We are reaching a tipping point in the situation surrounding COVID-19 in the UK.

The ‘new-normal’ is on the horizon, with the government slowly easing restrictions, retail shops beginning to open and businesses starting to think about returning to work.

But what will this new business landscape potentially look like?

BusinessCloud spoke to six tech industry experts from around the world to get their predictions and advice for what businesses can expect, and how they can best prepare for the post-pandemic workplace.

A catalyst to cloud

Cloud computing has been key to the success of many organisations through this time of unprecedented uncertainty and pressure, says Tom Cotton, Agile Workspace Technical Director at London-based digital transformation specialist Six Degrees.

“The coronavirus pandemic has prompted an acceleration in many organisations’ cloud transformation efforts, as they have focused on the logistics involved in ensuring people and departments can carry on functioning with minimal disruption to their clients,” he said.

“I believe we will see an exponential increase in the uptake of cloud services over the coming months. This will be driven by a number of factors, not least users becoming accustomed to the lack of commuting and seeing more of their family. Many will not want to transition back to their old ways of working any time soon.

“With so many transformational applications and technology becoming cloud-native, and considering the inherent security, performance and agility benefits of the cloud, there are compelling arguments for transitioning away from local infrastructures to embrace the potential of cloud technology.”

Organisations will have to turn to cloud-based finance platforms post-pandemic, says Simon Bull, Sales Operations & Business Development Manager at London-based online accounting firm Aqilla.

“Things aren’t going to go back to ‘normal’ any time soon. If anything, ‘normal’ as we once knew it will likely change forever, and businesses are going to have to seriously consider how they can operate with increased agility and value-add,” he says.

“CEOs will turn to the finance department first for support with this, so accounting systems need to be able to support this business need.

“Every organisation needs finance software, and so having a cloud-based accounting and finance solution will mean that the finance department can work fully from home, if necessary, while being able to support increased agility with the latest company data.”

Most businesses had to act quickly to implement new cloud technologies at the start of lockdown to ensure their business stays operational and that employees could continue to perform effectively and securely, even from remote locations.

Martin Taylor, Deputy CEO at Bracknell-based cloud communications provider Content Guru, explains: “The shock of how suddenly the COVID-19 crisis took hold, and how quickly the situation escalated, put every organisation under significant and sometimes unprecedented strain.

“For many businesses that found themselves reliant on legacy on-premise communications infrastructure, and especially for those that had been sitting on the fence for some time, procrastinating over whether, how or when to embrace new cloud-based technology, the coronavirus crisis could prove to be the much-needed catalyst for positive long-term change.”

Supporting an increasingly remote workforce

Taylor explains what this means for the newly remote workforces. “For the contact centre industry, which employs more than four per cent of the UK’s working population, the last few months could prove to be a fast-acting stimulant, injecting increased remote working and adoption of cloud technologies.

“After the height of this pandemic is over, I expect we will see most contact centres looking at how they can adopt a cloud-first approach that allows agents to work from wherever they are based, so they can future-proof their business models against situations like this in the future.

“We are not out of the woods yet, but I believe that the coronavirus will positively impact the way contact centres operate forever. Those that decide to move to cloud-based technology platforms may discover that, since operations can continue to run just as smoothly with home-based agents, flexible working may be a viable option for their staff.

“Flexibility and agility will be key and a true cloud solution ensures that the location of an agent no longer matters – contact centre operators can develop alongside, and meet with, businesses’ and individuals’ growing demands for the new way of working.”

Krishna Subramanian, COO at San Francisco-based data management start-up Komprise, speaks of a ‘new normal’ for businesses.

“While it’s encouraging that the lockdown in the UK is slowly starting to ease, it’s important for business leaders to recognise that this doesn’t mean their employees will all be back in the office any time soon – if ever,” she says.

“We have moved into a very different ‘normal’ where remote working has become the standard, and this is likely to continue in some form even once the pandemic is over. Some companies such as Google and Facebook have already decided to let their employees work from home for the rest of this calendar year.

“For many businesses that are able to support employees working remotely, it is likely that this will become the new norm, rather than employees mainly being office-based. For example, a department or team may have one set day each week that they all come into the office to meet, and then the other four days are for remote working.

“This will be more challenging for some businesses and industries than others, but it will become clear as this pandemic continues which businesses have been able to manage the change well enough for it to become more permanent. Even still, there will be increased challenges for IT departments to support employees using IT equipment or accessing secure systems outside of the office.”

An acceleration in the already-changed consumer model

“Retailers and consumers alike have a massive desire to get back to normal – whatever that new normal may be – but the longer the lockdown continues, the bigger the adjustment will be for people, with a potential reluctance or nervousness to venture for non-essential tasks,” says Rob Shaw, Managing Director, EMEA at Fluent Commerce, an Australian cloud software company focused on smart order management for omnichannel merchants.

“Post-lockdown, we’ll see two types of consumer. The first will jump straight back in as if nothing has happened – they may even be shopping more enthusiastically than before, as seen in luxury stores that reopened in China recently – and a second who will be more cautious.

“Focusing on the cautious shopper, in practice, means following government guidance and creating a safe in-store environment, one that echoes measures we are seeing in grocery stores up and down the country.”

Perhaps we will see a return to a more interactive consumer, as we are reminded of the importance of empathy and connectedness.

Liam Butler, Area Vice President at SumTotal – a HR software firm based in Florida – concludes: “When planning for the near future, businesses should be thinking about operating in a new normal – and while this is largely a positive change, it will be a very different environment to the one we are all familiar with.

“Businesses will be engaging with customers, employees and other businesses in very different ways, placing more emphasis on genuine human connection in the absence of physical travel and in-person engagement. People buy from people – that will always be true – and the key element is trust.

“The question for every business now is how do we foster that trust and community spirit – between colleagues, managers, customers and suppliers – in a more dispersed, digital and fundamentally different world.”