5 minute read 3 Aug 2021
Father holds the little kids hand while walking

Preparing for a more uncertain future? Make sure you go together.

By Ákos Demeter

EY Hungary Business Consulting Partner

Passionate leader of innovation in financial services

5 minute read 3 Aug 2021

Virtual working and learning environment are likely to stay at the forefront for internal strategy planning, according to the results of EY Physical return and work reimagined study.

  • COVID-19 has heavily impacted the status-quo of business operations, reimagining the use of digital tools now seems vital to success.
  • According to the EY Physical return and work reimagined study including 3862 respondents from 708 employers across major economies of the West (UK, US, DE), post-COVID era is likely to be characterized by a blend of remote and office work (63% of previously not remote-working respondents indicated that they want to work at least 1 day a week outside the office).
  • Digital tools play a key role in engaging with employees within an online working environment. Employees indicated a strong interest for development by employers in enhancing the approach to online / virtual learning (1st priority for 46% of respondents), investing in training for remote meetings & tools (2nd – 43%) and developing remote leader capability (3rd – 29%).
  • Overall, 84% of employees think that companies need to improve digital tools and technology for 1) providing more technology for training, 2) enhancing tools for collaboration, 3) creating better central data and knowledge information.
  • These needs seem to be in line with companies’ plans to innovate remote work strategy in key areas: 1) enhancing technology for remote work, 2) evaluating policies around communicating planned work hours, 3) using analytics to measure remote work productivity.
  • Below is a practical guide on how to implement the key findings of the study.

3 factors shaping strategy planning during the pandemic

Focus on internal processes in favor of long-term growth. The appearance of COVID-19 at the end of 2019 has profoundly shaped industries and markets. With governments intending to contain the spread, companies had to adapt for new social distancing rules almost at a glance. Although the fight against the virus has been the collective effort of governments and companies, restrictive regulations have reduced the degree of freedom for planning. Despite consumer habits being shaped by new regulations made for highly uncertain progression of the pandemic, there is still a part of the business under C-level control. Shifting attention from shaping the external business environment (e.g. consumer habits, market trends) to optimizing internal operations (e.g. AI-based process improvements, more flexible policies) can create competitive advantages on the long run.

People at the heart of companies’ success. Companies’ successes have always been the outcome of the work performed by employees. With so many technological advancements today, setting up remote working environments can be achieved quickly. However, it is not only the environment that sets remote working apart from regular office work. With employees experiencing an increased attention to family and other commitments, providing the required skills to succeed in a fully digital environment and factoring in changing employee habits has become key to sustaining focus on work.

Remote employees as a new class of digital consumers. In addition to the upsides of remote working, such as less time spent on travel and lower facility expenses, the shifting attention of employees presents new challenges for growth. For instance, cultivating and motivating teams remotely requires a different leadership style. Remote employees inevitably engage with the company through online channels and thus become a new group of digital consumers. 

Beyond the innovation of tools for employee-interactions, ensuring alignment of people with the company’s revised direction raises the need for more human centered focus from leaders and the necessary digital skill set of employees.

How to prepare for a more uncertain future?

Expand the horizon of digital strategy. Certainly, doing business online has become the new standard in the current decade. Crafting state-of-the-art digital strategies therefore seems inevitable to succeed in today’s market. Adaption to an increasingly turbulent market environment may entail more frequent revision of strategy, but effective implementation requires a solid engagement and right digital capabilities of end-users. Successful digital strategies therefore depend heavily on 1) agenda, 2) robust IT infrastructure, 3) engaged and upskilled employees and consumers.

Create strategy with inclusion in mind. Besides expanding strategy planning laterally to the internal environment of the company, the vertical dimension may play a crucial role in creating a future-proof strategy. Factoring in the diverse background of employees that is prevalent with home office, strategies can better align with people’s changed needs and be implemented during highly uncertain times. Therefore, a new responsibility for leaders is to know their team well enough in order to serve their well-being and drive productivity.

Succeeding digitally: iterate until everyone is aligned

Strategy creation in an agile way. In light of unprecedented uncertainty, companies seeking to develop a future-proof, resilient strategy may not get it right first time. How to achieve adaptation to a constantly changing business environment? Agile planning allows companies to revise and adjust strategy more frequently by 1) shortening the cycle of testing-deployment and 2) increasing participation and, thus stakeholder alignment in the process.

Set a starting point and iterate.  A rising need for digital may require companies to develop, review or adjust their digital strategies that suits both external and internal needs. Having an agile process in place is one part. Setting a mid-to-long-term vision is built on two, easily measurable components:

  • A clear starting point where the company stands digitally: Digital Readiness,
  • A solid mechanism to allow constant revision of developing strategies: Digital Inclusion.

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While high levels of uncertainty will likely remain a part of strategy planning process for the foreseeable future, going through an unknown future together, with maximized internal alignment will improve companies’ outlook for success.

About this article

By Ákos Demeter

EY Hungary Business Consulting Partner

Passionate leader of innovation in financial services