The way we do business changed fundamentally in 2020, and in 2021 it’s safe to say that things will never return to how they were before. From redefining our workplace to doing everything digitally, some things that seemed impossible before became a reality when the world was hit by a pandemic.

While things have changed, there are many opportunities for businesses to explore from increased flexibility to new ways to connect with customers. We spoke to Angeli Gianchandani, M.A., practitioner in residence for the Brand Marketing and the Executive MBA programs in the Pompea College of Business about how companies can utilize the Internet, hybrid work models, and social media to improve their business.

How has consumer behavior shifted since COVID-19? How have businesses needed to adapt accordingly?
Angeli Gianchandani: The pandemic and subsequent lockdown pushed everyone into the digital world. From ordering food to getting groceries delivered, online is now our new norm. People are going to Amazon or Fresh Direct to buy food as they want to avoid contact with people in supermarkets. The online world is creating a lot of efficiencies for us, we’re saving time and diverting that time to spend it with loved ones or on our hobbies. We’re seeing an increase streaming services like Hulu or Netflix instead of going to the movies. Our education is online now and fitness apps have allowed us to stay healthy. We’ve seen the success of Peloton and how it’s allowed us to get a great workout remotely. There was a shift during the pandemic but consumers have adjusted and will continue to use these digital channels in a post-Covid world.

Mobility patterns have also changed. People used to commute before but now that pattern has changed. Since you’re working at home, you might not be going out to lunch but now you go out to dinner instead. Another change is that since people aren’t commuting for hours, you may have employees who are more productive. However, we still need to balance work and life even without commuting.

The pandemic made a lot of people realize that they could work from home. What does the new hybrid work model look like to you?
Covid rapidly accelerated the world we work in and it’s not going back to what it was before. We need to think and work differently. There were so many businesses that thought that we could never be remote – finance or banking, for example, but even they have been able to shift. We’re going through a cultural transformation. In hybrid culture, there will no longer be a one size fits all model, a 9 to 5 workday. How do employees communicate and how can they be successful working one day in the office and one day away? We need to look at growth and innovation especially through leadership to create this synergy. You’re going to have employees who want to go to the office but others will be more comfortable at home. Companies need to create a roadmap to allow their employees to be successful. Also, we’re going to have greater access to a talent pool that isn’t limited to geography. There’s opportunity for a diverse workforce. Another thing the pandemic has shown us is that we need flexibility, for example when a woman or man needs to take care of children. A large number of women dropped out of the workforce for childcare and home schooling. Companies need to think about how to bring back women back into the workforce. Companies are more successful when they have representation. When they hire more women, they have better financial success. Flexibility is beneficial for women, so companies hiring them will get us back on track to close the wage gap.

What role has social media played during the pandemic and how can businesses utilize social media during this time and going forward?
Social media definitely saw a huge surge because everyone was at home and had time to go on there! There was no in-person contact with people and it allowed people to have interaction with the community. We saw everything from livestreaming to video chats to gaming features that exploded on social media. From a brand perspective, it made them continuously innovate and re-evaluate how they’re reaching their consumers. We see a high number of consumers accessing everything on their phone now and augmented reality is a new way to create an integrated space of the physical and virtual.

What businesses do you predict will walk away successfully from the pandemic?
Businesses that are being bold — right now is the time for that. We have many issues happening; climate change, social justice, a pandemic, so companies that are able to focus on sustainable solutions that have their customers, community, and employees front and center. Companies have to embrace transformational leaders that can adapt, are agile, and invest in human capital, and are equitable. We need companies who break down this one size fits all model and can adapt to new structures.

What are some recommendations you have for businesses to connect with consumers in a world impacted by COVID-19?
I think businesses that want to connect with consumers need to focus on a growth mindset. They are not one-dimensional — they have a flexible culture and can embrace change. Companies need three things; the ability to adapt and infuse new ideas, the ability to communicate with kindness and compassion, and the ability to be socially conscious and act with purpose. It’s not only about profits but long-term that our community and planet are taken care of.

Employee retention is tantamount currently. What are some ways for businesses to motivate and retain employees?
Your employees are your superpower. They are your frontline, as they create innovation and impact your bottom line. When they are the face of your organization you need to invest in them continually whether that’s higher wages, benefits, and/or flexibility. Flexibility is really important. Companies that have that will have retention. Employees need to be acknowledged and motivated. They need support and additional training to do their job well. They want respect, honesty, and to be appreciated. You want to have loyal employees and nurturing their experience is going to be very important.

Photo by Rodeo Project Management Software on Unsplash