How I Had to Adapt in 2020

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On the March 11 anniversary of the WHO officially declaring the coronavirus outbreak a pandemic I was reflecting how my work as a technology industry analyst was shaken up. The stock and trade of a Gartner analyst is the wealth of best practices, frameworks, survey data, and examples that we accumulate over the years by speaking with so many clients facing similar problems. If a market is new, we get in at the ground floor by speaking to early adopters and emergent vendors to track it - and sometimes shape it - as it develops. 2020 put me in the awkward position of being asked questions with no history or existing material to answer them with. Remote working has existed as long as work has existed. But its nature was so different in the pandemic that only a subset of existing material on remote working applied. My blog post Two Remote Work Eras: B.C. (Before Coronavirus) and A.C. describes the differences as I see them. We were now dealing with industries and jobs that were not designed for remote work facing rapid re-deployments that left little time for strategy, staged rollouts, or normal acquisition cycles. The first set of questions I received were from tech provider clients wondering what to do about their user conferences.  These calls were mostly an exchange of ideas where I encouraged them to deconstruct where the value in the conferences was coming from and re-build them as something new.  My blog on the topic (With Conferences Falling to Coronavirus, It’s Time to Rethink the Virtual Conference) was my most read of 2020. Next came questions about shifts in interests from digital workplace buyers.  My infographic Infographic: Remote Work Is Going Viral — Search Data Reveals a Powerful 2020 Accelerator correlated the beginning of searches on Gartner.com for “COVID” with other topics such as “remote work”, “meeting solutions”, “employee monitoring”, and, ultimately, “future of work”. Going forward I don’t predict a lot of pandemic-specific questions from my clients. But, if compared against a parallel universe where COVID-19 didn’t arise, the questions will always be a bit different.  Support for remote work is now a planned, strategic concern for most all enterprises where in the non-COVID universe it is still a niche topic for a few industries. Virtual collaboration has fewer calls about proving value or ROI. And “hybrid” is embedded in solution profiles ranging from conferences to meeting room solutions. Maybe, above all, the importance of adaptability, resilience, and responsiveness have become clear.  They were made clear to me and are now hopefully baked into all enterprise strategies in 2021 and beyond.
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