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Covid-19: what SA businesses can learn from the pandemic
What has the Covid-19 pandemic and national lockdown taught us?
Well, aside from how to make pineapple beer, home school our kids, and relocate entire offices, overnight, to our homes where Zoom meetings are occasionally accompanied by the sound of barking dogs and squawking hadedas, a lot.
From a business perspective specifically, the way we think about and do business has completely changed.
Research commissioned by Cisco in 2020 found that the organisational response to the pandemic had gone well beyond basic crisis management to radically transform business as we know it.
‘While the activity we have seen was clearly prompted by the pandemic, and the immediate imperative to enable ongoing business operations, a great deal of genuinely transformational change has also taken place. It’s hard to think of any time in history when so much progress has been made so quickly to modernise working practices and switch both mindsets and behaviour,’ the report stated.
Of course the biggest change was the rise in remote working. These research findings estimated there were 4.7 times more people working from home now than before the pandemic.
The adoption of technology, particularly the use of webcams, web conferencing and cloud-based services rocketed, as businesses relooked their processes and employee and customer engagement.
But what did all this teach us?
Here are my five key business take-outs from the past year (which we would probably do well to keep in mind for the year ahead too):
Having been taken by surprise the first time lockdown hit, there’s no reason for this to happen again. Forewarned is forearmed. Use your 2020 business experience to put the necessary processes in place to ensure business continuation under even the most extenuating circumstances. In other words, have a Plan B. Relook your customer experience, employee needs and tech systems; do thorough scenario planning; and look to future forecasts for pandemic-proof prep.
Less is more
Wasn’t it amazing just how little space we actually needed to get our jobs done? Working from home certainly highlighted that. And just how easily meetings could be scaled back to just the most critical interactions and even then, hosted over web conferencing and not in boardrooms or off site. This shone a (bright) light on just how superfluous both our office spaces and many accepted business practices had become. Just because something has always been done that way, doesn’t mean it must continue to be done like that. The post-pandemic world calls for the most efficient use of resources, which could include outsourcing activities like archiving and shredding that aren’t supported by remote office operations.
Support a healthy workforce
Employees come to work sick all the time. Pre-Covid, this wasn’t the best idea. Post the advent of Covid, it’s the worst idea ever. A workforce flattened by ill employees, with some not sure if they have the virus or not and others living in fear they might get it, is bad for productivity. Creating a supportive environment that encourages staff to work from home if they can when feeling ill, or providing improved access to sick leave, is critical. But remember to balance this with some form of lockdown-compliant social engagement.
Mental wellness is just as important; the Cisco study showed that 64% of respondents battled without their regular coffee or watercooler chats. So be sure to find ways to still bring your teams together outside of work commitments.
Communication is crucial
If anything, the arrival of Covid-19 in South Africa and the subsequent lockdown showed up many organisations’ poor communications and crisis management strategies. Knowing now how rapidly situations can change, interrogate your communications plan. How quickly can you reach all your employees in a crisis? What is the easiest way to communicate with your suppliers and customers? If email is unavailable, what other communication channels can you use? Don’t forget to assign someone to take responsibility for crisis communications (senior management might not be available) and to determine basic key messaging that can be adapted depending on the nature of the crisis.
Agility cannot be underrated
Last year brought home the importance of true agility – focusing on customer needs and overall business goals while remaining adaptable and open to change. Just because your end destination looks the same (i.e. maintaining or increasing sales, launching new products or establishing market presence), it doesn’t mean the road you travel to get there must remain the same too. When the chips are down, it’s the organisation that is flexible, comfortable with change and able to move through rapid developments that comes out tops. Review your 2020 experience; the areas where your business came undone is where it needs the most work.
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