2020 The Lasting Effects – Hybrid Offices & The Future of Sales


In general, 2020 is regarded as a year that no-one would want to revisit.

Sure, there have been worse years in history. But nearly all of us alive have seen nothing even remotely close to last year.

To give a little context:

  • You would need to be over 100 years old to remember the devastation of World War I and the 1918 flu pandemic.
  • You’d need to be about 90 to have a sense of the true deprivation caused by the Great Depression.
  • Finally, you’d have to be in your 80s to have any memory of World War II and the horrors it brought with it.

The rest of us had no frame of reference and no training for what occurred. The natural disasters, the civil unrest and of course the virus that turned the whole world upside down and to date, has ended the lives of around 1.5 million people globally.

If 2020 were a dystopian movie, you’d probably turn it off.

It wasn’t the thrilling, action-packed apocalypse we were conditioned to expect. It was, despite being woven with immense pain, maddeningly mundane for most, the average every day turned against us all.

Businesses that could, worked out how to set up their operations remotely. Many didn’t have that privilege and were led to making redundancies or closing up completely. Meanwhile, we realised just how essential our NHS heroes, supermarket workers and logistics staff really are.

But we’re not talking about ‘history’ here, not how you’d normally think of it. This was last year; you don’t need reminding what happened, you were there.

No one knows for certain what the full impact of the COVID-19 pandemic will be. And it will be quite some time before we do.

However, the history of previous calamities and disasters tells us two things; Firstly, even in severe economic crises, downturns, and recessions, some companies gain an advantage and are able to grow. Secondly, crises not only produce a multitude of short-term changes but also some lasting ones.

So, what’s already happened?

Businesses innovated to help the world cope with the pandemic.

As the pandemic worsened, it put global supply chains under an unprecedented amount of strain. Items needed most, medical equipment like masks and gloves, ironically, were often produced in locations such as Wuhan, China and these links were severed by the virus.

Companies of all sizes adjusted quickly and went into overdrive to help provide medical equipment and support.

Companies such as BrewDog utilised their distilleries to switch from producing alcohol to hand sanitiser. Ford collaborated with several other companies to build respirators and ventilators. Clothing companies switched to making medical gowns and masks. Tech giants IBM created the High-Performance Computing Consortium to offer high-class computing resources for the medical and science communities.

The business world said “Black Lives Matter”

The awareness of racial injustice took a huge leap forward in 2020. In some ways, CV-19 played a part in this as BAME communities were some of the worst hit by the virus and are twice as likely to die of COVID-19 in the UK. But the cold, undeniable video of American George Floyd’s murder was a tipping point.

Along with protests and marches across the globe, nearly every organisation felt a need to say or do their part in supporting Black Lives Matter, showing their commitment to justice.

Many companies did this by committing to raising the level of Black representation in management or buying from and supporting more Black-owned brands. There is a more comprehensive list of actions here.

Many symbolic statements were just as important. One that really stood out came from the most unexpected source of BabyNames.com. Usually a happy place for expecting parents to explore names for their newest family member, the site posted a black box with white lettering; listing dozens of names of black men and women who had been tragically killed by police or white supremacists. This was joined with a simple statement: “Each of these names was somebody’s baby.”

The definition of corporate responsibility has hugely expanded.

Companies are increasingly being held responsible for a much broader spectrum of their ‘impact’ on society outside of the usual physical aspects such as treatment of workers, land use or pollution.

This was made clear when Disney launched the live-action remake of Mulan last year. Part of the movie was filmed in areas of China that have detained at least 1 million Muslim Uighurs, one of the world’s biggest human rights disasters.

They received an enormous amount of criticism and push-back because of this decision and became a lesson in the new expectation of companies. How a company treats communities, social issues, and the natural world is increasingly under scrutiny and is now key to how the C-suite and business entity as a whole is judged.

What’s next? 

Reassess your business growth.

Businesses now need to reassess their growth opportunities in the ‘new normal’ and adapt their business models to better understand and take advantage of new types of opportunities.

The pandemic has not only disrupted global business practice and consumption; it has forced and allowed people to unlearn old habits and adopt new ones.

Most studies show it takes between 21-66 days to fully form a habit, which means each lockdown has lasted long enough to significantly change habits that had previously been the foundation of your client relationships.

To emerge from the ongoing crisis in a stronger position, you must develop an understanding of the changing habits of your existing and prospective clients. For many, that will require new processes to detect and assess those changes before they happen.

Unless you sensitise yourself to these new habits and their ongoing effects on your client’s decision making, you’ll fail to identify upcoming problems and miss opportunities in new areas.

