The global COVID-19 pandemic has been an extraordinary catalyst for change in just a matter of months. It has fueled a shift in every aspect of our lives. Video chat, online streaming, telemedicine, and remote learning have taken over as we all change the way we interact with the world around us. 

The impact on businesses has been equally transformative, as many have had to learn how to operate remotely—at a high level and at far greater speed than before. As businesses are forced to do more with less, many are finding better, simpler, less expensive, and faster ways to operate. In many cases, things will never be the same. For all the uncertainty about what the future will look like, it’s clear already that it will be digital.

Digital is fundamentally changing how businesses operate and deliver value to customers. It’s also a cultural change that requires organizations to continually challenge the status quo, experiment, and adjust. Companies that once mapped digital strategy in years must now scale their initiatives in a matter of weeks or months. 

This race to digitize and modernize is not all bad news. Even before COVID-19 hit, 92 percent of companies thought their business models would need to change given digitization, according to a McKinsey study. Because of the worldwide travel bans, many CEOs are spending less time traveling, and therefore have more free time to spend on other projects they just never had a chance to get to previously. And for that 92%, now is a great time to accelerate that digital transformation. 

How exactly can this be accomplished? Below are three key areas to focus on in order to accelerate your digital transformation. 

Be Adaptable

Organizations around the globe are suddenly being forced to figure things out on the fly. This has underscored the crucial capability of being able to learn and adapt, which can be applied to every arm of your organization. Take, for example, marketing: you can have as many theories as you want about who your target audience is and how to connect with them, but until you start testing out those theories and seeing which ones actually work, you are just theorizing. My guess is that the events of the past few months have forced every organization to reassess their marketing efforts (and if you haven’t, what are you waiting for?)  

Increase the Speed of Innovation

Consider how quickly banks have migrated physical channels online, how healthcare providers have moved rapidly into telehealth, insurers into self-service claims assessment, and retailers into contactless shopping and delivery. The coronavirus is increasing both the pace and scale of workplace innovation. The status quo – or whatever had been working for you for the past few years – probably isn’t going to cut it right now. Every truth we accepted has been turned on its head, and the way you communicate with your consumers needs to adjust accordingly. The truth is, beyond consumers, we are all humans, and the majority of us as humans don’t want to get sick. We also have bigger things to worry about currently than the shoes you might be selling. The tone and messaging of every consumer outreach needs to shift accordingly, and we need to make these changes in real time, or risk losing whatever brand loyalty we may have had. 

Move Quickly & Decisively

Despite the immense challenges leaders are facing today, now is the time to act. One key lesson from the 2008 economic crisis is the companies that move early and decisively in a crisis do best. Brands that kept their advertising steady and remained strong in 2008 recovered nine times faster during the global financial crisis. 

The global COVID-19 pandemic is undeniably a tragic humanitarian crisis, and no one knows exactly what the future holds. Some things will snap back to previous form, while others will be forever changed. As more and more of our lives have suddenly gone online, there is no denying that the future is digital. In this unique moment, companies have a unique opportunity to learn and progress more quickly than ever before. Playing it safe now, understandable as it might feel to do so, is often the worst option.

Digital technology is transforming the way companies across every industry operate. We are shifting towards a digital-first tomorrow, and the companies that take action to accelerate this process of digital transformation faster will be able to shift out of recession and achieve greater market penetration moving forward.