Companies of all shapes and sizes, from independent boutiques to multinational enterprises, have been rocked and disrupted by the COVID-19 pandemic. Government lockdowns, shifting consumer preferences, health and safety rules, and a variety of other unforeseen changes have combined to create a deeply challenging business environment.
One way that small and medium businesses, in particular, have adapted to these unexpected circumstances is by leveraging technology. From home deliveries to virtual client meetings, a host of apps and tools have enabled SMBs to maintain a semblance of normality.
In this post, we’re going to look at five of the most notable COVID-19 tech trends and ask what they might mean for the future.
1. Transition to Online Client-Facing Infrastructure
Many small and medium businesses have been forced to furlough members of their team or reduce staff hours, transitioning to a more streamlined business model. This has often caused issues with essential client-facing processes like appointment scheduling, confirmation, cancellations, and so on. Typically, these tasks would have been carried out by employees.
Online client portals have helped to mitigate this problem. One notable example is scheduling software, which clients can access online to book, reschedule, and cancel appointments without any input from members of staff. From the company’s perspective, these tools tend to be inexpensive, easy to set up, and often provide efficiency gains over more “traditional” methods.
2. Creative Use of Video Conferencing Tools
On multiple occasions, government-enforced lockdowns across the UK have meant that non-essential workers have had to work from home. And many service businesses also had to stop face-to-face meetings completely. As most companies rely on in-person meetings to communicate and strategize, this has caused understandable strain.
Video conferencing software is nothing new. But it has acted as a crucial tool for the vast majority of organizations through the pandemic. Use of Zoom in the UK has skyrocketed since the start of the year, accelerating video conferencing trends that were already well-documented.
Video conferencing tools have also allowed some businesses, especially those in the events space, to extend their reach. It’s now much more commonplace for organizers to livestream interactive events across the world, and the broader market has quickly adjusted to this trend. It’s doubtful that demand will cease when things return to normal.
3. Greater Availability and Variety of Delivery Options
One saving grace for businesses forced to shut their physical premises, particularly for those in the retail and hospitality sectors, is the increased demand for home deliveries. Restaurants and grocers have embraced this shift, offering delivery services where they didn’t previously and expanding their existing range of options.
Big-name apps, like UberEats and Deliveroo, have made it easy for restaurants to transition quickly. And inexpensive software solutions have also made it possible to build online ordering portals for customers. Some commentators predict that, rather than vanishing once the pandemic passes, this trend will continue well into the future.
4. Focus on Ecommerce and Online Sales
Unable to shop in-store, shoppers have turned to the internet. Ecommerce sales have risen in most major categories, with a few notable exceptions like apparel and clothing. Many small store owners have taken advantage of increased web traffic by focusing their resources online, either by developing and marketing their existing ecommerce stores or by building new ones entirely.
User-friendly ecommerce platforms like Shopify and BigCommerce have made it possible for smaller retailers to quickly build an online presence without any technical knowledge. In addition to this, business-owners have sought new ways of connecting with customers and potential customers, relying much more heavily on digital methods. Spending on social media advertising, for example, has increased. And promotional strategies that may have been sidelined in the past, such as email marketing, have taken on renewed importance.
5. Renewed Focus on Employee Wellbeing and Productivity
While there are several benefits associated with remote working, there are also potential dangers, and many people who have been forced to work from home have expressed concern about their mental health. In response, businesses have tackled the problem of employee mental health head-on, implementing well-being programs and often relying on technology to improve outcomes.
Some organizations, for example, have started to use apps to boost employee mental health. These tools can track staff activity, provide personalized recommendations, and encourage positive interactions with colleagues, among other things. Additional features on video conferencing platforms like Zoom and Google Hangouts also allow for collaborative, team-building exercises outside of normal meeting formats.
Technology isn’t a panacea. The effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, along with the slew of government restrictions it has necessitated, have been adverse for the most part. And the long-term effects of the biggest pandemic in a century remain to be seen. The global economy will likely be impacted in a myriad of unexpected ways in the months and years ahead.
What online tools have enabled businesses to do is survive. In many cases, widespread uptake has also accelerated trends that were already gaining pace, and which will likely continue to shape the way business is conducted moving forward.
Whatever the future holds, one thing is for certain: companies that can adapt are the ones that will weather the storm and thrive in a post-COVID world.