Business leaders have had to quickly rethink their operating models in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic. We’re now entering a crucial period of post-pandemic rebuilding and adjustment already defined by incredible global demand for digitisation.

There is no single playbook to responding and recovering from a global pandemic. At Salesforce, the success of our customers shows that many companies are coming back stronger. From their shifting to digital strategies to embracing new ways of working and delivering success from anywhere, I’ve been impressed by the resilience of how quickly businesses have innovated.

We can all learn from the remarkable transformation stories like those highlighted in Resilience Recast, a five-part Reuters Plus podcast series exploring how business leaders are rethinking their strategies for a resilient future.

How digital transformation builds resilience

While we were already living in a digital world, the pandemic has accelerated transformation across all aspects of society. If you don’t have a digital strategy, then frankly you don’t have a strategy at all. It’s imperative to the very survival of a business, to the broader global economic recovery and to building future resilience.

Staying afloat during difficult times isn’t enough. To thrive, business leaders must serve their customers, whatever the circumstances. As the pandemic emerged early last year, Amazon suddenly entered what it calls “peak mode”, an intense surge in demand usually associated with holiday periods. This time, however, it was caused by the global health crisis rather than by celebrations.

I was fascinated to hear just how quickly the company adapted to the changing needs and demands of customers at the time. In the Resilience Recast podcast, Stefano Perego, Amazon’s vice president of EU operations, describes how the retailer reinvented some of its operating processes to handle this spike in demand.

This included developing a way to flag pandemic-related items - for example, safety masks, hand sanitisers, office supplies and even children’s books - so they were prioritised in the delivery queue.

“Technology has been an incredible tool to ensure we would be able to support the surge in demand,” Perego explains in our episode, entitled ‘Keeping the Customer Engaged - Building Resilient Customer Experiences’. “It was quite intriguing to see us applying that inventiveness to ensure we would be able to answer the customer demand in so many different circumstances and in such a difficult scenario like the pandemic.”

What the future of work looks like

Technology has been essential to keeping organisations operating during the health crisis and our workforces safe. It will also be central to how we use this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to reimagine the way we work.

The classic model of the 9-to-5 workday is no more. In an all-digital, work-from-anywhere world, businesses have to be able to work, sell, service, market, collaborate and analyse data from anywhere. This success-from-anywhere approach is the next evolution of workplace culture and the future of leadership.

Key to achieving this will be building trust, decentralising decision-making processes and empowering employees at every level. According to podcast guest Ian Goldin, professor of globalisation and development at Oxford University, giving people a sense of purpose, skill and meaning - especially when it happens organically - is essential to embedding organisation-wide resilience.

“What’s most important is that we move from an individualism dominating decisions and society toward a more collective understanding of our needs - from ‘I’ to ‘we’, from ‘me’ to ‘us’.”

The need to maximise diversity

Creating a diverse, inclusive workforce is not only the right thing to do, it has huge business benefits, particularly during times of adversity. If business is to be the greatest platform for change, it has a responsibility to address inequality in the workplace.
Diverse organisations reflect your customer base, and society more broadly. When a workforce fairly represents different individuals, it will benefit from a multitude of perspectives, ideas and talent.

Equality is a core value at Salesforce. As Pip Marlow, CEO of Australia/New Zealand and ASEAN, says in the podcast, creating flexible work arrangements allows diversity to flourish. This is why, at Salesforce, we’re exploring how working models can best suit employees’ situations and how we can build new pathways for women to enter the tech industry and encourage sustainable support for parents.

“We know best business performance comes from diverse teams - not just gender diversity, but cognitive diversity, cultural diversity,” Marlow says in the podcast. “If we’re not letting those things blend, we’re not going to be achieving the business results we want.”

Peter Schwartz, futurist and senior vice president of strategic planning at Salesforce, has spent his career planning for a variety of what-if scenarios. He says that bringing together diverse teams and encouraging widespread engagement throughout organisations is key to remaining agile in a changing world: “Maximise the diversity in the group and you’re most likely to see the surprises.”

What it means to be resilient

As we learn throughout the series, a large part of resilience is leadership, with purpose and shared values. The role of business is changing, and ultimately the future will belong to companies that serve all stakeholders - employees, communities and the planet - not just shareholders.

For those of us in leadership positions, we need to build greater trust with these stakeholders and a stronger foundation for growth, innovation, equality and sustainability. In doing so, we will strengthen our resilience as we navigate opportunities - and the challenges - of this post-pandemic, all-digital work-from-anywhere future.

Gavin Patterson is President and Chief Revenue Officer, Salesforce.

The Reuters editorial and news staff had no role in the production of this content. It was created by Reuters Plus, part of the commercial advertising group. To work with Reuters Plus, contact us here.