Aside from the toll on the health of millions of people, COVID-19 has brought about an unimaginable amount of suffering on the health of millions of SMEs without corporate cash-flow cushions and those in the predominantly bricks and mortar retail, hospitality and arts sectors. For others, however, (and because as humans we need to be able to find some light in the dark), the pandemic has been a catalyst for positive change.
In a business sense, ‘disruption’ means a radical change in an industry or business strategy – especially involving the introduction of a new product or service that creates a new market. There is no doubt that COVID-19 has brought about just that – across the world and within almost every sector.
When so many parts of the global economic machine have ground to a halt, some areas have thrived – developing products and services to take advantage of the extreme shift in human behavior. Cloud computing, video conferencing, collaboration tools, electronic payments, e-commerce, delivery, logistics and all those businesses that have enabled these categories to withstand the short, sharp shock of a huge increase in demand will find themselves in a very different position post-pandemic.
Leadership teams have been forced to take a step back and rethink. Where are the new market gaps? What are the new use cases and how do you take advantage of that? Where are the hurdles and how can you jump them? Look at why you can, not why you can’t.
The shift from in-person conversations and the new ways people are engaging with services and systems have created an opportunity for our technology. Accurate any-context speech recognition has become even more vital as contact centers have struggled to process an increase in calls from people needing the latest advice, support or action. Technology leaders are used to a level of agility and innovation, but this is now more important than ever – re-look at the market and allocate resources quickly whilst keeping one eye on the long-term vision.
The other meaning of disruption is ‘forcible separation or division into parts’. Whilst communities, teams, families and loved ones have all indeed been physically separated through evolving government rules, I have seen quite the opposite of ‘division’.
From behind closed front doors, the synapses of digital communities were established whether that was community support initiatives promoted through local Facebook groups or teams at work. Through video calls we have let colleagues into our homes, meet our children and/or our pets. Good leaders have moved towards their workforces, spending more time with them, not less.
As the Accenture team outlined in their report as the pandemic took its hold in March of this year, ‘leading with compassion and caring for our workforces and communities is more essential than ever... your workforce is looking to trust you. And it will trust if it believes leadership cares for each individual, the community, and humanity as a whole.’
Although there had been some progress in ‘hard to solve’ areas – diversity, flexible working and the acknowledgement of mental health challenges, for example, the pandemic has changed views and policies, brought about clarity and understanding and galvanized huge swathes of the global populations to make positive changes. In the same timeframe as the pandemic, we have seen sparks of change and individual responsibility for driving forward campaigns such as Black Lives Matter. There has been huge community engagement in politics leading to a change in the US President. People from all walks of life have seen and understood vulnerability in a different way and both the big data and my own anecdotal research has uncovered a renewed importance of values and ethics – in both personal relationships and those you choose to do business with.
As Accenture described, above everything else, trust is key. Trust isn’t just about caring though – proactive leadership teams that believe in transparent communication around decision making, that continue to invest in the future of a business by responding to market opportunity will go a long way to supporting people in volatile times.
So, as we sit in our home ‘offices’ I would encourage other leaders to reflect on the silver lining of this awful pandemic. What have you learnt? What has changed for the better? How has your market evolved and where are your new opportunities? I know these questions will certainly be at the forefront of my mind as we move into the new year along with the importance of trust. How can I ensure that the values that have become even more important to my global Speechmatics colleagues, our customers and partners are given even more focus as we hopefully start to see the end of the COVID-19 chapter?
Katy Wigdahl, Speechmatics