By almost any measure, 2020 has been an annus horribilis that most of us are eager to put in the rear view mirror. A global pandemic, ensuing economic calamity, social unrest, and a bitterly divided political environment collided to create an experience you’d want to leave behind as soon as possible.
But, incredibly, it wasn’t all bad. In fact, there was plenty good. In the waning days of 2020, it’s worth considering how the pandemic forced major changes, innovations and breakthroughs in the way we work, learn, and live. These are changes that will have a permanent, positive impact on many aspects of our everyday lives long after the pandemic passes.
1. When forced, businesses proved they can pivot faster than they thought possible, and not just in accommodating remote work.
On March 13, after the federal government declared a national state of emergency concerning COVID-19, American offices shut down, sending tens of millions of office workers to the safety of their homes. The sudden shift sent companies scrambling to make sure employees could work securely and productively from home, with reliable connectivity and the right equipment. The adjustment was remarkably swift – companies report it happened 40 times faster than they would have thought possible pre-pandemic – and successful.
According to a survey by HR and workplace benefits firm Mercer, 94% of employers said company productivity was the same or even higher than it was before the pandemic. A Gartner study found that 82% of business leaders will let employees work remotely at least some of the time when the pandemic passes, while 47% will allow permanent remote work for many employees. This is good news for employers, as studies have shown remote workers are happier, and less stressed, and stay in their jobs longer.
2. Digital transformation at warp speed
At the same time, COVID-19 forced companies to fast track digital initiatives to meet customer demand, support remote employee needs, and to close the gap created by limited in-person interactions. The speed has been astonishing. According to a McKinsey survey, organizations accelerated the digitization of customer, supply chain, and internal operations by three-to-four years, while the share of digitally-enabled products has accelerated by what it describes as a “shocking” seven years. The survey notes that its respondents stood up solutions “much more quickly than they had thought possible” and that “most of these changes will be long lasting.”
With an urgency to do what is immediately necessary to support customers, employees and partners, organizations removed barriers to digital adoption, resulting in a huge leap at both the organizational and industry level. Witness all the retailers and restaurants that pivoted quickly to implement contactless, curbside pickup, or tech companies that drove hard to support remote workers and customers.
Some examples of these are profiled on the Salesforce blog: CarMax got its contactless car-buying process, CarMax Curbside, up and running in a matter of weeks. This and many other examples illustrate a new willingness to take risks, even among larger companies. This is a good thing for the advancement of the digital economy, and proves organizations can be more agile than they ever dreamed.
3. The race for a COVID-19 vaccine led to a novel way to develop vaccines in general
Medical experts have run out of superlatives to describe the speed with which drug companies have developed not one but two seemingly viable COVID-19 vaccines. Vaccines typically take years to bring to market, and the sub-one year timeframe and 95% efficacy of the COVID-19 vaccines that are currently being administered have shattered the previous development record of four years set by the mumps vaccine, while far outstripping the 60-70% efficacy level typically achieved by influenza vaccines.
But the speed isn’t the only thing to feel good about. Both Pfizer and Moderna vaccines use a game-changing design called messenger RNA (mRNA), which is entirely novel, safer, and more flexible than past vaccines, and — so the scientists say — opens up the possibility of using similar designs to fight cancer, heart disease, and other infectious diseases.
4. Lack of travel leads to huge drop in greenhouse gasses
The global pullback of business and leisure travel, and widespread office closures, has had an enormously positive impact on the environment. Greenhouse gasses generated by the U.S. economy will slide more than 9% this year, falling to the lowest level in at least three decades according to a study by BloombergNEF, a private researcher.
Thankfully, it’s easier than ever for businesses to do their part, with tools that help them track and control emissions, from looking at business travel to raw materials transport and electricity consumption. Now, any organization can understand its impact and take action. As a business maneuver, this is increasingly important as consumers seek out products and brands that align with their personal values.
Globally, restricted human interaction with nature has also been a blessing. According to the The National Center for Biotechnology Information, reports from all over the world indicate that air and water quality have also improved, and wildlife is blooming.
5. Shift to remote work offers opportunity for workplace inclusion and diversity
The pandemic has caused tectonic shifts in how we work that will last far beyond 2020. As Matthew Beucher, global head of real estate design at Salesforce, said in November, “The idea that you’re going to sit at your desk for eight hours, five days a week, for most people, that’s over. “
Still, with more people working from home, it’s easier for businesses to tap into diversity and inclusion in more meaningful ways. That means expanding their talent pool to areas beyond, say, the tech hotbeds of Silicon Valley and Seattle, but also creating opportunities for working parents and those with physical challenges, who would otherwise hit barriers by having to commute to and work in a specific office.
6. Higher education finally poised for a makeover
In March COVID-19 drove tens of thousands of college students from the classroom to their computer screens. By the fall, 4% of all college-bound students deferred enrollment rather than accept a remote learning experience (at the same price) that many considered inferior to in-person learning.
Experts believe there’s an opportunity for tech companies to partner with higher-ed to create experiences that give students in-demand skills at a fraction of the cost. It’s already happening, as evidenced by Grow with Google, which aims to democratize economic opportunities through free or low-cost training. IBM, Amazon and Facebook also offer programs for in-demand skills. Ernst and Young U.K., Hilton, Penguin Random House, Apple, and Bank of America are among the many companies who don’t even require a college degree for many positions.
More broadly, there’s a sense education will evolve to become more customized and on demand, with students picking and choosing the areas of study that best suits their interests and time commitment. The concept is not unlike Salesforce Trailhead, a deep, on-demand library of Salesforce learning “trails,” or myTrailhead, which any organization can adapt to their own business.
As Rod Bristow, president, Pearson UK & Global Online Learning told us recently, we’ll see shorter courses – micro-or nano-degrees – which will weigh heavily on higher education in the future, and will ultimately result in more impactful career outcomes for a greater number of consumers.
To be sure, most of us are happy to turn the page on 2020. It’s been a year unlike any other in most of our lives. But it’s worth remembering the innovation and acceleration of previously slow-moving transformations that took place during the year. These would not have happened if our resolve had not been supremely tested by the pandemic.
Original by Salesforce: https://www.salesforce.com/blog/2020-was-not-all-bad/