistance they have. More importantly, especially during times of uncertainty, people want to interact with other people. Without good customer experience, there is no way to drive performance and growth on a large scale. 

As leaders, it is our job to find a way to merge the incredible value of technological capabilities with the strength of a competent and motivated group of people. 

Another interesting point that was raised in the report was the importance of teamwork. Businesses, like people, need each other to survive now more than ever. Good companies have seen themselves finding more ways to work together to solve problems, keeping people close and connected, guided by emerging new visions, inspired by the opportunity to disrupt through innovation, and win through dedication.   

One of the problems that has become a big concern for businesses going forward is that of sustainability. With COVID-19, we have seen a greater enthusiasm towards sustainability but also a greater use of unsustainable products for safety purposes. Going forward it will be important to design products that can protect us and protect the planet.   

Looking at a Post-COVID world, the major takeaways revealed in the IBV report included: 

1.      Businesses need to be faster at adapting to changing environments.  

2.      Executives need to focus how to create symbiosis between employees and new technology.  

3.      Customers must know with absolute certainty that they are valued and taken care of to maximize growth. 

4.      Businesses need to compete with one another and work together to survive. 

5.      Companies must provide sustainable solutions to modern problems. 

If companies and executives can capitalize on these issues going into the world after COVID-19, they are destined to thrive. As my friend shared this report with me, I’m inspired to now share it with you as we continue to identify problems to solve, to challenge the status quo, to disrupt, to build, and to continue to win.  

You can download the IBM Covid-19 and the Future of Business report here.