The New Normal: Perspectives on What’s to Come and How We’ll Adapt

The days and weeks navigating our “new normal” during the global pandemic have been a whirlwind. I am personally hitting my stride with new routines. I’m eating lunch and dinner with my family every day – I can’t remember the last time we did that. I get to have my dogs around 24×7.

We face “life-work” balance where the two are now more intertwined than ever…and I know for some, the realities of the virus are hitting too close to home. This has been an exercise in balancing priorities, being flexible and creating boundaries – and the resilience and commitment I’ve seen across our teams to support our customers and each other makes me proud to work for Dell Technologies.

But I’ve been thinking about what comes on the other side of this experience. How will we evolve? How will this experience influence business relationships and our personal lives? The optimist in me believes we will come out of this pandemic even stronger and more connected.

I see four major acceleration points.

We’ll have a larger remote workforce, expanding talent pools and reducing environmental impact.

The debate on whether a large remote workforce can be productive is over – we’re learning that it’s not only possible, it’s successful. Until a couple months ago, many organizations had run the traps on a fully remote workforce as a tabletop exercise – now it’s been turned on like a light switch in a matter of days. For most companies, approximately 20% of their workforce was remote before COVID-19. [1]

At Dell Technologies, we had already been leaning into flexible work. Before March 15, when we announced a global work-from-home policy, 65% of team members were leveraging our flexible work policies, and we had approximately 30% of team members working remotely on any given day. Our connected workplace infrastructure set us up well for the unexpected – over a weekend, our IT team had 120,000 people up and running to work remotely. Today more than 90% of our workforce is remote.

The remote workforce is here to stay. 451 Research finds approximately 40% of organizations expect expanded work from home policies to remain in place long-term or permanently.[2]  Our own pulse survey among customers validates this view, with up to 40% stating they’ll shift to a more robust work-from-home environment. I’d go a step further and predict upwards of 50% of the professional workforce will work remotely post pandemic – those who predominantly work on a PC for day to day work. Of course, this will vary across organizations and industries, notably in jobs where being on-site and on the front lines is a requirement.

We see this in three phases. First, do it “light” – quickly expand the work from home strategy – giving teams that can do so the ability to be productive and connected with secure, stable systems.  For many – we’re already through phase one.

Next, make sure to do it right – team members having the right mix of technology and balance to have the best remote work experience for the long-term. This requires organizations to evolve their lifecycle management strategy and virtual desktop infrastructure capabilities.

Third – drive further innovation to create the best work from home experience. Making sure team members have the apps and services they need for a contactless IT experience – just as powerful if not better than what they would have experienced on-site. Give people the ability to do their best work from anywhere in the world.

And there are added benefits. the span of talent pools around the world just got a lot bigger – proximity to a specific location won’t be a priority. For example, we’ve had our engineering teams innovating from home – iterating with agile methodology, writing code, and quality testing capabilities in virtual environments – all ahead of important product and services releases this year.  We’re still running on schedule. That’s powerful. And, less people traveling in planes and cars could have a compelling impact on reducing the carbon footprint. Passenger vehicles account for nearly 30 percent of greenhouse gas emissions. Reduce the amount of traffic and transportation – make a significant change on the environment

Global supply chains will undergo rapid transformation – diverse, resilient and digital

Supply chains quickly learned the importance of diversity and flexibility over the last couple of months. Companies found their supply chains weren’t as global and local as they needed to be – lacking the ability to source materials from different localities or suppliers and quickly navigate local workforce health and safety protocols. As importantly, there was a wakeup call on how transparent and secure the end-to-end supply chain truly is.

This is an exercise in supply chain resiliency – how quickly you are able to pivot defines how strong you’ll come out on the other side. That requires a data-driven digital supply chain and quite simply – relationships.

For Dell, we’ve built incredibly strong global relationships throughout our supply chain over decades. And we’ve been undergoing our own digital makeover that put us in the position to be more agile during one of the greatest moments of uncertainty we’ve ever faced.

We’ve got powerful data sets that give us real-time visibility, intelligence and automation across planning and delivery, procurement, manufacturing and warehousing. We can apply predictive analytics to model a variety of outcomes to make smart decisions with speed. And with the world shifting to an accelerated digital existence – an automated, intelligent, visible and secure supply chain will be paramount to business continuity.

This resiliency is core to being able to meet customer needs now and in a post-COVID world.

The 4th industrial revolution will arrive faster and gives us a path to economic recovery

The shift to a remote workforce and the “just stay home” movement have underscored the importance of digital transformation for organizations – to innovate and rapidly put technology to work to create new ways of doing business.

Companies and governments are investing in even more secure, scalable IT resources to support high-volumes of virtual, online business. This touches almost every industry – groceries, fitness classes, banking, shopping for both essentials and non-essentials, entertainment. It’s all moving online. That’s a lot of data to manage, analyze, store and protect – and secure.

