Fighting the pandemic is Australia’s biggest priority right now. Along with the rest of the world, many of us have had to rethink every aspect of our daily lives. Yet, there is a lot that society’s response to COVID-19 can teach us about human creativity.
Our homes have transformed into offices and schools. Social events are still happening, but virtually. Some are even throwing birthday parties and saying ‘I do’ in front of video chat. Technology, such as video conferencing software, has been a key driver in salvaging some level of normality in our personal lives. And there are drastic digital transformations happening within businesses too.
Digital transformation for Australian SMEs
Companies have been driven out of their comfort zone and forced to speed up digital transformation. From our survey*, we discovered that 57% of Australian small and mid-sized businesses (SMEs) are already operating fully remotely and more plan to. Consequently, the country has seen drastic rises in:
- Technology adoption
- Digitalised business offerings
- Receptiveness to remote working
- Digital transformation leadership.
In this article, we reveal how the lockdown has fast-tracked digital transformation in these five areas of business in Australia.
1. Technology adoption
We don’t yet know when the battle against this invisible enemy will be over. Businesses have had to respond quickly to the possibility of working remotely for what began as days and quickly turned into months.
Devastatingly, the lockdown has threatened the survivability of many brands and businesses. However, small and mid-sized businesses have been quick to equip themselves with the necessary remote work software to help fight challenging market conditions.
Our survey found that 41% of SMEs bought or installed new software to enable them to work remotely, and 22% are planning to. For SMEs and companies with smaller budgets, the assistance of software price reductions and trial extensions has been of huge value.
The good news is employees are adapting to these tools with little difficulty.
While the idea of digitalisation may have been an overwhelming idea for many before, post-COVID-19 suggests something different. With the majority of employees (93%) quickly and easily adapting to new tools, there is an incentive for companies to continue updating technological resources in the future.
Fast-tracking technology adoption within Australian SMEs significantly helps innovate business processes and operations. That being said, data security, privacy and ethics need to be prioritised alongside technology adoption. Otherwise, companies put themselves at risk to the rise in digital threats.
2. Digitised business solutions
Many of us have now experienced changes in what services are available to us in our personal lives—such as walking into a grocery store, heading to the gym or dining out for dinner. Luckily, we can still access most of these services through digital alternatives.
Adapting these services has been vital for business survival, but it also enables well-loved brands and businesses to step up their customer focus. Forbes explains how digital transformation contributes to this:
‘The goal of a digital transformation is to use technology to solve traditional problems, which means integrating technology into every area of the business. When done right, digital transformation allows companies to provide unprecedented value to customers.’
Millennials lead exceptionally busy lives and spend a lot of time working—research even goes so far to suggest that they are workaholics. Similarly, Generation Z is the first true generation of digital natives. Before COVID-19, companies may never have considered digitalising their products. Now, 72% of businesses have digitised some or all of their offerings so that they can be delivered virtually.
A positive outcome of this move is that virtual solutions and delivery services cater to more compact schedules. Businesses in Australia that didn’t offer this before may continue to do so in a bid to meet rising customer demands for greater convenience.
As digital solutions prove their value during the lockdown, businesses should continue using customer focus as the key driver for digital transformation decisions.
Previously, remote work was widely considered a benefit that was only suitable for those that require little to no face-to-face interaction. Due to lockdown, businesses from all industries have been forced to reevaluate their workspaces.
The top five industries who have or plan to operate fully remotely during the fight against Coronavirus:
- IT & Technology
- Financial Services
- Healthcare & social assistance
Industries that have previously resisted a distributed workforce (or client base) are likely to have stepped up their digital resources to deliver crucial services during the pandemic.
Education, healthcare and social assistance and retail—these are the industries that are likely to face the most challenges. However, implementing innovative solutions could be critical in tackling further, potential lockdowns in the future.
Even with the likelihood that some businesses will return to work-in-office policies, many will see the long-lasting benefits of digital environments too.
4. Shifts in attitudes
Given that remote working is the most desired benefit by employees in Australia, it’s of little surprise that the majority of workers have reacted positively to their new home office setup.
When pressed why this might be, 31% of respondents said their employer is more flexible than pre-COVID-19. Additionally, just over a fifth (21%) of respondents said they feel a greater level of trust from their employers.
Companies are likely to relax their viewpoints toward remote working as their workforce proves their compatibility with it. 87% of employees stated they’d like to continue working remotely after the lockdown ends, and more than half of employees said they believe their company could function at full potential with permanent remote working flexibility.
Employers have been forced to operate a distributed workforce, and employees are seemingly liking it. Teleworking during lockdown may present an interesting business case to employers for why they should continue this as a long-term option.
5. Transformational leadership
Just 12% of respondents said they hadn’t had guidance yet on this new way of working. This suggests the majority of businesses are stepping up to guide their workforce through the changes.
Infographic 5: Employers have provided guidelines for remote working, but communication remains a challenge.
Communication was the third most popular aspect that employers outlined. Despite this, it appears to be an ongoing challenge for employees.
According to a report by McKinsey, one of the most common reasons for failed digital transformation is because ‘outdated models and change techniques are fundamentally misaligned with today’s dynamic business environment.’ With COVID-19 forcing businesses into the most digitised environment they’ve ever faced, it’s crucial to align employees with their efforts.
Many SMEs won’t have financial resources to work with change management experts. In that case, they should create clear guidelines on all aspects of digital working.
Logically, it makes sense to begin with communication guidelines. If management can communicate clearly, aligning and streamlining other areas of the business will be much simpler!
Companies are having to adapt fast to their new business environment. To implement change within a business, however, it takes time to iron out the creases. Companies need to modernise the communication strategy to be in line with a remote office—and they shouldn’t be afraid to overcommunicate.
Digital transformation ‘silver linings’ in our fight against COVID-19
Digital transformation doesn’t happen overnight, even with the pressure of a universal lockdown upon us. However, the problem-solving ability of employers and employees alike have come into their own. It’s likely that the lockdown will mark a positive shift in the way markets and industries operate as we move towards greater customer focus through technology.
To collect the data from this report, we conducted an online survey between 4th April 2020 and 14th April 2020. The responses come from a sample of the Australian market. Of the 916 people who participated in the survey, we were able to discover that 57% of Australian small and mid-sized businesses (SMEs) are already operating fully remotely and 6% plan to.
We then screened out all respondents not working remotely, and found 500 respondents fitted within our criteria:
- Australian resident
- Employed by a small or mid-sized business
- Employed full-time or part-time
- Working remotely as a response to COVID-19.
The participants come from various business sectors and levels of seniority.
Note: Infographics 4 and 5 had multiple response options, so the total sum of the percentages exceed 100%.