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The world will never be the same as before COVID-19 paralyzed the world. In the future, we will talk about a before and an after corona. Many of the trends which were in their rising before the crisis have speeded up. And especially four megatrends have taken off.

By Thomas Honoré, CEO & President, Columbus

Remote working attracts talents
Prior to the corona crisis, working from home was a concept only few companies practiced fully. Remote working was more of a work-life balance treat, which gave employees flexibility in a busy working day. However, in reality most managers wanted employees to show up in the office, being visible, efficient and available.

As corona set in, we were suddenly forced to make remote working work – overnight. And for the vast majority, the home work worked. Many even became more effective.

In Columbus, we recently conducted an employee survey of remote working in our Dutch subsidiary. In fact, precisely the Dutch office had the fewest employees working from home before the crisis. And surprisingly, 90% of the employees were happy to work from home, and 80% thought that they were more efficient. Yes, they missed the office chats with colleagues, but the benefit of working at home without any interruptions from the open office environment, avoiding rush-hour travelling and balancing a busy family life – while getting more done, was a win-win for all parties.

I believe that our way of working will change after the crisis. By reducing reliance on work location, companies will be able to attract far more talent and create greater diversity. Transport is no longer a barrier for getting a job. People with physical disabilities or other limitations will have new opportunities to get their dream job. Part-time and freelance employees will increase. At the same time, companies will scale down the cost of large office buildings and perhaps instead scale up location and service to make the workplace more attractive.

Remote sales and delivery are the new normal
Last week, I spoke to a CEO of a medium-sized manufacturing company who in the last 1 ½ months, did not have a single salesperson knocking on the door. Normally, at ten salespeople knock on the door every week. At least. The meetings were being held, only now they were remote, and the meetings were far more efficient both for him and the salesperson.

In Columbus, we have several years of experience in serving our customers remotely. Several of our services are born remote. However, before corona, we saw that many of our customers wanted the consultant physically present, and we had a perception that physical presence provided a better dialogue.

The real giant stride to remote services came with corona. We have found that remote does not have any limitations, neither when selling, delivering, developing nor supporting. And I think that in the future, we will see even more opportunities as technology and maturity develop. We will find that its easier, cheaper and faster remote.

The future winner companies are digital
There is no doubt that companies that are digital at their core have managed much better during corona than those that are not digitally grounded. The so-called stay-home companies that make it possible to work, shop and not least entertain themselves from home have been robust during corona and more have actually increased; Amazon, Netflix and Zoom are good examples of stay-at-home shares which have gained a significant upturn during the crisis. In Denmark, COOP has almost tripled its revenue on groceries sold online, Salling Group’s revenue in BilkaToGo has grown by 500% and nemlig.com has doubled revenue.

Many of the digital habits we have built up or developed during the corona crisis will undoubtedly stay. Companies have seen the potentials of keeping the company going without being in the same room. We will see an escalation of service functions moving online. Retail chains investing in digital commerce and manufacturing companies in robotics and virtual reality. The health innovation has also got wind in the sails. In short, the transition from the physical to the digital world will accelerate.

The trend towards increased digitalization is unstoppable and corona has only accelerated that trend.

Digitalization drives sustainability
Never have we had a more direct reminder that we live in a VUCA-world (volatility, uncertainty, complexity, ambiguity). We have learned that we can act fast, be flexible and think both short-term and long-term and constantly be aware of new threats and opportunities.

Companies have become aware of the benefits of remote working; less travelling, smaller offices and reduced physical meetings, while improving productivity, work-life balance and new digital business opportunities. And as a positive side-effect, remote working contributes to an important agenda: Sustainability.

Despite the fact that we are in the middle of a global health crisis, the climate crisis has not disappeared, although the crisis has also brought positive climate effects. I might be a naive optimist, but I actually believe that corona will make people live a carbonless lifestyle, and at the same time I believe that companies will see the benefits of increased digitalization at more levels, such as price strength, lower costs, increased service AND less carbon footprint. The crisis has shown that a coordinated global action for the climate is actually possible, therefore the question is whether we can hold on when we have to get the wheels rolling again. I hope so.

In a few years’ time, when we look back at the crisis we are going through now, there will be a before and an after corona. The world has changed. My hope is that we take some of the experiences with us and use them to create more resilient and sustainable business models. And one of the strongest cards to have on hand is undoubtedly digitalization.


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