How Have UK Businesses Responded to the COVID-19 Crisis?

businesses adapting to coronavirus

The outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic has posed great challenges to the world at large: with social distancing measures transforming our day-to-day lives, upending the economy, and driving businesses into the ground, no corner of society has been left untouched by the disease.

At the same time, it is often at times of crisis that new creations are born. And while the challenges posed by the coronavirus pandemic will not abate for some time yet, there is still cause for optimism where businesses are concerned. Ritam Gandhi, Founder and Director, Studio Graphene looks at how businesses are adapting to the new normal.

Most notably, the public health crisis has forced many UK firms into pursuing a faster-paced digital transformation; companies around the country have been forced to migrate their processes from offline to online and, in doing so, some have overhauled the very nature of their business models in an attempt to weather the storm.

Switch to digital

To investigate this phenomenon further, Studio Graphene recently polled over 500 UK business leaders to reveal the impact that COVID-19 has had on their approach towards innovation. The results are encouraging, with nearly half (46%) stating they have successfully migrated their offering from in-person to online since March 2020, and 42% suggesting the pandemic has resulted in the most radical digital transformation in their history.

It is clear that in order to survive in the “new normal”, many businesses have been pressed to adapt, and quickly. Digital transformations that would have once taken months or even years of planning have been fast-tracked in a fraction of the time.

So, even amidst the chaos, there is a glimmer of hope; the pandemic has presented businesses with the push they needed to embrace digital solutions, and, in many instances, it has proven that such project can actually be completed quickly.

The positives businesses can take from COVID-19 

Digital transformation has been a watchword in the private sector since the turn of the century. It most cases it is a steady, on-going process – adopting new technologies and practices often requires many years of careful planning and execution. While great progress has been made by many organisations in this regard, many still lag behind due to red tape and a stifling bureaucratic culture.

Yet, if there is a silver lining to be found for businesses in this difficult period, it is that many businesses have been able to cut through this red tape and overcome the typical barriers to innovation.

The Studio Graphene survey found that 45% of British business leaders believe their company’s risk-averse culture has typically made it difficult to innovate and embrace new ideas in the past. However, the pandemic has changed this: a staggering 65% said COVID-19 has forced them to act much more quickly in embracing new technology, with a further 50% asserting that the pandemic has had a positive impact on their business by incentivising them to improve on their digital infrastructure.

In this most simple sense, the majority of organisations have had to invest in communications platforms – the likes of Slack or Zoom – to ensure employees can speak easily while working from their respective homes.

Elsewhere, retailers and manufacturers have had to create online shops to enable them to sell their products directly to consumers or businesses at a time when people are not shopping in bricks and mortar premises.

The size and sector of the business will generally dictate the nature of the technologies it has had to adopt, but the underlying message is that there has been a dramatic move away from offline processes.

Looking to the future

With this in mind, while it is undeniable that the pandemic has placed a heavy burden on many companies, it is also clear that the crisis has been a hotbed for innovation. They say necessity is the mother of invention, and it seems that the lockdown period has broken down many of the obstacles that have previously stood in the way of businesses pursuing new innovations.

So now, business leaders must ask themselves how this momentum can be sustained as we slowly return to some semblance of normality. Careful contemplation and reflection are advisable, and businesses should plan for the future with digital transformation in mind.

The good news is that many organisations have taken this on board; the research suggests that over half (55%) of business leaders have said that following the events of the past few months, fostering innovation has become a keen focus within their organisation.

The majority have also stated that they are now more likely to invest heavily in new technology for their internal operations, with similar numbers saying they will now commit to developing new and improved customer-facing technology in the year ahead.

Ultimately, it is clear that in these challenging times, business leaders across the country have responded proactively. Although the innovations brought to the table throughout this period might still require some refining, they should have given organisation a glimpse of what improvements are possible.

About the author

This guide has been written exclusively for ByteStart by Ritam Gandhi, the Founder and Director of Studio Graphene – a London-based company that specialises in the development of blank canvas tech products including apps, websites, AR, IoT and more. The company has completed over 100 projects since launching in 2014, working with both new entrepreneurs and product development teams within larger companies.

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