Masks are coming off. Business “as usual” is resuming. Yet no firm made it through the last year without significant changes and disruptions. Yes, it was exhausting. But the pandemic might also have been just the shake-up the world needed…
Doubt it? Or at least, wouldn’t have designed it that way? Let’s take a second look at the “new normal” and why, strange as it seems, the world may just have started changing for the better.
Traditions are Dead. Long Live the Traditions!
One of the biggest gifts of the pandemic times was the utter destruction of many workplace and supply chain traditions. It was painful, stressful and, at times, quite expensive to watch decades of established norms crumble. That’s what happens when years of pent-up need for system updates, automation, equity and change happen in a matter of weeks.
What emerged from the chaos were more nimble systems, and a lot more openness to new ideas. Doors were opened on contracts and relationships that wouldn’t have happened without the usual players being temporarily offline or unavailable. Now, there’s a chance for fresh conversations, to ask “Why did we do it this way, anyhow?” and to make new arrangements.
Even better? While some of the new arrangements and operating procedures were designed as temporary stop-gap measures, now that they’ve been in place during the ultimate high-pressure testing ground, many are here to stay.
We’re all More Sensitive Now
Another shift is that everyone, in every contract and every business relationship, is more sensitive to differing backgrounds, work/life constraints, and diversity overall. Decades of “talking the talk” on allyship and diversity issues were put through a red-hot summer of protests and riots nationwide, raising awareness of not just the issues but the consequences of insufficient action.
Conversations are happening now that are awkward and awful and 100 percent necessary for real change to happen. There are no longer just business relationships. It’s not always comfortable, and sometimes tiring for suppliers and businesses alike. However, in every part of the supply chain, businesses and business practices are in the spotlight and being held accountable as never before. As a result, there’s real shifts in spend, in access to resources, and in support for development of skills and talent.
Face-to-Face is no Longer Required
At the beginning of 2020, who would have imagined that so much business could be handled virtually? It’s incredible … especially for diverse suppliers who may have been dealing with discrimination based on racial, gendered, or ethnic differences from their customers, and for suppliers who were previously limited by geographical restriction now proven to be meaningless.
With contactless delivery and payments, for example, there’s no space for “small talk” packed with tasteless jokes, bad pick up lines, or offensive cultural references. Paper trails and smart contracts eliminate delays in payments and receipts, add transparency to what may have formerly been “handshake” agreements, and allow many accounts to be serviced more efficiently.
Meetings, too, are different. Over Zoom, it’s possible to add subtitles to bridge linguistic gaps, to more easily record conversations for later reference, and to eliminate stressful travel between locations. By being less physically available, many account managers and buyers actually became more responsive online. This has given businesses more efficiency in forging fresh client relationship and suppliers more answers as they make bids.
Attitudes of Gratitude Abound
Finally, the last big change that’s turning out to be a real positive is the second look everyone is giving the relationships – business and personal – in their lives. Suddenly, nothing and no one can be taken for granted, not even things as simple as assuming stores will be open or that people can be seen in person. It’s been a wake-up call for millions, and as a result, there’s a lot more gratitude and thankfulness going around.
Yes, people are stressed. Systems are under strain as the kinks get worked out. Yet there’s more open statements of “I appreciate you” and more saying “Thank you” for jobs well done, favors, and interactions. Coupled with the rise of new traditions, increased awareness on diversity issues, and enhanced virtual interaction possibilities, these new attitudes of gratitude and respect may just make the “new normal” a marked improvement on the pre-pandemic world.