The disruption of COVID-19 caught many businesses underprepared for the necessary transition to a fully remote working pattern. While the initial change was swift, the effects have been long-lasting, with 60% of UK enterprises still working from home more than a year on from the initial lockdown, a figure which is more than double compared to how things were in 2019. While restrictions in the UK have started to ease, thanks in large part to the success of the vaccination programme, the way businesses and individuals will operate has irrevocably changed for the long-term.
Now that the ‘future workforce management’ dust seems to be settling and remote working has become a permanent way of life for many people, it is important to look at how we got to where we are today, make sure any quick-fixes are examined, and the effects on individuals in our teams is acknowledged.
A recent study by HubSpot found that certain groups of people, split along age and gender lines, within UK organisations have been impacted more severely than others. This is an important insight for businesses undertaking their second major workplace transformation in the last 18 months.
How to inspire and empower your remote or hybrid workforce
Communication preferences vary depending on age and gender
We found marked differences, depending on gender, in the communication methods people prefer to use to carry out their business. Pre-pandemic, 24% of women were communicating with clients over WhatsApp, compared to 16% of men. Women were also more likely to text than their male counterparts, and the top method of communication for them was email. For men, their top form of communication was telephone calls, and 57% of them preferred to speak to prospective clients in formal face-to-face meetings, compared to 48% of women.
The impact of the pandemic on the way salespeople communicate is evident. Today, face-to-face meetings have fallen out of favour, with only 19% of men and 14% of women using them to communicate with prospective clients. Written communication has become much more important to everyone, and so we see that email has become the dominant form of communication for men and women. While both genders now text prospects, the same amount of women (26%) still index higher on WhatsApp, with 30% using instant messaging in a work context compared to 21% of men.
Looking at how different age groups preferred to communicate pre-pandemic is also enlightening. Two-thirds of over 55s would contact prospects over the phone, making it the most common communication method, followed by face-to-face meetings (62%) and then by email (56%). 18-40 year olds were already the most reliant on email (68%), followed by telephone calls at 54%. Over a third of 18-40 year olds were already using WhatsApp before COVID-19, compared to just 10% of 41-54 year olds. On the other hand, nearly a quarter of 41-54 year olds were using LinkedIn, compared to just 7% of younger colleagues and 8% of older.
The pandemic has been a great leveller, with all age groups now heavily reliant on email (64%), and video calls have become the third most popular of communication across all age groups too. Interestingly, 18-40 year olds are about 20% less likely to be telephoning prospects than their older colleagues, and they are still twice as likely as 41-54 year olds to use WhatsApp.
These findings suggest that women and younger colleagues have had to make less of an adjustment in their preferred methods of communicating, and therefore found it easier to shift to remote working compared to their older and male colleagues. As restrictions lift and face-to-face meetings become more feasible again, organisations need to consider which methods of communication they want to support, especially if they are considering moving to a hybrid office/remote workplace. Face-to-face meetings are still a great way to communicate, but with a more dispersed workforce and a younger, more female-represented group emerging, who were already less dependent on them, returning to ‘how things were’ will not necessarily be advisable. Remember, our customers and prospects are experiencing a similar shift as they manage their teams and seek to adopt effective growth strategies into the future.
How AI is helping to speed up the sales cycle amid Covid-19
Changing patterns at work
Zooming back out to an organisational level, recent events have pushed leadership teams to fully embrace digital transformation. For many organisations, making remote work plausible meant pulling together capabilities from a range of technology providers into something of a patchwork of solutions, that didn’t necessarily behave well together but was necessary given the organisational shock felt initially.
Recognising that remote working is going to be a significant and constant part of our working landscape, it is now time to think about how to make this tech stack work more effectively. In many cases, this will involve consolidation, ideally onto a single CRM platform, where the sharing of customer and prospect data between marketing, sales and customer service teams is seamless, and where the platform supports growth, instead of creating friction points.
In fact, our survey also found that since March 2020, 40% of businesses have embraced using CRM software to understand and serve prospective customers, up from 25% before the pandemic. This is the only digital organisation tool to see an uptick in usage during the lockdown, with 7% of companies having shifted away from more ‘traditional methods’ such as spreadsheets. The survey findings suggest that CRM platforms have become even more relevant and necessary to support the quick responses our customers expect in a digital first climate, and this is expected to continue as we tackle the headwinds throughout the year.
The effects of COVID-19 disrupted the working landscape profoundly last year, meaning that UK organisations have had to rethink their working strategies. It is vital that business leaders constantly keep in touch with their employees and support them when these changes are taking place. The findings of our report show that not everyone has had such a smooth journey to remote working, and some people will need more support than others. On the plus side, the pandemic has shown the possibility of a more level playing field between young people and women, when it comes to building business relationships. A reduced focus on face-to-face meetings makes sales in particular more of a meritocracy as relationships with customers will continue to be predominantly formed over email and video rather than over lunch. Organisations that are serious about encouraging a more diverse sales workforce would do well to consider the positive implications a hybrid workplace can have on equality and representation.