The COVID-19 pandemic has disrupted our work lives with short-term changes that are likely to become long-term norms. Recent surveys suggest the crisis will accelerate many workforce trends that were already underway, including the adoption of digitization and automation. Read on to see how remote work is bringing the future into the present.
In response to the COVID-19 crises, countless businesses leaned heavily into remote work. Even before the outbreak, however, this trend was well underway, as companies sought to reduce overhead, improve worker morale and increase productivity by allowing larger segments of their workforces to telecommute.
To better understand these changes, McKinsey commissioned a comprehensive survey of business executives in June 2020. Among the most compelling findings included:
Huge Strides Toward Automation
Unprecedented restrictions on physical interactions, travel and shifts in consumer behavior since COVID-19 forced consumers and companies to change the way they shop, work and interact. This has sparked digital transformations in a matter of days and weeks as opposed to months or years.
As more and more nonessential workers began working from home, 85% of business executives in the McKinsey survey said their companies have accelerated the implementation of technologies that facilitate employee collaboration, such as filesharing and videoconferencing. At the same time, about half reported increased digitization of crucial customer channels via mobile apps, e-commerce or chatbots. At least 35% have digitized their supply chains even further, by connecting suppliers with digital platforms.
The adoption of automation technology, including chatbots, autonomous vehicles, robotics and AI-driven software, has also ramped up during the COVID-19 pandemic. These trends reflect automation’s ability to streamline efficiencies and facilitate contactless interactions. They also demonstrate the value of modern non-human solutions for traditional business challenges.
All told, 67% of respondents said they had accelerated automation and artificial intelligence. These moves were designed to allow companies to remain viable and profitable during pandemic restrictions. Because they result in increased efficiencies and reduced costs, however, they are likely to remain in effect long after these restrictions end.
Remote Work Driving Automation
While business executives in every sector reported accelerated adoption of automation and digitization, those in the technology and financial services sectors saw the greatest advancements since the COVID-19 outbreak. Around 88% of insurance and finance executives and 75% of technology and information executives reported increased implementation of automation and AI.
That said, these sectors were already leaders in automation and digitization before the pandemic. Since the start of the outbreak, the adoption of automation and AI has accelerated most among businesses that had a greater shift to remote work. Among respondents who moved most of their workers to remote work during the outbreak, 85% said they had accelerated automation, while just 50 percent of respondents from companies that adopted remote work for only a few select employees reported increased automation.
Automation Will Only Increase
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, remote work was growing slowly, as businesses worried about its impact on corporate culture and productivity. With increasing restrictions associated with the outbreak, however, millions of employees were forced to stay home and work with laptops and other digital technologies. Now, countless employers intend to increase their number of remote workers at least some of the time. What’s more, 70% of executive respondents expect to use more contractors and temporary workers than they did before the outbreak.
None of this would be possible without automation, which streamlines efficiencies and reduces the need for on-site human workers. In the end, the COVID-19 outbreak has forced many businesses to improve their efficiencies, giving them a competitive edge that will persist long after the outbreak comes to an end. To keep pace, lagging businesses will need to rapidly accelerate toward automation wherever possible.
Remote work is here to stay. Most businesses plan to move toward a hybrid working environment with employees working both on-site and online. This will require digital processes and infrastructures to enable remote working and ensure a seamless digital customer experience.
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