The new strategies that companies are introducing will not bring life back to normal, according to business leaders and experts. Instead, they say the crisis could permanently change the way we work, shop and manage our businesses.
“This is the new standard,” said Alain Benichou, CEO of IBM China. “There are many alarm clocks that we are currently working on.”
Here’s a look at how the future of the business has changed – and how China is giving us insight.
Our way of working
For Despina Katsikakis, the average workplace is already starting to be very different.
In China, the company has already contributed to the return of more than one million workers to offices. According to Katsikakis, the crisis has accelerated the future of work by almost a decade.
The firm hopes to capitalize on this shift, starting with a visual guide for its customers called the “Six Feet Office”. The concept, a “living laboratory” in Cushman & Wakefield’s Amsterdam office, was based on its take-out from China and other feedback from workers and customers around the world.
“This is a prototype that basically is there to get people to think about solutions, how to put social distancing at stake, prepare the building properly and really get people to behave differently, “said Katsikakis.
Workers are asked to walk “one way” – clockwise – throughout the office, to avoid crossing paths and spreading more germs. Katsikakis said the advice was based on consultations with health care experts, who shared how doctors navigate hospitals.
One of the biggest takeaways that the firm has won from China, she said, is that “we have to make sure we trust that we are going back to a healthy environment”.
Over the next few years, she plans to use sensors to replace most of the shared surfaces we used to touch. Instead of swiping your entry card to get inside, for example, you could face a facial recognition camera or display a QR code on your phone.
Since the unveiling of the “Six Feet Office” prototype, the company has been inundated with requests every day – if not “every hour”, joked the partner. “We have done daily briefings with some of our biggest clients in the world to help them and their real estate teams see how they can take these ideas and how we can co-create with them.”
Although the concept requires more space, that doesn’t necessarily mean that having an office will be more expensive. If there is one thing the situation has shown, it is that remote working is effective – and largely here to stay, said Katsikakis. This means that fewer people will use the same space as before the pandemic.
The way we communicate at work has also changed. The increase in demand for enterprise software, such as Microsoft Teams, is “unprecedented,” said Jared Spataro, vice president of Microsoft 365.
He said Thursday that the messaging and video conferencing program now has 75 million daily users, up 70% from last month.
“We have a time machine as countries like China and South Korea return to work and school, and the use of teams continues to grow,” Spataro told CNN Business.
Our way of shopping
In some ways, now is the time for brands to recruit new customers and build lasting relationships, said Deborah Weinswig, CEO of Coresight Research, a consulting and research company specializing in retail and technology.
As millions of people take refuge in their homes, they are forced to create new routines and new lifestyles, she noted.
“They always say it takes 21 days to change a habit,” said Weinswig. “We are changing our buying habits, and some of them will be quite sticky.”
Nike, for example, rotated so well that it “could change the curve [it’s] for many years to come, “she said. (Coresight previously worked on research projects for Nike.)
As the company promoted online shopping before the outbreak, Weinswig said business has “really picked up” in recent months. The sportswear giant posted solid profits in March, in part because it quickly accelerated its online business in China. Digital sales in Greater China increased more than 30% in the last quarter, while weekly active users for its business applications soared 80%, CEO John Donahoe told investors.
The company’s flagship application was crucial to its success. The platform was launched in China during this period and encouraged users to train at home through a virtual “training club,” according to Coresight. Weinswig noted that the app was free, which was “essential” for users.
The company has also launched more products online, including limited edition sneakers such as Air Jordans.
Speed was also crucial. Nike competes in an overcrowded space, but it was one of the first brands to turn to customers staying at home, Weinswig noted.
“They were very early on to adapt,” she said.
The way we manage our supply chains
The pandemic could also force a reinvention of the global supply chain.
But in recent months, “shortages of critical raw materials and supplies, as well as the specter of increased worker absenteeism, have exposed the underlying risks,” he noted.
This forces companies to rethink the way they ship or send their goods.
“The things we used to take for granted no longer exist,” said William Ma, managing director of Kerry Logistics, a Hong Kong-based company that helps companies around the world manage their supply chains.
“Right now, we can see all of these disruptions in almost every segment of freight transportation to and from China. Or entering Europe – I can’t get the truck to cross the border.”
Before the epidemic, companies expected outages of “days,” Ma added. Now they’re looking at “weeks.”
IBM hopes to save the day. Tech giant offering AI-based supply chain management says it has seen “significant” increase in demand as more and more customers are looking for predictive modeling against the next crisis. The company refused to share specific figures.
The pandemic has been a “wake-up call” for many companies, said Benichou, general manager of IBM China.
“What we want [do] is clearly helping with the problems we discovered with the Covid-19. Optimization of the supply chain, we just discovered, so we have to deal with that. “
“I think it will continue,” he said.
The epidemic also revealed cracks in the supply chain that most companies weren’t even aware of, according to IBM researchers.
At the same time, it may be too early for companies to tackle this problem, said Ma.
He noted that rebuilding supply chains takes a lot of time and capital – two things most businesses are currently missing.
“Cash growth is more important to them. If your business cannot be sold, you cannot pay your suppliers, suppliers cannot pay their suppliers,” he said. “[We] i just want to overcome this ASAP. “