The COVID-19 pandemic forced businesses everywhere to evolve in numerous ways. From increased safety measures to utilizing previously untapped technologies and marketing strategies, it's clear that necessary changes are becoming not only workarounds, but in some cases, permanent mainstays. Here are some trends to watch in the post-Covid business world.

1. Limited Contact and Touch-Free Technology

The trend of limited contact brought on by the pandemic will most likely continue well beyond it. Whether it's between business and customer or between team members, limited contact is safer than the alternative. Many folks will go out of their way to seek out businesses that can meet their needs without having close contact. This means fewer cash transactions, more smartphone-centric features, more online shopping and booking, and more deliveries and drop-offs.

Touch-free technology will continue to be favored. Expect to see increased usage of gesture, voice, and facial recognition, as well as usage of employees' and customers' personal mobile devices throughout businesses of all types. Payment by smart phone, already a growing trend before the pandemic, will become increasingly popular.

2. Digital Marketing

The pandemic changed how businesses communicate to potential customers, and this is especially true in the digital realm. Businesses are relying on the Internet more than ever, and are taking advantage of technologies that were previously available, but not always a priority.

With more business being done online, email, social media, and search are the ways to get in front of customers. Expect digital marketing trends that have been going on for years to grow even more rapidly with more businesses dedicating greater amounts of resources to these channels.

3. Virtual Events and Conferences

According to Forbes, virtual events, valued at $78 billion in 2019, are expected to grow 23.2 percent annually through 2027.1 While plenty of in-person business conferences and events are bound to take place, many people are simply going to feel more comfortable learning and networking from the safety of their screen. As in-person events were replaced by virtual counterparts, the costs saved on related travel, as well as the ability to attend without getting on a plane, are going to sound especially appealing to people who were already getting used to the format.

4. Robots

Another trend that was already growing before the pandemic is robotics, and COVID-19 made the case for increased robot use. As the US Chamber of Commerce notes, "The implementation of robots into workspaces and factories already felt like an inevitability due to automation. But the category of robotics is getting more attention because, quite simply, robots can’t get sick and can help fill worker gaps. New examples of popular robots include mobile machines that can clean and disinfect and drones that can deliver light packages such as prescriptions. This is just scratching the surface of where robots will be in a few years."2

5. Rethinking the Supply Chain With Local Sources

Businesses and consumers alike felt the effects of supply chain disruptions brought on by the pandemic. To minimize future hurdles, many small businesses have already looked for ways to optimize supply chain management, and this should continue beyond the pandemic as businesses try to prepare for the future.

"Globalization gave birth to the extended worldwide supply chain," says Lou Washington at software provider Cincom.3 "Regardless of the social and political implications of this movement, the pandemic has exposed the frailties of this practice as implemented by many manufacturers. The distances involved and the lack of logistical resources available to move products quickly and predictably have exposed significant weaknesses and vulnerabilities in many supply-chain operations."

In response, Washington says, businesses should identify local sources and use more of them, particularly for critical supplies. Doing so will also demonstrate that your small business is doing its part to support the local economy and increase jobs locally.

6. Tying Your Brand to Societal Goals

Brand activism has been on the rise in recent years, and that was especially true throughout 2020 as social justice demonstrations took the world by storm. Racial justice and equality have been among the most visible and widespread examples of brands tying themselves to societal goals over the past year, with companies large and small showing support and announcing related initiatives.

A study conducted in 202 by Resonate found a growing segment of “consumer activist” shoppers – consumers who take into account companies' societal efforts and impact into the products they choose to buy and brands they choose to do business with.4 As politics and current events shape more of consumer behavior, this segment is likely to see continued growth.

Conclusion

Going forward, small businesses must reflect on how they handled operations during the pandemic. What worked and what did not? While there were many hardships, it's time to view COVID-19 as a massive learning opportunity. There are lessons to be learned from virtually every existing and failed business. Beyond learning from your peers, listen to your customers, and continually aim to improve in ways that best suit their needs, as well as those of your company.

1. https://www.forbes.com/sites/shamahyder/2020/12/15/what-virtual-events-might-look-like-post-covid/

2. https://www.uschamber.com/co/start/strategy/pandemic-business-trends-that-are-here-to-stay

3. https://www.cincom.com/blog/us/business-operations/7-trends-post-pandemic-recovery

4. https://www.globenewswire.com/news-release/2020/06/16/2049055/0/en/New-Research-Reveals-How-Activism-Influences-Buying-Behaviors.html