Locally and globally, every business is affected by Covid-19. But those that come out the other side better prepared to cope and grow will be the winners in future years. Here are the primary ways that your company can start planning for a better future.
Beyond the grim health situation and the shocks to global markets, the Coronavirus provides a space for businesses to:
- Understand their strengths and weaknesses.
- See how dramatic changes take place across businesses, verticals and industries.
- Understand what customers really want and need.
- See how technologies provide key benefits.
- Analyse producer and supply chain inefficiencies.
Any business with a strong core should survive in 2020, but those with the foresight to build an agile return-to-growth strategy will be the real winners in 2021 and beyond. To build that strategy, there are plenty of lessons to learn from what is happening around the world today, from simple wins and developing plans that learn from current general-business or market-specific insights.
Scenario planning can never go too far
Hands up who laughed when someone suggested a global shutdown at your last business continuity planning session? All sizes of business should have a plan for when things go wrong, and to consider the upside opportunities of such events.
Any company with a strong focus on scenario planning is probably (quietly) doing very well right now and is poised to explode when growth returns. To join them, scenario planners need to focus on the disruptive issues of the future, see how this episode has damaged or impacted the business and marketplace, and examine the forces of change and consider how to take advantage of them.
Based on those, create scenarios and plans to meet the risks and opportunities. Write up action plans for everything from your supply chains to product changes, sales tactics and marketing. Consider staffing requirements, how you could partner locally or globally to make an impact and provide playbooks for each key role, citing risks and opportunities.
No plan will be perfect, but having one with an overall strategy and a range of tactical options that you can flexibly work with, gives you a massive advantage over the companies bumbling through the current or any future crisis.
Remote working and teams actually work
It has been a poorly-kept secret of the startup and tech world that businesses can work very successfully from home and as a distributed organisation. Cloud productivity and collaboration tools reduce the need for space, and the efficiency of supply chains (during normal operations) can shrink a business footprint and cost-base while allowing it to outperform traditional rivals.
Also, more workers already expect flexibility or work-from-home to be a part of any job offer. In the coming years, that trend will increase, so all businesses need to up their game in being prepared to function as a flexible entity, adopting the technology tools that help everyone succeed, wherever they are.
Automation and AI are your friend
The Covid-19 outbreak has seen a huge rise in the use of chatbots to provide helpful information from governments and health providers. They also enable businesses to field huge numbers of queries at any time and in any language as workers try to cope with day-to-day activities.
Smaller businesses are also launching bots to act as receptionists or sales agents, while established businesses use them to help with hiring, onboarding and knowledge sharing, making these more convenient for workers and letting HR and other roles get on with vital tasks.
Chatbot acceptance was already on a strong upward curve thanks to use in most consumer-facing businesses, and now as bots become key advice providers, that acceptance and familiarity will grow among customers who will welcome and expect them.
As such, chatbots and AI tools are fast becoming a part of the tech furniture and any size of business can make use of them. AI helps chatbots work in multiple languages and provide better answers to questions, while in business tools it can help predict outcomes and offer insights into changing markets.
It won’t be too long before AI advisors give boards better advice and outcomes than their own expertise and beliefs. While that might be a scary idea for business leaders, the rise of AI is one every company needs to accept and get on board with.
Digital and tech-led solutions are robust
While supply chains are stretching and factories had to close, and airlines and cruise lines have naturally had to scale back their activities, Covid-19 has shown that modern hybrid/cloud business functions can cope with the strain, from CRMs to office solutions and security systems.
There are no examples of any company being totally failed by its IT, and that technology is helping inform workers, clients and customers about breaking changes in operations or services.
Similarly, mobile networks are holding up, Internet bandwidth availability remains high and the only services struggling where online education tools (briefly). Whatever the crisis, any business that has avoided adopting these services can consider their robust success in helping to keep the world turning.
Perhaps the key lesson from Covid-19 is that people turn first to online sources for information. During any similar crisis or event the need for education, diversions and productivity come from online services, which any suitable business can provide from creative use of products, tutorials, demonstrations or partnering with others to add value during whatever disruption comes next.
3 things not to do
Don’t be on the wrong side of the argument. From holiday firms dodging cancellation refunds to sports shops pretending to be “essential.” From firms sacking staff without support or US firms refusing to help in the coronavirus fight, there are plenty of poor examples being pilloried in the press, and they will lose customers fast and prospects will avoid them in the future.
Making the right decisions and helping where you can through small or large gestures will set your business up for a better future.
Don’t rush to make poor IT decisions. Adopting technology to help your business speed up productivity or processes seems like a quick win. But take the time to check any solution is appropriate for your business, compatible with existing services or that migration is proven to be hassle-free.
Don’t adopt a bunker mentality. The need to work from home or to temporarily close down businesses will see many take the opportunity for an extended break. That’s understandable and fine, but take some time to keep abreast of market developments, local changes and disruptions, as well as seeing the success stories that emerge.
Any single event or cluster of changes could be the inspiration for a new product, commercial idea or process approach that could help boost business as markets return to normal.
We all face the same future
Every business faces a constant challenge to grow or survive, whatever pressures they face. And while Covid-19 represents an extreme shakeup, it allows any business leader to see opportunity in the shifting sands and for workers to better understand how companies can function under extreme pressure and to refine how work gets done and processes can be improved.