Trendlines: Focus on your strengths to lead through a crisis

  • Posted on April 6, 2020
  • Estimated reading time 3 minutes
Trendlines Focus on your strengths to lead through a crisis

The COVID-19 virus is wreaking havoc around the world – on our economies, public institutions and, most importantly, our personal lives. People have shown terrific resilience in the face of similar pandemics throughout our history, and however long it takes us to emerge from our current isolation, our world will no doubt be a very different place when we do. 

While there are unknowns every day, it’s important not to lose sight of what your company is at its core and how it creates value. Focus on what makes your company distinct and stick to that, recognizing that how you deliver that value is abruptly changing. 

Due to current circumstances, organizations are quickly shifting to remote working, and we’re seeing massive scale that hasn’t been seen before. For example, Avanade helped take a client from zero to 61,000 remote workers, enabling them to collaborate and communicate through Microsoft’s productivity cloud. This shift allows them to continue working and opens new capabilities for the future as well.

As you face extremely difficult decisions that impact operations, now is the time to lean into your strengths, discover new ways to enable your employees and make your business more relevant to customers. Times of great stress are also times of great ingenuity and it’s amazing to see the innovations that come out of crises and the its also when adoption of emerging technologies happens more quickly.

A preference for digital over physical services, but still a need for connection
Much of the world had been going in this direction already, and the global pandemic will likely push the trend forward with even more strength. Businesses will be able to capitalize on increasing access to high-speed internet to reach a much wider audience of lucrative monthly subscribers. The new way to sell may be through livestreams or co-viewing experiences, and instead of single event conferences, we’ll see ongoing distance learning and networking. The real (eventual) winner here is entertainment, as professional sports leagues, casinos, concert promoters and movie studios invest in creating more engrossing fan engagement and at-home experiences.

Physical automation leaps ahead
Robotic process automation is not fading, but say hello to its cousin, physical automation. Autonomous robots are already being deployed for industries like food delivery, health care and hospitality. The anticipated cycles of recommended physical distancing, combined with an existing labor shortage exacerbated by virulent illness, means that investments in automating physical processes and services will only increase. Businesses will need to consider not only how to manage fleets of physical robots, but also the implications for the internal skills and capabilities they’ll need to allow humans and machines to work together seamlessly.

The in-home service station
We have already begun to see the beginning of innovative subscription models like automobile companies offering full-service maintenance and repair at home. Best Buy shifted its Geek Squad to be the chief information officers for the home and has been slowly building a health care unit. The home is the next retail service frontier. Imagine a space in your house that is set up with a camera and screen with fully articulated hands and arms that can be operated by remotely trained technicians (nails, hair, small appliances). This system uses cameras, microphones and remote-control haptics that deliver sensation to the trained technician. Better haptics would also benefit telemedicine, allowing health care workers to remotely “take the pulse” of their patients or put a comforting (bio-robotic) hand on the forehead to determine temperature. 

More attention to personal, emotional well-being at work 
More than simply supporting remote work, leaders have found that during the COVID-19 outbreak they are called upon to acknowledge the mental toll that’s grown alongside the physical toll. Teams are now introducing their kids and pets to their colleagues, checking in on emotional well-being, and offering maximum empathy for employees suffering any kind of personal difficulties. It’s possible that some of this personal attention and connection will go away as life returns to normal, but many of us won’t forget the sense of family that grew from crisis. Look for more humanity in travel policies, more flexible work hours, fewer and more informal meetings, and a return to more asynchronous communication. Watch for performance incentives and annual reviews to touch more frequently on emotional well-being too and adoption of technology to support it.

Distributed leadership takes on new meaning 
As the board and C-suite focus on taking decisive action through the crisis for the organization, internal pockets of grassroots leadership will bubble up, taking responsibility for doing the next best thing for customers and employees alike. Once the crisis is past, smart organizations will maintain this distributed leadership approach, designed to combine more effectively with our new blend of more remote working with new technologies. New forms of leadership will evolve where there will be multiple leaders throughout the organization leveraging the innovation benefits of autonomous cross-functional groups of employees delivering key customer experiences.

What do to now:
  • Identify experiences you offer that customers or employees could participate in from home. Keep in mind that doesn’t mean putting the entire experience online – maybe it’s as simple as adding a way for people to chat with other participants. Then determine what technology could best enhance the experience. In some cases, a video call might be enough; in others, the increased interaction capabilities offered by extended reality would be a better fit.
  • Learn about physical automation processes, tools and platforms to determine which of your processes might benefit most from a robotics implementation. Then explore which platform would best provide the ability to manage, monitor, optimize and control your fleet of robots. And don’t ignore the human element: Reassure your staff that their jobs are safe and train them with new skills so they’re comfortable with their robotic colleagues.
  • Take advantage of remote interaction capabilities and broaden the reskilling of your employees to support new types of services. Use this unique time to have your employees volunteer to mentor students who don’t have classrooms, crowdsource product ideas and innovation, have employees teach each other master classes.


Adopting emerging tech in times of crisis

No one has a crystal ball, but what we’ve seen historically is that we adopt emerging technologies much more quickly in times of crisis. With the significant disruption to everyday life currently underway around the world, things will be different. We are all learning and together truly writing history. In the comments section below, let us know what you think will change.


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