Busy office worker

It’s been months of uncertainty and upheaval. Across the nation, businesses are trying to get back on track even though the unprecedented COVID-19 outbreak is not yet over.

What’s the new normal going to look like? Here are a few ways that the global pandemic has fundamentally changed the way U.S. companies do business:

Telecommuting has taken hold. How many of your company’s employees are working at home? The percentage of people working remotely increased dramatically with the advent of social distancing. There’s traditionally been a lot of skepticism among business leaders about telecommuting and many have been reluctant to invest in initiatives that support remote work. But during the COVID-19 outbreak, many companies found that remote work was a success — employees not only are happier working at home at least part of the time (as countless studies have shown), they are as productive, or even more productive. It’s something research has supported, but experiencing it first hand makes all the difference.

Many companies are now examining how remote work can fit into their business models going forward — and how to most effectively lead remote teams. Companies aren’t likely to go to a 100 percent telecommuting model and many industries can’t have people working at home, of course, but those that can are more likely to continue with telecommuting by allowing some employees to work at least part of the time at home.

Businesses will have a renewed emphasis on continuity. In good times, it’s easy to let the process of identifying and effectively managing potential risks slide. And we had good times as a nation until early this year! The U.S. was experiencing the longest economic good times on record — starting in 2009 — until it was abruptly and wholly stopped short by COVID-19. The outbreak has once again put the spotlight on being prepared for the unexpected and making organizations more resilient. As companies get back on track, they will undoubtedly be beefing up contingency plans, developing risk management programs, diversifying supply chains, and making plans for a host of unexpected events. The global pandemic was a hard lesson in being prepared for the unexpected.

Companies will make innovation a priority. There are so many examples in recent months of companies trying innovative new strategies to stay afloat — and succeeding. There are the local distilleries that shifted to making hand sanitizer, the fitness studios that developed online classes, the grocery stores that expanded into grocery and hot meal pickup/delivery, and scores of other businesses that found new revenue streams and customers by getting creative. Companies had to learn — or revisit — how to be adaptable, nimble and innovative. And many succeeded in ways they never would have imagined. Those that have had success with innovation in recent months are likely to continue to focus on innovation long after the coronavirus threat is over.

Video meetings and conferences will become more popular. A necessity during the COVID-19 outbreak, virtual gatherings, like remote work, will likely outlive the global pandemic. That’s not to say that old-school trade shows and conferences are a thing of the past. It’s just that companies have realized the virtual meetings and conferences are oftentimes a viable alternative to meeting in person, can save time and money and have a definite place in business today.

Businesses will re-focus on customer needs. Whether a company is B2B or B2C, their customers have been affected by COVID-19 to at least some degree. In many cases, what’s important to a company’s customers has changed. Now, more than ever, a human touch, and qualities like empathy, authenticity and emotional intelligence are vital. The customer experience — and customer service — has never been more important. People are stressed and worried — and that isn’t going to change anytime soon. Customers, now, more than ever, want to talk to real live humans who can help them. Now, more than ever, it’s important to make strategically right decisions to serve your customer base. How a company treats its customers now will be remembered for years to come.