Why it’s time to hit reset on the world of work

What I thought I knew about the world of work was upended in 2020. We couldn’t physically go to work, yet there was very little of anything else. It was just us, our laptops and our jobs. This time enabled us to reflect on the different elements of our lives.

In our pre-Covid world, it was easy to get wrapped up in busy office environments and avoid the fundamental question of whether we found our work fulfilling. The pandemic exposed the very bones of working life. We could see it for what it really was, without the distractions of our zombie-like commutes and Friday work drinks.

The truth is, the way we work was on the verge of change pre-pandemic, with burnout and anxiety being prevalent in many of our lives – hence why I decided to write about it in my new book, The Reset: Ideas to Change How We Work and Live. These changes were overdue, the pandemic just accelerated them.

Eighteen months on, it’s possible to see that hundreds of thousands of people decided to embrace that change and chase what they really wanted. The pandemic gave people a unique opportunity to explore business ideas that perhaps only seemed like pipe dreams before. Despite the challenges, record numbers of people set up businesses on their own: more than 800,000 new businesses were born in the year from March 2020 to March 2021, according to aggregate figures from Companies House. Technology was essential in enabling people to branch out on their own – from researching ideas to marketing via YouTube.

Why it’s vital for businesses to ‘double down’ on digital
Research by McKinsey has shown how the Covid-19 pandemic dramatically shifted consumer behaviour, especially in the retail industry. To stay relevant in this changed environment, the report recommended that businesses should “double down” on digital and expand their online presence, for example, by optimising websites for digital shopping and investing more in online marketing.

Pre-pandemic, some small- to medium- enterprises (SMEs) may have held the perception that truly embracing online sales and marketing was difficult to set up, or too costly. But businesses that adapted at speed soon realised embracing technology wasn’t as tough as they thought and there were numerous free digital tools to help.

Rather than just a nice-to-have, being online became central to their operating models. For example, during lockdown, many restaurants began offering meal kits that customers could order online and cook at home, and when they were allowed to reopen, online booking was essential. The industry went from one where unplanned walk-ins and phone bookings were the norm, to one where a suite of online resources were utilised to drive trade and push new revenue streams.

Beauty businesses also had to adapt when they had to stop in-person appointments. Many started offering online tutorials and consultations, meaning they were still able to connect with their customers in an authentic and personal way. Such online tutorials have now become a key part of many other businesses that provide services, such as yoga studios, giving owners the freedom to move away from their traditional customer base.

With tech being so ubiquitous, many will undoubtedly continue to turn to it as they grow their companies and adapt their lives to suit.

The benefits of upskilling
Today’s customers are better informed, better connected and more demanding than ever before, and Covid-19 has just accelerated this change of behaviour. As the McKinsey report found, customers have grown to expect quick and easy ways to make purchases online, anything less and they may think twice about revisiting a business.

To remain competitive, SMEs need to offer the same frictionless online sales experience as larger rivals. Many are already upskilling and seeing the benefits of adapting their businesses to receive payments online for the first time. The last 18 months provided a jolt for people running small businesses to take advantage of the digital tools at their fingertips.

The availability of tech has created more opportunities for people to reset than ever before. Ideas that were hiding in plain sight were ignited, while others found their skills were more transferable than they thought – turning hobbies and passions into new businesses.

The effects of Covid-19 are far reaching and still unfolding, however, small business owners who utilise the right tech tools will be better placed to stay ahead of the competition and reach more customers, even in the midst of uncertainty.

What seemed implausible a few years ago, now seems entirely possible. People are taking work into their own hands, whether that’s demanding more from their employers in terms of flexible working, or starting their own business.

We have the technology at our fingertips – the tools are there to guide us along our individual journeys. Stepping out of the “not how things are done” mentality and leveraging technology to take more control of our working lives could be a positive legacy of the pandemic. This is our big chance to reset.

Discover the tools, training and support Google provides to help businesses across Britain grow at grow.google/intl/uk

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