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COVID-19 business responses: which were ‘stopgap’ and which are permanent?

This is part five of a series of blog posts pulled from our extensive New World of Work 2022 Survey Report. Here, we explore how the business response to the COVID-19 pandemic has changed between 2020 and 2022.

Keith MacKenzie
Keith MacKenzie

Passionate about human resources, employment, and business management, and an expert at sharing that expertise.

At the onset of the pandemic, we didn’t know for how long or how far the virus and its impact would reach, so many businesses introduced stopgap measures. As time dragged on, many introduced more permanent solutions and changes.

Let’s look at how things differed between the response in 2020 when the situation was as-yet unclear and in 2022 with more clarity in best practices. In other words, we now have an opportunity to understand what stuck to the wall and what didn’t.

The business response

A fundamental question we asked two years ago is what actions businesses took in response to the pandemic.

We asked that same question in our new survey to see if those actions look any different now.

A lot of part and parcel – not so much the whole

Businesses today are more likely to have moved to partial remote operations (59.2%), much higher than the 32.3% who did so two years ago.

The percentage of those moving to full remote operations decreased from 62.6% in 2020 to 52.4% now.

The incredible shrinking workplace

What also stands out – also related to the remote-work phenomenon – is the huge jump in the percentage of respondents who saw their business introducing reduced capacity at their working location.

Only 18% said they did that in 2020, and that’s more than doubled to 42.4% today.

Jobs are more stable now

Those who laid off or furloughed employees are on the decrease – just 10.2% of businesses resorted to this action in response to COVID-19 in 2022, compared with more than twice that (21.9%) two years ago.

What does all this tell us?

Businesses are now more likely to be partially remote, operating in smaller workspaces, and aren’t letting go of their employees to the same degree as before. This all points to the rise of the hybrid workplace as a norm.

The long-term response

What permanent moves did businesses have in their agendas in 2020 – and what did they permanently establish as of now? Let’s look.

DX is on the upswing

Two years ago, three out of 10 businesses (29.8%) said they’d digitize their customer-facing operations – and now, more than half (51.9%) have permanently established customer-facing digital transformation.

The same rings true for digitization of business operations, now permanently in place for 52.8% of businesses compared with one-third (32.6%) who intended to do so in 2020.

The workplace shrink isn’t so permanent

More than two out of five (44.1%) in 2020 said they’d reduce or eliminate their physical office. Today’s percentage is less than half that (21.3%).

This may seem to contrast to the insight above in regards to the incredible shrinking workplace, but it’s not; it just tells us that businesses are doing it, especially those operating remote-first – but they don’t see it as a permanent fix.

Business travel is back

A resounding 59.2% of businesses said they’d reduce or eliminate non-essential travel in 2020, but only 31% say that’s a permanent solution today. Not much surprise there, since travel was practically against the rules in 2020 unless you absolutely needed to cross borders, and now things are opened up again.

The times they have a-changed

Only a small fraction – 6.2% – said they would do nothing in terms of changes in 2020. Today, a similar amount – 8.5% – say they have no permanent changes in place for their business.

This means a resounding 91.5% of businesses did something – whether small or large – in response to COVID-19. Only 8.5% did nothing.

What does all this tell us?

In short, the COVID-19 stress test on businesses was so all-encompassing that very few escaped with zero impact. Some of the measures businesses have taken are clearly stop-gap – such as travel in the short term and physical office reimagining in the middle term – but there are some ultimately permanent changes, especially in the evolution of the business tech stack.

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