We’ve been talking about the fourth industrial revolution for a while – where data enables breakthroughs in AI and automation to deliver autonomous machines, connected cities – a digital world.  Now, we’re on an accelerated timeline. Organizations have had to pivot quickly – those able to adapt and evolve will survive and come out stronger. I see technology as a key path to economic recovery

My conversations with customers have moved from “what do we do right now” to “how do we plan for the future” with investments in technology and innovation that ensure business continuity for the long-run. It’s unclear how long the recovery will take – there are a number of models and predictions. But as an optimist grounded in the realities of how our customers are thinking about what’s next – we can’t miss the opportunity to drive greater connectivity, automation and outcomes through data. This applies to small, medium and big enterprise business. Digital transformation creates a new path forward.

Companies that have started optimizing for digital experiences are a step ahead as others grapple with creating the same – or even better, a seamless experience online as they offer in-person. AI and Machine Learning play a big role to glean meaningful business insights from vast amounts of data – customize experiences that make it easy to find, easy to buy, and easy to receive goods. AI bots and virtual chat will evolve further to partner with humans to deliver outstanding customer care, with more predictive analytics that can spot potential issues before they arise. Sure beats standing in a customer service line.

Healthcare and education will transform to have the greatest impact on society if we get it right

Embracing digital transformation means positive changes for healthcare and education, creating the ability to reach everyone to close skills gaps and prepare the workforce of the future. The challenge? There are still parts of our country and the world that are in need of network bandwidth and support at scale.

First – healthcare. Right now, many physicians are offering well-checks virtually. At Dell, we’ve been using TeleDoc for some time, and recent stats for the month of April in the U.S. show a nearly 50% increase in usage year over year. Imagine what’s possible for preventative care when you can extend the reach of healthcare through technology. For instance, in India we worked with the government and non-profit organizations to launch the Digital LifeCare Solution. Designed to support health workers, doctors and health officials with mobile apps and services, this solution has the potential to reach more than 500 million people in rural India as part of a plan to reduce the number of deaths caused by non-communicable diseases.

Let’s look at education. Schools have had to shift to virtual online learning platforms in a matter of weeks at every level – elementary through higher-education. Educators are hosting virtual classrooms with upwards of 20 students at a time, facilitating homework and lessons in a variety of education applications. That’s a heck of a learning curve (pun intended). Just like moving to a remote workforce – there’s a triage period where we need to get it working well and then innovate to make it an incredible experience. Think about the reach we could have with greater accessibility for children in rural or underserved areas to close the homework gap with access to online classes and enrichment.

And in higher-education – we can work to get distance learning right and give equal access to all. The number of students taking at least one online course grew from just over 30 percent in 2016 to almost 35 percent in 2018.[3]  We need to move faster to create hometown jobs and ultimately close the skills gap to ensure the workforce of the future is ready for the digital future – no matter where that workforce resides.

The gaps in the digital divide need to close. Government stimulus can further accelerate the speed at which education and healthcare organizations can digitally transform to serve their communities in new ways. 5G and scalable technology infrastructure can drive these necessary changes, like what the City of San Jose is building to ensure 5G touches every community with a specific focus on digital inclusion. Dell Technologies is part of a telco-technology cross industry effort to support a national strategy for 5G, invest in rural connectivity and modernize telecommunications through open, interoperable network innovation. Our communities can’t afford for us to miss this opportunity.

While some aspects of our lives have slowed down – less rushing from here to there – the speed of digital transformation is moving quickly. While I’m certain some elements of life will return to the way they were, somethings will never be the same. And that’s OK – perhaps necessary. Now is our opportunity to rethink and redefine the future of work, business, healthcare and education – and how we balance all those things to create a stronger, more resilient future. As the phrase implies, “the new normal” will eventually evolve into what’s expected.

[1] Dell WW Worker Study, IDC FoW

[2] 451 Research, Mar 2020


About the Author: Jeff Clarke

Jeff Clarke is vice chairman and chief operating officer for Dell Technologies responsible for running day-to-day business operations, shaping the company’s strategic agenda and setting priorities across the Dell Technologies executive leadership team. Jeff directs the Services, Infrastructure Solutions Group and the Client Solutions Group, and manages Global Operations including manufacturing, procurement and supply chain. Jeff is also responsible for setting the long-term strategy and leads planning for technology areas such as AI, Multicloud, Edge and Telecom. Jeff joined Dell Technologies in 1987 as a quality engineer. Since then, his remit has grown to lead the company’s biggest transformations that resulted in Dell Technologies No.1 worldwide share positions in many of its core infrastructure and PC products. He’s also passionate about Dell’s social impact agenda and plays an active role in advancing Dell’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, employee resource groups and 2030+ ESG goals. Prior to joining Dell Technologies, Jeff served as a reliability and product engineer at Motorola, Inc. He serves on the College of Engineering Advisory Council for his alma mater, the University of Texas at San Antonio, where he earned a bachelor's degree in electrical engineering in 1986.