The business impact of COVID-19: Lessons learnt and next steps

By Robert Half on 12 April 2021

In early 2020, so little was known about what lay ahead – a year of pandemic-driven curveballs, challenges, new business learnings, economic turmoil, and, above all else, an overwhelming sense of shared uncertainty as the world grew anxious about the emergence of COVID-19.

2020 shook most industries in some way, shape or form – whether for the better or for worse. And whilst the pandemic isn’t over yet, COVID-19 remains, perhaps, the ultimate business ‘disruptor’ as the pandemic changed lives, where and how we live and work as well as entire economies.

At a time when many communities are marking the first anniversary of COVID-induced lockdowns, we suggest pausing for a moment to reflect and understand what the business impact of COVID-19 has been, what we’ve learned, and how we all must continue to navigate a much-changed world over the months ahead.

Resilience = confidence

The pandemic quickly impacted business confidence and growth prospects as companies everywhere – many literally overnight – went into lockdown and dealt with unprecedented levels of economic volatility. Business resilience became mission critical as never before as managers and workers alike came to recognise the importance of agility, adaptability, and innovation when pivoting their operations and objectives during the pandemic.

Business confidence is returning, though. One year on and, whilst uncertainty still lingers, according to a recent survey by Robert Half, 77% of Australian business leaders are somewhat-to-very confident about their growth prospects going into 2021.

Remote- and hybrid-work aren’t just contingency measures, they are the future for many

There has been a huge shift to hybrid working patterns in response to COVID-19 which has seen managers and employees alike split their time between working remotely at home and working in-office over recent months. Robert Half surveys show that 79% of Australian business leaders think hybrid workforces are now a permanent part of the employment landscape, and 70% of workers want a choice of work locations moving forward.

The benefits of remote/hybrid work include increased agility in changeable times and creating an opportunity for better work-life balance for employees. Employers also now can access a wider talent pool and retain top talent looking for more flexible working arrangements whilst paying careful attention to monitoring workloads, maintaining company culture, and assessing employee well-being in non-office environments.

Recruitment practices have evolved

Recruitment practices, which typically relied on in-person interactions pre-COVID, have quickly adapted to meet the hiring and onboarding demands of companies eager to secure the right candidates in what remains a highly competitive job market, sparking the rise in remote interviewing and onboarding and advertising fully remote jobs.

Many companies have continued hiring throughout the pandemic because of an uptick in activities across business functions deemed essential for survival. Tech teams, for example, have responded to the pandemic-induced, accelerated pace of digitisation across internal operations, services, and products, while data-driven finance teams have likewise been essential to planning and preparing future business strategies. HR teams have also seen increasing workloads whilst managing changes to workplace policies and protocols and supporting the wellbeing of remote staff.

So, what’s next?

Whilst cost reduction and balancing budgets remain priorities for many business leaders, companies are also seeing growth opportunities by implementing initiatives to increase efficiency and boost competitiveness.

According to our research, CIOs are prioritising cyber-security initiatives, Big Data, digital transformation, cloud projects/initiatives, innovation, and new technologies, while CFOs are focused on automating finance and accounting processes, meeting accounting and financial reporting standards, data analytics, and meeting regulatory requirements.

In the year ahead, companies are likely to be increasing their demand for roles such as cyber-security specialists, systems and cloud engineers, and developers as they accelerate digital transformation from and internal and external perspective.

Similarly, finance professionals who are tech savvy insight-driven business partners will be critical to helping company leaders forecast, drive efficiency, and develop agile future strategies. Roles such as financial planning & analysis managers, functional business analysts, and project managers will be highly sought after across finance functions.

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