There is no getting away from the fact that 2020 has been a tough year. People have been separated from loved ones, had their plans thrown into disarray, and struggled with the day-to-day.
For Australia – after three decades of continuous economic growth – the sudden plunge into recession is particularly hard. We’ve seen a 6% decline in GDP and the highest unemployment figures in 30 years.
Government policy – JobKeeper particularly – has helped many businesses and families; technology also has played a critical role in shielding organisations from the worst of the pandemic and helped to keep 3.2 million Australians working, according to a report released today by research firm AlphaBeta (part of Accenture), and commissioned by Microsoft.
The report reveals that there has been a massive acceleration in the adoption of digital technologies which helped avoid an even deeper economic and jobs crisis than the one we are experiencing. Technology tools – such as video conferencing and e-commerce – allowed 3.2 million people to keep working and prevented around half of those (1.6 million) from potentially being furloughed from their jobs with the introduction of social distancing rules.
Importantly also, the research reveals that productivity was three times higher in firms that adapted their workplace to remote working – introducing policies such as flexible working hours, initiatives to increase social connectivity and plans to support physical and mental health. Firms that introduced these types of policies had three times stronger productivity outcomes, with 37% of businesses suggesting that their productivity increased.
I have always been a fervent believer that the best outcomes arise from taking a people first, technology second approach to digital transformation. This research shows that to be true even in a pandemic.
This crisis has affected businesses of every size, in ever sector. We’ve seen suburban cafes take orders online for touchless delivery; witnessed professionals embrace video communications and online collaboration tools; and schools transition rapidly to remote learning.
The AlphaBeta research shows that nearly 9 in 10 Australian firms adopted new technologies to improve their business continuity during COVID with many planning to maintain their use beyond the current crisis. What is clear from the research and my conversations with customers and partners is that many organisations plan to embed this new way of working, and new way of operating well in to the future.
I believe that can only bode well as we advance through Australia’s recovery.