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PHOTO: Wyron A

As we wade through information, concerns and uncertainty around COVID-19 and look towards our eventual way out of this situation, there are plenty of predictions out there. I'd like to throw my hat in the predictions arena as well with my thoughts on remote work, conferences, whether or not to invest in projects now, and models of innovation and disruption.

Remote Work

Most predictions state COVID-19 will make companies get into remote work. My prediction is tech companies that don't adopt remote work now and in the post-COVID-19 world will suffer from an inability to attract or retain workers.

In late March:

  • Amazon, Walmart, Wells Fargo and others posted open jobs that require you to come to the office after lockdown is over.
  • One British company offered a job requiring working from home for 12 months while the virus issue is resolved, but then you must be onsite.
  • A company using a hashtag — #futureofwork — to promote its open jobs required you to be in its offices.
  • Another company said that because it is “very collaborative,” candidates must live in Portland or Denver, and come into the office. You can be in two different offices and highly collaborative, but not working from home.

After finding their equilibrium, nearly every tech company will fall in love with the increased productivity and lower costs of remote workers. Those who resist will find it harder to attract or retain tech workers. Famous brands that require onsite workers will notice a trend of people staying at their company for the "how long do I have to stay here for it to look good on my resume" (1 year), use the power of that brand name on their resume, and move on.

Bonus prediction: People who have been quarantined in city or basement apartments for weeks will rethink where they can make a “quality of life” move. Look for shifts towards suburbs, rental houses, townhouses, more rural areas, and other options that give people some piece of the outdoors, even if just a small yard. People making quality of life moves will live farther and farther from your offices. Onsite work will be an employment deal-breaker for them.

Related Article: Working Remotely: A Manager's Perspective

The Future of Conferences Is Few to No Conferences

Conference after conference was cancelled in the wake of COVID-19's spread, spurring many predictions that conferences will shift to mostly remote and online. I foresee a different outcome: Conferences will mostly disappear. I predict this for three reasons:

  1. Consider current natural human behaviors around, "I'll watch it when I feel like." Netflix, Amazon Video, YouTube. How often have you avoided a scheduled webinar because you wanted to watch it at a time that worked better for you?
  2. Why did we wait until once a year to share deep, meaningful, helpful, relevant and actionable content about our industry or our topic? Things are moving too fast. We need to make the best information available as we discover those speakers and presentations.
  3. Conferences are wildly expensive.

Your conference or its related brand will instead roll out a steady stream of online content. This might be free, or it might be gated, members only, subscription-based, powered by requested donations, or each presentation or webinar could be paid. The more people you want to see this content, the closer to free it’ll have to be.

The world is evolving too fast to wait for your next-September conference about what’s important to our industry. You will shift to having speakers join you live and online or from pre-recorded videos that people can watch when they have time.

Related Article: Virtual Events in 2009: Then vs. Now

Invest in Tech Projects Now

In such a down economy with an uncertain future, some prognosticators are urging businesses to cut everything: Cut people, projects and just stay afloat. I think that's the wrong approach. Companies that choose that path will be unprepared for the post-COVID-19 world, and will have trouble competing against companies who use this time to improve or expand what they offer.

We hear so much about layoffs in various industries, and a lot of it can’t be avoided right now. But for those working in tech, now is the time to invest in better understanding your customers and creating what matches their needs.

Cutting projects now means that when the post-COVID-19 world wakes up, customers have an outdated subpar product, mostly frozen in pre-COVID-19 time. Imagine your future, it’s 2021 and your company saved 2020 money by doing little or nothing. You still offer a website that converts poorly, a SaaS that isn’t a strong competitor anymore, an app with UX and technical debt, and systems that introduce people to The Four Horseman of Bad UX®: frustration, confusion, disappointment and distraction. If your customers are lucky, you would just then be starting (in 2021) a project to improve these, which is likely to take months or longer.

Some say that a down market is the time to invest, but the fact is, this “world down time” is a great time to invest in your CX and UX. Sadly, you might have to lay off larger teams and shift towards a team or outsourced agency offering veterans and experts. Bring in the big guns and research, learn, diagnose, architect, build, test and iterate.

No more excuses about not having time. We have time, and it can be used more wisely than it has been. Investing in better products and services now hopefully puts you on the path to higher revenues when potential and current customers re-emerge.

Related Article: Agile Marketing Your Way Through the Next Recession

Rethink Your Models of Innovation and Disruption

Projections abound which suggest companies will get really scrappy and “think” more like startups. My take is companies that are thinking critically will notice startups — which fail 70% to 95% of the time depending on whose statistics you believe — are not the right model to follow.

When you think about innovators and innovations, who comes to mind? Some would say Apple. Some who have experienced Walt Disney World look up to “Imagineers” as the center of innovation (outside of science and medicine). How about how Amazon keeps redefining who it is and what it offers?

Who does your company emulate? Did you follow Apple’s lead of trying to hire only the most amazing workers, or did you pick the cheapest people you could find? Did you follow its model of spending months on products before releasing them, or did you “just ship it” and struggle later to make fixes? Did you follow Disney’s model of taking time to craft excellent digital interfaces, real-life experiences, and services? Or did you rush things out or try to innovate with a week of “design exercises”? Did you follow Amazon’s model of frequent experimentation? Or did you avoid research and testing thinking it saves time and money?

Some startups have been successful in disrupting an industry, often because of one single core concept that was executed well, such as:

  • People renting out their rooms or properties, which disrupted hotels.
  • Lyft and Uber changing how you ordered a taxi, paid for it and who was driving it.
  • Stock trading done online instead of needing a relationship with a human broker.

During this down time, what will be your single core concept that you execute well? Make sure you have the right expert and veteran staff to strategize, organize and drive the teams. Put aside quickie methods, get out of the building (figuratively for now), and invest in CX and UX research. We must learn more about who our customers are, how they think and what they need. Great work takes time, and right now, you have that time. Avoid the shortcuts and templates.

Think About the Possible Outcomes

Nobody can say for sure what 2021 looks like for tech businesses. But you can start by imagining the possible outcomes. What are the possible outcomes of your company continuing to resist adopting remote work? What are the possible outcomes of freezing your product where it is now, making few or no changes, to save money?

What are those pros and cons? What might you miss out on? Consider where things are likely to go, and get ahead of the game. Use this time now to service design your internal workers’ experiences, research customers and better meet their needs, and go through all the fixes teams wished they had time to do. Stop putting more band-aids on flawed products. Walk through a proper user-centered design process to make improvements.