Take a new perspective. 

By taking a new perspective outside of what you’re currently focusing on, you can identify potential blind-spots and further opportunities.

Who in your industry is doing well? What are they focusing on? What products are they pushing, or are they launching new ones?

The same goes for your clients too: Who has stayed loyal? Which are showing a change in behaviour or a withdrawal from your service? Are there any new needs emerging due to the crisis that you could provide support for?

Don’t forget your own teams: What workplace changes are being adopted by leading companies? What new challenges are your employees facing? What new methods are your employees responding well/badly to?

Once you’re armed with this new knowledge, you will know where your opportunities lie, and you can reshape your business to make the most of them.

Get comfortable with hybridisation.

Even pre-pandemic, questions have been raised about the effectiveness of the traditional 9-5 office set up. When the age of COVID-19 dawned, the future of the office was thrown well and truly into limbo.

Remote working became the new normal instantly for most companies that could make the switch. Employees retreated to home offices, kitchen desk setups and other makeshift alternatives to complete their roles as best they could.

Many have thrived under these new circumstances. A recent study by Citrix found that 69% of employees working remotely reported to be more productive now than when they were working from the office. Others have found the switch incredibly difficult due to loneliness, poor conditions and declining mental health.

The only certainty through this pandemic is that things cannot stay the same as they were before.

We feel that the solution will lie in a middle-ground of flexible working. One that caters to each individual’s strengths and habits – the hybrid office.

In its most basic form, a hybrid office allows employees to work in the workplace and remotely. It is a versatile solution that can be adapted to suit the needs of almost all companies.

For some, it could mean a fixed office building with hot-desks available for ad hoc usage; for others, it could be more dynamic, allowing for alternating hours or a rota schedule.

Most importantly, it caters to flexibility, allowing employees to choose where and how they want to work.

When done right, this hybrid approach combines the use of a physical space and digital technology to create an innovative and agile workforce. Taking the best elements of the traditional setup and optimising them with remote working. Thus allowing the business to exist as successfully in the digital realm as it does in the physical.

Many larger companies have already adopted this approach. Implementing 2-3 remote days weekly with individuals working from the office the rest of the time. Although the hybrid solution does feel like the logical next step for most. It’s important to remember it isn’t a one-size-fits-all method and any decisions should be made with the input of all employees and with their best interest at its core.

What does this mean for sales? 

With all of these changes coming and some that have already arrived, what’s next for sales? One thing we can be sure of is the gap between businesses and their clients has never been broader. Sales and business development must adapt to bridge that gap.

Technology is evolving, but research is still king.

Technology is always evolving; it has its place and it’s okay not to know the answer to all your client’s questions all the time. Learn to ask questions, actually listen and add value in your response – trust us, your prospects will thank you. To do this well, you have to do your research.

At Intelligent Talk, we’ve written numerous posts and shared templates on how important your research is and how to go about it. This hasn’t and won’t change – people buy from people they like; you get them to like you by getting to know them.

Efficiency will lead to a greater need for training.

To grow and be successful in a post-COVID landscape, salespeople will need to be efficient, technology-supported and effective. Those that aren’t will probably be replaced by technologies put in place by those that are.

This means there will be a much higher need for sales training. These will focus around navigating new and complex sales processes efficiently and around the ever-important conversational skills.

More sales = more specialised. 

Sales will need to become more specialised in order to continue adding value to your clients. Expecting one person to specialise in research, prospecting, outreach, discovery, negotiation, closing and account management is simply unrealistic.

Now more than ever, it is important to have the right people doing the right jobs. Invest in your marketing efforts to generate leads and support your prospecting. Have project managers to research and conduct pre-sale activities. Develop your account executives, so they become fully comprehensive account managers, delivering the best service to each client.

Get more leverage by using technology.

Evolve your services to include data-driven automation. By accessing more data and expanding your sales stack, you facilitate your sales and business development reaching a higher level of success in spite of less-than-ideal circumstances.

Companies unafraid of expanding their use of technology will come head and shoulders above their competitors in the years to come.

In Summary

In times of crises, it’s often the go-to to relapse back into old habits, to when things last felt secure.

But this is the time where new approaches are the most valuable and need to be embraced. 

While preparing yourself or your company for the ‘new normal’ don’t allow yourself to be limited by traditional information or behaviour.

Challenge your own thought processes, revamp your business strategy and invest in the right areas to not only survive but thrive in a post-pandemic world.

Whatever the future of sales is, there has never been a more exciting time to be a part of it. It’s clear to see that the future still holds plenty of opportunities for those willing to innovate.

Published: 29th January 2021