Coronavirus has shown employers that online is more important than ever

The Covid-19 pandemic has already had far-reaching effects on businesses everywhere. Whether in the Americas or Eurasia, the financial and economic consequences are immense, from mass furloughing of employees in the travel industry, to bankruptcy among retail companies. It’s clear we will be seeing the economic impact of coronavirus for a long time to come.

HR has adapted

But it isn’t just the consumer-facing side of businesses which have been affected – employee experience has been, too. Just like all businesses, HR must adapt. We’ve already seen HR and reward teams taking radical steps to keep up with changes in the situation: businesses who said they could never support flexible or remote working have been forced to accommodate this. And there’s no going back – it’s proved these businesses can do it. Quite simply, the world of work will never be the same.

Our Chief People Officer, Kathryn Kendall, discussed this in a series of recent LinkedIn posts:

“From around the globe come stories of businesses whose eyes have been opened to the importance of showing kindness and compassion to the people who enable them to deliver. Who are realising that it is possible to trust your employees to deliver without having them chained to a desk from nine to five. Who are finally embracing the need to enable flexible, remote working patterns, facilitating the needs of those who have caring responsibilities, enabling them to fully integrate work and life.

 [We have] discovered the things that really matter – Turns out, dress codes don’t matter. The amount of time we can see our employees sitting at their desks for doesn’t matter. Whether or not someone takes five minutes out of their morning to put on a load of washing, feed their pets or give their children a cuddle… that doesn’t matter, either. What matters is hard work, accountability, output, and a commitment to deliver, regardless of where or when we might be working.”

How have businesses adapted?

With each new development and restriction, one consistency has remained: the answer is online. For every business adapting to survive amid the pandemic, going online has provided a clear solution, be it short or long-term.

Even for businesses which are inherently offline (restaurants, gyms, theatres etc.), new ways of working online have been found, as a matter of necessity. We’ve seen films being premiered on streaming services as a substitute for cinemas, restaurants turning to online-order and delivery-only, theatres releasing online performances and gyms transferring to video-call classes.

A surprising change to note is the amount of organisations that have changed fees to match the move to online. Be it services waiving delivery charges, free streaming of previously ticketed sporting or musical events, or un-gating content on news and entertainment sites, there’s been a definite shift towards open-sourced resources. This is a very ‘online’ thing to do – these organisations have realised that today’s online consumer expects much more for free (and can get it whether you give them permission or not), and will only pay if necessary.

The overall shift has shown that businesses are realising, if they want to successfully transition to the online world, they need to be as agile at the technology they’re using.

We live online now

Even before Covid-19 hit, we were more online than ever – and now, it’s no longer an option. You must be online to survive.

Let’s look at some examples:

  • In the UK, 80% of the population currently use their mobile phone to browse the internet. In the UAE, this figure goes up to 96%.
  • Smart devices now account for 73% of all internet consumption.
  • 8 in 10 email users exclusively access their email via mobile device.
  • Almost 50% of mobile users now use their phone as a ticket or boarding pass.
  • Back in 2015, mobile internet traffic overtook computer as primary traffic access in the world.

Learn more in our report, The Smart Movement.

In the context of lockdown and social distancing, we are using the internet even more. From facetime to online cinema, we’re seeing so many new ways of using the internet – and this will not disappear after/if Covid-19 disappears. People and businesses alike have introduced or adapted their services and habits to stay connected, or help customers and employees remotely:


  • Though already gaining popularity beforehand, online medical advice has been a source of essential care for thousands. Additionally, virtual consultations and digital healthcare have become increasingly valuable – particularly to those requiring ongoing healthcare or non-emergency advice.
  • Many organisations, such as Headspace, have un-gated their mental health resources, or created online wellbeing hubs like this one from Solent Mind, to help people cope with being isolated.
  • The NHS have propelled the distribution of their free NHS app, enabling people everywhere to order online prescriptions and request deliveries of essential medication.
  • In recent years, Facebook has added a ‘Crisis Response’ feature to its social platform, providing updates to users with real-time information and guidance during national emergencies. Now, the vast majority of social media giants, including Twitter, LinkedIn, Instagram, and even YouTube and newcomer TikTok, have followed their lead – implementing Covid-19 healthcare advice & warning banners across their apps and websites.


