Small businesses, employing 0-19 staff, make up 97.4% of all Australian businesses, and a whopping 62.8% of Aussie businesses are non-employing (think sole traders). Add to that the fact that many small businesses made substantial changes to their business as a result of COVID-19, and it’s not hard to appreciate that COVID will have a long-term impact on the way specialist business service providers and independent experts operate. The question is, what will that impact be and what will it mean for you?
How have businesses changed as a result of COVID-19?
The COVID-19 pandemic has forced many businesses to make long-term changes to their operations. For example, substantial numbers of Australian small businesses have made long-term changes to:
- The way they provide products or services (20%)
- Their opening hours (10%)
- Staff roles or duties (15%)
- The types and range of products and services they offer (11%)
- Their suppliers or supply chain (6%)
And the pandemic will have a lasting impact on the way we work. For example, in 2013, 80% of Australians said they would be willing to stay with an employer for a longer period if they were offered teleworking arrangements, while more than half of all workers said they were prepared to take a pay cut in exchange for more flexible working arrangements. But employers were resistant, fearing staff would slack off at home and never come into the office.
COVID has, however, shown those fears are unfounded.
Nearly one in five employees (or 24% of those who aren’t tied to the office) would ideally like to work remotely two to three days a week, while 21% of those not tied to an office would like to work away from ‘the office’ most or all of the time. 85% of employees allowed autonomy increased their productivity, engagement and achievement as a result of working remotely during the COVID pandemic. And unpaid overtime has increased by 15% since COVID.
Incidentally, the Boston Consulting Group has produced an excellent report that could help employers tailor their office and remote-work policies and setup for different employee personas. You may find this useful if you’re navigating the murky waters of remote work.
Will these changes impact how independent experts are engaged?
There are several ways these changes will likely impact how independent experts are engaged.
Firstly, using artificial intelligence (AI) to screen and select candidates was already a growing trend before the pandemic. With the massive increase in businesses going digital, the role of AI in recruitment is only going to increase.
Secondly, with many businesses having been forced to allow their staff to work from home, businesses are now far more comfortable with remote working and there will be a corresponding increase in the number of independent experts who are hired to work remotely.
Part time work is also on the rise, with the number of people working less than 35 hours a week more than doubling between November and December 2020. This is opening the door for more businesses to engage experts for specific projects or specialist pieces of work.
Furthermore, with intense financial pressures and the need to pivot, many businesses are finding themselves in a position where they need additional expertise, but can’t afford to hire more permanent staff. Frequently, businesses are also finding they need short-term expertise as they adjust to changed market conditions. This is increasing the opportunities for independent experts who are willing to work on a contract basis.
In short, increasing comfort with flexible working arrangements and a greater need for short-term skills and expertise will mean more independent experts can work remotely, flexibly and on contracts in the short term.
However, while the need for pivot-specific skills and expertise will quickly dwindle, the exposure to new ways of acquiring skills will leave a lasting impact. Businesses that previously only hired staff for permanent, full-time roles, will be far more open to engaging external, independent specialists when they have projects or short-term assignments that require specific skill sets that they don’t have in house.
Will you now need additional capabilities or resources to deliver your services?
If you’re one of the many businesses that has had to pivot to survive COVID-19, you’re now faced with a dilemma. Should you go back to the way things were before? Or have you benefited from changes to your operations?
If you’ve found the pandemic has forced you to adopt new practices that have actually been better for your business, or which you would like to maintain in order to protect your business from future disasters, you’re probably in a situation where you’d like to continue with a set of practice to which you transitioned in a rush. Now things are a little less hectic, if you’re implementing changes permanently, you’ll need to consider the long-term implications of your changes. You may also want to take this opportunity to refine how you’ve implemented changes.
In most cases, this will also mean you’ll need external expertise to smooth rough edges and ensure your set up is as efficient and effective as it could be. As such, the COVID-19 pandemic has increased the need for specialist services. It has also increased the need for temporary access to independent experts, while businesses transition to new ways of working.
How will remote work impact the way you deliver services?
With so many businesses now allowing remote work permanently, it’s important to consider how remote work will impact service delivery. After all, not all services are easy to deliver remotely. The plethora of ‘our staff are working from home due to COVID-19 so we are experiencing delays in responding to your enquiry’ messages early in the pandemic stand testament to this.
However, so many businesses have found innovative ways to deliver traditionally in-person services that there’s hope for many service-based businesses.
Obviously, the exact way remote work impacts how your business delivers services will depend on your offerings and how innovative you are in choosing delivery methods. However, there are several common factors no matter your situation:
- You’ll need the right equipment. Switching to remote service delivery will involve equipment, whether that’s a computer with a microphone and camera so you can conduct video meetings, or infrastructure for network connectivity so all your staff can access tools, documents and resources regardless of where they’re working, or some other form of equipment.
- You may choose different service distribution channels, such as online service marketplaces to increase your market access and grow your business.
- You may alter the availability of your services. For instance, if you offer coaching or training services, you might offer some pre-recorded services on-demand. As another example, you might expand your customer service hours with some staff working earlier in the day and others working in the evenings according to what fits in with their schedules.
- You might change your recruitment criteria. For example, you might require availability during certain time zones instead of presence in a particular location. And you might prioritise the ability to be productive when working remotely.
- You might choose not to accept physical currencies for payment of service fees.
Is your business COVID safe?
One other lasting impact of the COVID-19 pandemic on service delivery is the advent of ‘COVID-safe business practices’. This includes having a COVID-19 safety plan and ensuring staff deliver services in a way that minimises the spread of infectious diseases (e.g. by maintaining distance, regularly disinfecting high-tough surfaces and using hand sanitiser).
While such measures may not be as important for COVID-19 once vaccines have been rolled out, they aren’t actually specific to COVID-19 and could serve as important tools for managing business risk and minimising the impact of future epidemics as well as pre-existing illnesses like the flu.
The lasting impact of COVID-19 on the service industry
While there are sadly going to be many detrimental impacts from the global pandemic, such as permanent damage to the tourism industry and lasting physical and mental health scars, we’re also going to see many positive changes. For instance, greater employment flexibility, more distribution and product/service diversity, and increased use of independent experts are likely to be some of the key long-term impacts of COVID-19 on the service industry. Hopefully, more robust risk management plans will also feature in the list of lasting COVID-19 impacts, since so many businesses were entirely unprepared to weather a natural disaster of this scale.
How do you anticipate COVID-19 will impact your business over the long term? Let us know in the comments.