When companies around the world suddenly found themselves forced into a collective work-place experiment this year, digital tools came to the rescue, helping teams stay connected and get what they needed to keep moving forward. Now, months in, leaders are applying lessons learned with a longer view—rethinking legacy processes to put employees first.
Purchasing is a case in point. When the pandemic hit, businesses suddenly needed never-before-sourced supplies, like IT for working from home or personal protective equipment for people on-site. With teams decentralized, legacy purchasing processes weren’t suited to the job.
Traditionally reliant on manual, paper-based systems, business purchasing has lagged behind the digital evolution of personal shopping, where people are accustomed to one-stop shops with vast selection, personalized experiences, and automation options that save time. A study by Salesforce found that B2B expectations mirror B2C standards. Eighty-two percent of business buyers they surveyed want the same experience as when they’re buying for themselves.1
Here’s how two growth-focused companies were prompted by the pandemic to build scalable, digital purchasing practices that are transforming employee experience for the long term.
When W2O, the leading independent provider of analytics-driven, technology-enabled marketing and communications solutions for the healthcare sector, transitioned more than 1,400 employees to work from home, the company was in the middle of a period of rapid growth. One of their biggest concerns was onboarding new hires. How could they give new employees a seamless and positive transition onto the team in a remote environment?
At the beginning of the pandemic, heroic IT personnel converted their apartments into makeshift shipping hubs to get through the emergency of early lockdowns, fulfilling countless equipment requests from staff setting up home offices for the first time. But they needed a more scalable and long-term solution.
The answer was to build a custom storefront on Amazon Business for new hires, stocked with pre-approved equipment, furnishings, and supplies. Amazon Business is separate from Amazon.com. While buyers benefit from the familiar shopping and delivery they’re used to on Amazon, Amazon Business tailors the experience to buying for work, with business-relevant selection, management features like built-in approval workflows and analytics, and payment options designed for organizations.
W2O’s new hires are given access to the custom storefront before they start, so they can choose, purchase and have delivered to their homes everything they needed to hit the ground running on day one—a valuable benefit as they plan to onboard about 500 new employees per year.
The new-hire storefront was so successful that W2O decided to roll out a second storefront designed to allow current employees to level up their at-home experience with items like noise-cancelling headphones, video-conference lighting, or exercise balls. The variety of options has been a primary driver of the storefront’s success. “Adoption was easy because people feel like they are ‘going shopping’ for work,” says Carrie Galli, Head of Organizational Growth and Planning for W2O. “And since everything in the storefront is in one, pre-approved location, managers are getting back the time they used to spend making approvals and processing multiple invoices—and they’re staying on budget.”
The storefronts have given W2O a simpler, digital, and data-driven way to take care of their staff, allowing the company to keep moving and managing growth through a period of unexpected change. “The support we provide our clients is one hundred percent digital so it just makes sense that we would do the same for our employees,” says Galli.
Not all jobs can be done remotely, however. An on-site workforce has its own challenges. The Service Companies, a nationwide integrated facility services provider for cleaning, food and beverage staffing, and building system maintenance, has team members working on-site across the country.
Each location has unique supply needs that, prior to COVID-19, were handled by a local procurement manager. Restructuring in response to the pandemic removed local management, leaving purchasing in the hands of on-site workers. Greg Lush, Chief Innovation Officer at The Service Companies, thinks innovation should benefit people at every level. He saw an opportunity to empower the very people who know their supply needs best, but he knew it would take a solution that was easily adopted so that it didn’t cut into the time staff needed to spend on other tasks.
The Service Companies rolled out Amazon Business to 5,000 employees across 94 locations. Now, rather than sending purchase requests up the line to a corporate manager, staff are empowered to order what they need, on the spot, from Amazon Business.
The increased efficiency has been immediately apparent. Says Lush, “Our past process was to call a procurement person, explain what you needed, wait for a response, grab a PO number, order, and ship. Now, a couple of clicks and the item is on its way. We’ve cut ordering time from 24 minutes to 2 minutes, and dramatically reduced the time between ‘need’ and ‘have’ from four days to two.”
While workers on-site get more freedom and flexibility, managers are leveraging controls behind the scenes to maintain compliance to budgets and purchasing policies. “We believe that this product gives site managers and teams direct control of their destinies. They are in the driver’s seat, but we have defined the width of the road,” says Lush.
And in an industry not widely known for technical innovation, the shift is helping The Service Companies attract talent. “For a company that employs a younger, tech-native workforce, digital tools are a differentiator,” says Lush.
Whether virtual or on-site, leaders are leveraging digital tools to give their employees a better experience. As they do, they’re unlocking employee potential and adapting operations for the new world of work.
1Salesforce, “State of the Connected Customer, Second Edition” 2018.
This story was produced by WIRED Brand Lab for Amazon Business.
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