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So, What Exactly Have We Learned During COVID?

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In her first piece for 2021, continuing her focus on COVID-19 and what it means for our industry, long-serving contributor Elizabeth Shobert shares her thoughts on what we’ve learnt during the pandemic. Elizabeth is Director of Marketing & Digital Strategy at Stylesage.

It’s been a strange time to be in the business of figuring out what consumers want when, for the past 18 months, normal life and all its numerous occasions all but disappeared. Even more challenging was that many of us were and continue to operate away from our teams, teams who inspire us and help to bring ideas to life. Against this unwelcome backdrop, we’ve all had to recalibrate and figure out how to get things done.

So that begs the question, “What exactly have we learned during this crisis?” And even more crucially, can lessons learned in a crisis stick around for good? Let’s take a moment to consider some of the most salient learnings of the past year and remind ourselves why they matter in the long run.

Never underestimate your people

Do you recall how many people said that remote work would never be a good substitute for in-person work, and productivity would plummet? Well, data shows that’s simply just not the case and, in fact, 77% of employees say their productivity has improved with more control over how and where they spend their time. The point here isn’t about where and how we work, it’s about the humans doing all that work. COVID has forced a new kind of trust and relationship between employee and employer which has shown us that, generally, people will rise to the occasion.

In fact, the power of the people can be seen in key statistics from a McKinsey survey of senior executives, which found that during COVID “the digitization of their customer and supply-chain interactions and of their internal operations accelerated by three to four years, and the share of digital products in their portfolio accelerated by seven years.” Take that in. The magnitude of the change that’s taken place is truly incredible, and your people have powered that. So as we look forward and make plans, let’s not forget how much our people are capable of – even in the most difficult of circumstances – and then empower them with the autonomy and resources they’ve earned.

Mistakes happen; learn from them and move on

The intensity of our experiences during COVID was amplified by the fact that we were all glued to our screens, and this reverberation could also be felt by businesses. Indeed, you could argue many companies had never quite faced the levels of scrutiny or pressure the past months offered up, whether it was handling marketing mis-steps on social media, managing problems with inventory, or simply figuring out what it was customers wanted.

Sean O’Meara, who wrote The Apology Impulse, noted that company mistakes tend to be either “operational” or “cultural,” and those cultural mistakes can be the harder of the two to rectify. And as it turns out, there’s a right and a wrong to make things right. According to O’Meara, it’s about acknowledging the issue internally, clearly showing how things are being corrected, and centering the conversation on the wronged, not yourself as a company.

Avoiding future mistakes and showing your customers that you’re striving to do business the right way – that’s the name of the game.

The magic is in bringing the online and offline worlds together

Remember when I talked a few paragraphs ago about the success of digital experiences and remote work? I still stand by that, but that success can only be sweetened by adding back in the offline and in-person elements.

From an e-commerce perspective we can make a case for this with the following: online and offline retail stats from Forrester show that while online grew an incredible 30% last year, offline is still predicted to comprise 72% of retailer sales by 2024. That’s right. We loved the convenience of having products delivered to our doorsteps, but we also relished the opportunity to get back into a store and touch and try on things. In practical terms for a business, this means your future is firmly in both places – online and offline.

And perhaps you’ll forgive me if I make the leap to suggest that this same principle of “online and offline are better together” rings true when we think about how we will work going forward. Whether that’s events, meetings with customers, training your teams, or just general relationship-building, the future is in the hybrid approach. Is it going to be messy? Certainly. But, hey, that’s growth for you.

Lydia Mageean Lydia Mageean has been part of the WhichPLM team for eight years now. She has a creative and media background, and is responsible for maintaining and updating our website content, liaising with advertisers, working on special projects like our PLM Project Pack, or our Annual Publications, and more.Joining mid-2013 as our Online Editor, she has since become WhichPLM’s Editor. In addition to taking on writing and interviewing responsibilities, Lydia has also become the primary point of contact for news, events, features and other aspects of our ever-growing online content library and tools.