  • Use of video-calling has skyrocketed, with friends and family using services like FaceTime and Skype to stay connected. A surprising turn of events has shown Zoom – previously primarily used by businesses alone – become a household name, as people find new ways to see their loves ones.
  • Similarly, we’re using online platforms to reconnect with once-distant friends or family. Be it a message on Facebook or a Skype call, many connections are being reignited by people’s additional time and the ease of online communication.
  • Even those who normally shy away from technology are going online, with many older people taking part in online social events.

Education & work

  • With schools and universities closed for the foreseeable future, education has moved online. A mass of online teaching and educational tools have been made available for students and teachers alike, including virtual classrooms, resources for parents and e-learning courses.
  • For the majority who are working remotely – many for the first time ever – Covid-19 has forced businesses to move communication entirely online. Team meetings are held through services like Zoom, Slack, and Microsoft Teams, and employees are staying connected to colleagues via instant messaging.
  • As remote working becomes the norm, the ability to share and manage online files has never been more essential to businesses. While many businesses already had online file management, the move to working from home has shown just how crucial this access is.
  • To keep learning and development going, some organisations are offering free courses, such as Champion Health’s now-free mental health training for managers. LinkedIn is another business who have made their training free, giving access to a whole host of courses, covering everything from job searching to mindfulness.


Entertainment & lifestyle

  • Online gaming platforms have seen increased success, meanwhile new apps and software have come into the mix to bring trivia and quiz activities to ‘non-gamers’.
  • Musicians have taken to social media livestreaming, giving free ‘at home’ concerts to their followers, after a majority of tours were cancelled.
  • Many streaming and entertainment services are offering their content free – Amazon Prime have extended their free trial period, Rooster Teeth have open-sourced all content, and several sports channels are releasing back-catalogues, previously held behind a paywall. We’ve also seen theatre and music venues, like The National Theatre, release recordings of live performance recordings to YouTube.
  • Gym and sports centres have moved to online classes held via video conferencing, as a way for people to maintain active among lockdown.
  • As a substitute for cinema release, many blockbusters have shifted to streaming premieres, and platform-exclusives, while other releases have been postponed.
  • And of course, a majority of restaurants – including those traditionally non-delivery – have now moved entirely to delivery.

Even just a decade ago, these adaptations to a socially distant world wouldn’t have been possible, and the impact of Covid-19 would have been far more isolating – internet speeds weren’t good enough, technology available to consumers on a budget wasn’t good enough, and the digital infrastructure of the internet wasn’t strong enough to accommodate mass usage all at once. But in 2020, employees are online at all times, and as a result of Covid-19, businesses are realising they can be, too.

If you’re not online, you’re out of mind

While many businesses had already transitioned to online systems such as employee benefits or recognition platforms, coronavirus has shown us that businesses cannot afford to be offline anymore. From recognition and employee benefits, to communications and social channels – many employee systems still rely on paper administration, phone calls, and multiple log-ins. These experiences simply do not match the ease and instantaneous nature of online technology that employees are used to.

Some of the industries which have been affected most by Covid-19 – such as retail, construction and hospitality – are those whose employee experiences are still largely focussed offline, such as high street giant Primark, who do not offer online shopping, and have announced a £0 profit since closing all their shops.

In workplaces where a majority of employees are furloughed or working from home, your online communication and reward systems matter more than ever. These are the touchpoints with your business and culture that employees interact with on a daily basis; these are what they will remember.

While offline systems may technically do the job, their user experience lags behind. More than ever, employee experiences need to be agile, consumer-led and accessible. In a state of play where everyone is stuck inside, you can no longer rely on offline – today, offline equals out of sight and out of mind.

There’s no way back now

Had this pandemic hit even 20 years ago, a large proportion of the technology we’re using to stay connected would not have been available. Without these platforms, tools and services, life would have been even more difficult, and many more businesses would have collapsed.

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After widespread lockdown ends, employees will not easily go back to offline employee experiences – this will be a new normal in the workplace. The workplace has been becoming more online, more flexible, remote and global for years, but coronavirus has accelerated that process significantly – and if your organisation isn’t online, it could easily get left behind.

Bringing everything together onto a single platform can ensure you’re delivering the best possible employee experience throughout this pandemic and beyond. Find out more about Benefex’s OneHub technology: A home for all-things reward and benefits