Don’t call it the “new normal.”

No matter what sort of economy emerges beyond COVID-19, what’s truly normal is how even in the best of times business owners are obsessed with blazing a productive path forward. And they’re always ready to pivot.

This was evident among the dozens of small businesses we surveyed about their changing operations. We wondered: Which are temporary adjustments, and which may become permanent innovations?

It’s no secret that remote working has skyrocketed amid social distancing. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s new recommendations for office buildings make remote work all the more attractive for employers who don’t rely on manufacturing floors or retail traffic.

But plenty of business owners already have been impressed by the flexibility and productivity gains. One packaging company and Principal Financial Group client hadn’t offered remote work prior to the pandemic. But its operations director now sees its effectiveness and how much her employees enjoy it.

Another business shifting to 80 percent remote work “implemented scheduled meetings to keep everyone on task and promote employee engagement and accountability.”

Remote working by far was the most popular change in business operations likely to continue . But it wasn’t the only example. Here are five other trends that rose to the top and may provide ideas for your own business.

1. A more sanitary workplace

Permanent changes include limiting employees to a specific area (for office dwellers who used to “neighborhood” among departments) or piece of equipment (for industrial skilled trades and manufacturers). There’s also more availability of hand sanitizer and personal protective equipment (PPE) and more extensive routine cleaning.

2. Less paper, more digital

Even a couple decades into the 21st century, many businesses still rely on paper processing and recordkeeping. One media company says that this year has inspired a switch to digital accounting and human resources records. A financial firm says that the pandemic “has driven customers that were hesitant to use our digital products (online and mobile).”

3. Travel alternatives

One employer says that travel overwhelmingly had been the way to conduct business. “Now everybody has become familiar with teleconferences, e-signatures, and file-sharing.” The budget savings can be shifted to beef up human resources and IT.

4. Workflow changes

A manufacturer spread its workers more evenly among fewer shifts to better disperse them among the factory floor and reduce contact. Transitions between shifts also changed, “instead of having that one-to-one communication they leave detailed notes in a notebook by the machine for the oncoming shift.”

Sterling National Bank in New York City, while maintaining service in its branches, has seen how its processing and other back-office operations can be staggered to allow staff minimal time in the office without overlapping. Meanwhile, the sales team has reimagined routines.

“Relationship managers have quickly adapted to setting up those prospective meetings or those client meetings and doing videoconferencing, and it’s working well,” says Javier Evans, chief human resources officer. “Will it ever replace that face-to-face interaction? I don’t know, but I think we’ve made a huge headway in servicing and meeting and even prospecting new clients.”

5. Customer convenience

A health care company intends to maintain curbside pickup and telehealth services that its clients quickly embraced during the early months of COVID. A retailer has seen the benefit of providing free home delivery to its local community.

Before long, these various changes to business operations will feel--dare we say? --normal.

Next steps


Sterling National Bank is not an affiliate of any company of the Principal Financial Group®

The subject matter in this communication is educational only and provided with the understanding that Principal® is not rendering legal, accounting, investment advice or tax advice. You should consult with appropriate counsel or other advisors on all matters pertaining to legal, tax, investment or accounting obligations and requirements.?

Insurance products issued by Principal National Life Insurance Co (except in NY) and Principal Life Insurance Co. Securities offered through Principal Securities, Inc., 800-247-1737, Member SIPC Principal National, Principal Life, and Principal Securities are members of the Principal Financial Group®, Des Moines, IA.

Principal, Principal and symbol design and Principal Financial Group are trademarks and service marks of Principal Financial Services, Inc., a member of the Principal Financial Group.