Beyond Virtual Conferences and Zoom: How COVID-19 Is Changing Global Business

A year (and counting) of COVID-19 has transformed business as usual for internationally focused companies, from canceled business trips to ubiquitous Zoom meetings (and the accompanying Zoom fatigue). But these examples merely scratch the surface of how operations will be different in the months–and years—ahead.

Here are some other trends to watch.

The optimization and reimagination of physical spaces

Virtual work isn’t for everyone. Roughly half of today’s employees want to go back to the office, according to research by Forrester, and this trend has companies rethinking their facilities.

In the immediate future, anticipate a rise in technologies that enable contactless operations, like voice assistant technology, robots, and monitoring and tracking solutions. Digital solutions are also emerging for optimizing space and resources. Imagine, for example, being able to see available conference rooms, working desks, and parking spots from a single dashboard, or  having lighting, airflow, and climate control for a space automatically adjust based on occupancy and use.

In the long-term, companies may opt to permanently repurpose sections of their office space—for training or on-site childcare, for instance. Businesses operating in a highly competitive industry or market may invest in upgrades. Brittney Van Matre, Nike’s director of workplace strategy and operations, talks about wooing talent with “a super slick experience” with a lot of amenities or “a really unique experience that you can’t get anywhere else.”

What perks do onsite employees want most? A survey by commercial real estate firm JLL identified green space, coffee areas, and lounges for socialization, as well as dedicated areas for work requiring privacy or deep concentration.

Continued supply chain transformation

“During the pandemic, lockdowns brought international exchange to a near halt, making businesses and governments increasingly aware of the impacts that disruptions in today’s very complex and specialized global supply chains can have,” Jerome Jean Haegeli, a chief economist with Swiss Re Group, noted in Reinsurance News.

In a drive to become more resilient, companies moved some parts of their operations online, other parts closer to home, and explored innovative solutions to mitigate risk in their production processes. For example, a multinational firm can diversify its manufacturing presence and build resilience with parallel supply chains in new host markets.

Look for such supply chain re-evaluation to continue, particularly as COVID-19 persists worldwide and concurrent developments shake the geopolitical and economic landscape. Brookings Institution Senior Fellow David Dollar cited national protectionism, the acceleration of Industry 4.0, and changes in the structure of demand as three areas to watch. Implementation of the December 2020 Brexit deal is a fourth.

“Businesses with critical supply chains have developed them to be highly efficient and resilient within the EU, but they may soon be subject to stresses that they were not designed to withstand,” said Guy Lougher of international law firm Pinsent Masons.

For example, “A next day delivery service that works at the moment could very possibly become unsustainable with customs clearances and rules of origin applied.” With currency movements, untried customs systems, and a new tariff regime to contend with, Lougher noted, “even sourcing from a tier one supplier in the UK may not be sufficient.”

Expanded and accelerated automation

As COVID-19 shut down businesses, kept workers at home, and forced companies to do more with less, automation delivered powerful solutions in areas from workforce safety to supply chain resilience to business continuity.

Expect to see continued adoption, particularly as assistance programs and other COVID-19-related operations expose inefficiencies in manual processes and administrative tasks.

Automation saves time. When a Chinese bank automated its loan application process and brought application review, verification, lending, and approval together into its supply chain solution, it reduced the loan approval process to only 30 minutes.

Automation also streamlines and strengthens processes. Credit risk and risk management have risen to the fore amid the pandemic’s economic turmoil, demanding both efficiency and accuracy. By optimizing and automating reporting, companies can reduce data reporting errors and the need for manual corrections in half while boosting productivity.

More crisis-fueled innovation

Stories have abounded of new business models emerging from and accelerated by COVID-19’s upheaval: ghost kitchens, micro-fulfillment centers, shopping malls repurposed for distribution, and more. In Dubai, startup Kitopi prepares over 200,000 meals per week for roughly 100 eateries across the Middle East. In Estonia, Cleveron’s automated locker systems and self-driving delivery robots are transforming the last mile of grocery delivery. And in the United States, malls are reinventing themselves as warehouses, sites for healthcare services, office space, and even places of worship.

Expect such innovative thinking to continue, including:

  • Products and services delivered in fresh ways like “by subscription features” automakers are offering to entice homebound, more fiscally conservative consumers into new vehicles
  • Novel partnerships, like a media company’s arrangement with a digital platform to distribute a movie, which earned the media company $91 million and a share of advertising

Ready to get started? Specialized consultants and advisors can help you navigate developments in the global business landscape, including those related to the impact of COVID-19. For more information, contact us.