The future of face-to-face business and the role tech solutions might play

How COVID-19 is accelerating the digitisation of business

This piece was written by Jessica Stern as a collaboration between Docusign and 4C, who work in close partnership across a number of digital transformation projects, helping brands to get the most out of their technological capabilities. 

Technology changing the face of business communication is nothing new. Skype has been around since 2003, Salesforce since 1999 and the first e-mail was sent as long ago as 1971 (technically pre-dating the World Wide Web).

That said, 2020 and the COVID-19 pandemic has fast-tracked the business world’s reliance on technology in a way few would have predicted even at the start of the year.

This article will explore the impact of COVID-19 on the future of business technology, including predictions for what will happen with virtual meetings/conferences, collaborations and workplace proximity.

What has changed so far?

Microsoft Teams worldwide users

Increase in the number of daily active users (DAU) of Microsoft Teams worldwide: © Statista 2020

What does the future of face-to-face business look like beyond 2020?

It is now apparent that the COVID-19 pandemic has changed the face of global business in a way that will have tangible, long-lasting impact. We are unlikely to return, at least completely, to the ‘old normal’. 

So what should businesses expect to see in coming years, and why does technology play such a significant role in adapting to the new world?

1. Virtual meetings are here to stay

The widespread successful adoption of Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangouts and other video conferencing platforms has proved that ‘getting everyone in the room’ isn’t essential all the time. Most companies have found that internal sessions, partner or client meetings, training sessions and even afternoon coffee catch-ups have all translated surprisingly easily to the virtual format. 

Because of the investment–both in terms of funds and time–in rolling out new remote working processes, it also doesn’t make financial sense to abandon these tools going forward. Early statistics show that as many of 77% of companies are looking to continue at least some aspects of remote and flexible working beyond the pandemic.

The same can likely be said for webinars and virtual conferences, the organisation of which sky-rocketed during the pandemic following the necessary cancellation of countless physical events. The number of brands organising webinars grew by 36% between February and March 2020. Companies that may previously have not considered hosting webinars  learned during COVID-19 just how accessible they are for businesses of all levels to participate in. While there will be a return of physical events where possible, it’s highly plausible that webinars will continue to strive.

Last but not least, it appears as though an influx of ‘hybrid conferences’ is on the horizon. This is where some meeting/conference participants, particularly key speakers, attend in person, with others dialling in virtually. It offers all the practical benefits of being able to tune in wherever participants are, combined with the advantages of in-person interaction. 

2. The workforce will spread

Especially for companies that chose to operate remotely going forward, employees will find it less crucial to live in the expensive commuter hotspots in and around London or other major cities. 

Research from TotalJobs noted that 1.6 million Londoners worked outside of the capital (largely at home) during lockdown, many of whom have expressed interest in continuing to do so. Statistics from the same study found that 38% of Londoners surveyed felt as though work commitments were preventing them from moving out of the city. With the growth in flexible working,  London centricity may see a decline over the next few years.

The ramifications of this for employers is a further reinforcement of the need to keep digitally connected with a wider spread team. Previously mentioned platforms like Microsoft Teams, Slack and Zoom are therefore going to continue being an integral part of business life.

Brands that aren't digital enough to be able to manage more widespread teams will likely fall behind.

3. Electronic signatures will become more prominent

With pitches, negotiations and sign-offs now happening through virtual means, the pandemic is accelerating the move away from the humble paper-based signature. 

This means growing demand for e-signatures. In April 2020, the Financial Conduct Authority released a statement saying that they do not explicitly require so-called ‘wet ink’ signatures in their agreements. This was a big step for the wider adoption of electronic signatures, scanned manuscript signatures and “I accept” checkboxes. It is likely that many other authorities and brands will follow in the FCA’s footsteps, making digital agreements more of the norm. 

For brands looking to cut down on in-person interactions going forward, it is therefore a clearly appealing option to be able to conduct and complete deals and contracts from afar.

It is obvious that now is a pivotal moment for businesses looking to survive and thrive beyond the COVID-19 pandemic. For some businesses, technological change has been forced upon them as a way of adapting to the unexpected circumstances. For others, remote operations through lockdown have opened eyes to the vast potential of digital transformation. Either way, it’s clear that technology will have a big hand to play in the long-lasting impact of this unpredictable year. 

If you are interested in guidance around the potential of digital transformation for your business, check out 4C. Find more about the specific benefits of embracing digital business through e-signatures, by getting in touch with the Docusign team today. 

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