6 lessons for professional service firms to contemplate in a post-pandemic world
The Covid-19 Pandemic – in which we are still mired – has laid bare many “half empty glass” attitudes about technology and work behavior over the past 18 months. Yesterday, as I was riding the commuter rail line into Philadelphia from my home in the suburbs (for the first time in 18 months!) I noticed a Verizon ad that got me thinking about where we are with technology and work. The Verizon sign touts “What you Need + What you Want”. The pandemic is forcing us to look at “What we Need VERSUS What we Want”.
In this case, unlike the Verizon billboard, the choice is “either-or”, not additive.
“What we Want” is for the world to return to normal, so we can resume our lives exactly as we knew them prior to March of 2020. “What we Need” is a way to continue operating our businesses in a manner that allows us to survive, physically, emotionally, and financially. Paradoxically, adapting to “What we Need” will very likely change “What we Want” for many of us.
And ultimately, that may be a good thing to discover, for many reasons.
Here are six things I learned from the pandemic that I believe will have long-term consequences for the success of many professional service organizations:
- Learning how to deal with the various hardware and software components of Remote Computing technology started out as a frustrating and annoying necessity, but over time has morphed into a tangible benefit for many organizations. I believe this is true for many different reasons, from marketing reach, to speed of execution, to personal convenience, to enhanced resource leverage.
- Necessity has forced a re-evaluation of many business processes and practices. These changes may have been long overdue, but were never tackled due to a combination of “things are OK as they are”, and the effort and energy required to institute potentially disruptive change in a dynamic, fast-paced environment. The pandemic changed the equation in favor of change.
3. “Geography no longer matters.” This is particularly true when it comes to commercial office space. Office space for many professional service firms is a significant budget expense, and technology may offer a vehicle to drastically rebalance that value for the better, with technology expenses only partially offsetting the resulting savings. Offices are not likely to disappear any time too soon, but at this point we are but dimly perceiving the alternative approaches that will best fit with various professions and business models.
4. Time management has changed enormously, blurring the traditional “work time vs. personal time” boundaries. This can be either liberating or constricting, and requires both flexibility and discipline to fully adjust to this new reality. The traditional 10-12 hour work day may still be expected (or required), but the allocation of those hours over a 24-hour period may look very different in the post-pandemic world of work.
5. Communication – with staff, with clients, with colleagues, with suppliers – has become vastly different in both substance and speed since the start of the pandemic, and expectations are rapidly being adjusted accordingly. This change has been occurring for a while, but the pandemic has accelerated that change. Those who are unwilling or unable to communicate quickly and effectively, using the communication tool preferred by the recipient, are being left behind.
6. As technology filters down to the everyday lives of consumers, it will become progressively easier for professional service firms to do business with their clients via technology. Enormous swaths of the population have learned to order products online, attend live events and church services remotely, listen to music, etc. etc. All of these new-found consumer-focused technology skills are paving the way for professional service delivery in a way that would have been unthinkable not so long ago. It may still not be preferred by either consumers or professionals, but it is no longer sitting out there on the bleeding edge of service delivery.
The post-pandemic world of work – once it fully arrives and settles in – is neither good nor bad; it is just different. The judgments we apply to that new reality are more reflective of our attitudes toward change, and our embrace of flexibility, than anything else.
As has been the case so often in the past, the nimble are the winners in a competitive and ever-changing world. Be nimble.
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