• Armughan Ahmad, Author |

I recently had the opportunity to speak at Collision from home—North America’s fastest growing tech conference—about what’s next for Canada and the future skills needed for our new reality. It was evident that a main theme for many of the presenters was what the post-COVID-19 world may look like.

Over the past few months, we’ve seen that the global coronavirus pandemic has accelerated the digitization efforts of government, corporations and the education system at an unprecedented rate. People’s habits and working styles have changed practically overnight and businesses and employees alike have had to adopt and embrace the marvels of technology to not only survive but thrive in this new environment.

In order to move forward, business leaders will need to look at recent digitization trends and plan for changes in technology, talent and processes. Here are some things to take into consideration when planning for the future of your business.

Virtual environment
COVID-19 has brought about fundamental changes in the workplace. Organizations that did not previously promote work-from-home environments have quickly adapted and many companies with pre-existing remote workforces are moving toward a more permanent approach. Universities and colleges will need to implement smaller class sizes or an online environment to accommodate physical distancing measures.

Labour force automation
Coming out of COVID-19, automation will be crucial. Over the past three recessions, 88% of jobs have been lost to automation. In the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, 40% of companies have said they will accelerate automation and new ways of working once they start the transition back to work, according to the Future Skills Centre. Science, technology, engineering, arts and mathematics (STEAM) talent will become more important than ever in the future of work as companies look for people who are empathetic and creative. Keeping “the human” element in the automation processes is key. With these changes, organizations not only have a responsibility to educate employees but to upskill talent so that humans and machines can work together for the greater good.

Digital commerce
Since the beginning of the coronavirus pandemic there has been a 1,200% increase in online shopping registrations, a clear indication that people are consuming goods in new ways. This poses a concern for small businesses with fewer than 100 employees, which contribute about 51% to Canada’s GDP. Pre-COVID-19, these businesses were able to operate without functioning e-commerce practices; over the past few months, however, many family-owned businesses that rely on in-store sales have had to close their doors for good. End-to-end digital transformation will be crucial to the future success of small and medium businesses and the Canadian economy.

Supply chain automation
Many companies rely on offshore supply chains because they can be more cost effective, but business owners are now looking to source locally—opening the door for more automation. Businesses will need to be agile and willing to adjust if they are to optimize their supply chain processes for digitization.

What’s next?Fostering a culture of innovation
The next step for Canada as we start to rebuild our economy will be to foster a culture of innovation and commercialize on those efforts. In 2018, Canada spent only 1.5% of GDP on research and development, ranking behind innovator countries such as Israel (4.9%), South Korea (4.5%) and Japan (3.2%). So how do companies promote a culture of innovation? Start with buy-in from senior leadership. They are often the ones who lead these efforts and can help provide the right environment for ideas to grow. Companies should adopt a startup mindset when it comes to innovation by carving out a protected space for idea creation and using different metrics to assess their worth (i.e., not looking at profitability until the idea is firmly entrenched in the core business).

Starting these discussions now is critical to the future of Canada’s economy because talent, innovation and digital transformation will be key to emerging from this recession. Yes, technology will be a powerful enabler, but human beings are the true transformers.

For more on how to innovate and thrive in this new reality, check out the second episode of the Re-Entry Show: A pandemically correct program to help you thrive in a new reality.

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