While many businesses considered going digital, the COVID-19 pandemic has served as a massive accelerant. Businesses have moved operations remotely, with 43% of U.S. workers working off-site some or all of the time. However, many are experiencing major disruptions due to the unexpected and forced adoption of remote work, as they must quickly scale to meet the demands of customers and a decentralized workforce. Here is how COVID-19 is kicking digital transformation into overdrive.

Many businesses are now realizing that investments into digital transformation are no longer simply an option; it’s vital to survival.

While digital adoption or moving to remote working conditions typically takes months or even years to implement — businesses of all sizes have been thrust into digital transformation whether they planned for it or not.

Businesses should devise contingency plans and strive to continually innovate to improve customer experiences and ensure steady growth. As remote work and reformed social practices are forced upon us, digital transformation is the solution to changed employee and customer expectations across all industries.

The New Digital Normal

In the new normal, digital will rule as the world operates with significantly less physical interaction. To sustain remote work, companies need to modernize outdated, overwhelmed tech stacks. Busines and equip themselves with a digital toolbox that facilitates communication, scheduling, project management, file sharing, and storage to drive success.

Cloud infrastructure and apps.

Remote work is largely enabled by cloud infrastructure and apps such as Teams, Slack, or Chanty for messaging. You’ll need a platform for your calls and digital meetings like Hangouts, Zoom, or Skype for video calls. What will you do for contracts? Get that set it up — Formstack Sign, HelloSign, or DocuSign for closing contracts digitally.

For companies that have not already established a system for digital work, this can be an enormous overhaul for operations and can significantly impede, and even halt workflow. It’s essential that you make your solutions easy-to-use and easy to understand and adopt. Help your team with any required technical skills — and use platforms and apps so even non-tech savvy users can learn and adapt quickly.

Use simple, practical solutions so your organization can quickly scale to meet the demands of a remote workforce and changing customer behaviors.

Some vital digital transformation steps include moving all paper processes to digital, automating workflows, and digitizing every customer and supplier interaction.

For example, business leaders looking to transition back into physical offices are monitoring cases of coronavirus across their organizations with a digital COVID-19 self-declaration form. Healthcare workers are using online forms and routing to streamline the drastic spike in COVID-19-related requests, prioritize those most at risk, and routing them to the appropriate people to triage.

Higher education administrations are using digital surveys to collect student concerns on the transition to remote learning and apply that feedback to upcoming school year planning.

Businesses are also re-evaluating what is essential travel and what can be accomplished through virtual meetings. In lieu of annual in-person conventions previously used as touchpoints and opportunities for networking and new business, companies will have to connect virtually.

The Shift in Customer Expectations

Unfortunately, organizations that refuse to digitize or believe they can “switch back to normal” after the crisis is over will be left in the dust. Companies that made the investments in automation and moving work to the cloud are meeting the touchless, digital customer’s needs and will ultimately earn the trust and loyalty beyond the pandemic.

Conversely, businesses that require in-person transactions will lose out to competitors that are making it easier for customers to transact digitally from anywhere.

Reduced in-person customer interactions are significantly impacting brick-and-mortar businesses. CNBC shared that U.S. retailers expect an enduring shift to ecommerce, meaning brick-and-mortar stores should prepare for potentially continued lower foot traffic.

But retailers aren’t alone. Businesses across all sectors – from healthcare to retail – must invest in digital, contactless experiences or services to continue to engage with customers. Smart restaurants are pivoting to offer take-out and delivery.

Healthcare organizations are turning to telehealth and virtual consultations. They’re doing what is necessary to respond rapidly to changing business circumstances and increased operations, and simultaneously changing customer expectations.

Now that customers are experiencing what is possible through digital offerings, they will expect these convenient services to continue long into the future. Organizations that fail to shift to digital or cease supporting digital processes post-pandemic will ultimately lose value to their customers.

The Future of the Workplace is Hybrid

Even after the world emerges from the pandemic, digitization and remote work are here to stay. Employees and customers will have experienced new digital processes and services and want to continue enjoying the benefits. Though physical interactions will always be valuable, all stakeholders are learning the value of digital transformation through this crisis.

Moving forward, it will be key for organizations to provide a hybrid offering that prioritizes efficiency, convenience and safety across in-person and digital services.

Digitization is necessary for businesses to quickly adapt to remote work, it will also play an important role in helping return employees to the office.

Forrester Research reported that businesses will be turning to technology to make the employee transition back to the office as seamless and safe as possible. With the delayed return to in-person education and child-care services, parents will be required to continue working from home, even as others may begin to return to workplaces.

Working outside of a secured office setting underscores the need to adopt secure and efficient digital solutions to support a partial, if not continued, remote workforce.

To optimize safety, businesses will likely reconsider office layouts to increase space between workers and install devices that scan temperatures. They’ll also need to monitor cases of coronavirus across their organization with a digital self-reporting system — and control the number of people in an office at once through staggered work schedules.

Another factor to be considered is how workers commute.

Those employees that rely on public transit may need additional flexibility to work from home to decrease exposure to high traffic areas.

Through all of these transitions — companies have learned that workers can work productively from home to sustain businesses. Businesses can use digital transformations and they are offering the most holistic solutions to address the multitude of issues the world is facing in this evolving environment.

An investment in digital will be the strongest way organizations can arm themselves to not only persevere the pandemic but also continue thriving into the future.

Chris Byers

CEO, Formstack

Chris Byers is CEO of Formstack, a workplace productivity platform helping companies digitize information, automate workflows and transform processes. Launched in 2006, Formstack is trusted by more than 22,000 organizations worldwide, including Cleveland Clinic, NHL, Netflix, Twitter, and Butler University, to quickly and easily build custom forms, create documents, and collect eSignatures—all without any specialized skills or coding.