Covid-19 and its impact on business
There is little doubt that we are living in unprecedented times – the months ahead are going to be challenging for everyone as we significantly change the way we live, and work, in order to cope with the Covid-19 crisis. In Part 1 of this blog about Coronavirus we highlighted some of the impacts that the virus has had on our own recruitment business.
In this second part will look at some of the impacts on wider commercial business practices.
The recent announcements regarding tightening of advice around working from home if you can, avoiding large gatherings and eliminating non-essential travel may seem very draconian, but in comparison to restrictions in other countries the UK have been relatively lax in their approach to date. There is no doubt that commercial business activity will suffer in the months ahead and firms will be frantically walking the tightrope of redefining ‘business as usual’ whilst following the advice from authorities about the safety of their staff, suppliers and customers.
It is hoped that the tone of this blog will be relatively positive – despite the impact on my own business and family it is an opportune time for everyone to take stock and re-evaluate their behaviours and practices, both in their personal and work lives. My twitter timeline is already filled with local businesses and their offers of and cries for help – with the public responding with mostly positive action. I do hope that this crisis will reverse the factions that have certainly become increasingly common in society and give people an improved sense of togetherness and belonging to their local community.
Here are some of the key implications that I see from this which involves ripping up of the old rules around previous business practices at a time of crisis:
Improved Information Management
This is not referring to the way we store and access data in an IT sense – this is related to how we as people and businesses choose to manage the information we ingest and emit.
Individuals – we all need to get better at filtering information we receive in order to extract the most relevant messages. We all suffer from information overload – I am personally feeling it just with staying on top of the communication about Covid-19. I would suggest we need to be more selective about the streams of information that we choose to read. We also have a duty to each other to try to avoid any conjecture or speculation and be as clear and concise as possible in our verbal and written communication. A previous blog talks about communication skills and advocates picking up the phone rather than emailing if possible. Read ‘Walk the Walk’ here.
Businesses – how do we appropriately manage the bombardment of (mainly) digital messages to our colleagues/suppliers/clients? Keeping a distributed workforce engaged and informed has particular challenges and the most appropriate means of communication really does depend on the target audience and whether there is a need for one or two-way communication.
I envisage increased use of video conferencing solutions for two-way communications such as MS Teams, Skype, Facetime, WhatsApp or Zoom (all of these are things that Red Tiger Talent can help train people in the use of, if required). Conference calls will certainly be increasing in their use – a top tip here is make sure these meetings start on time by setting a 5 minute reminder and ensuring that you include speed dial links in the invite if available. Too often online meetings are delayed as a critical attendee does not manage to get on at the required time due to missing the information to get on the call.
Voice memos (or pre-recorded videos) can also be used to distribute a one-way message. Either way, recording of meetings or messages in audio/video is a good practice to ensure everyone is included in the communication and that you minimise the need to repeat communications.
The social media images of key commuter locations (or pubic transport) over the last couple of days have shown that most people are taking the advice and limiting their travel and face to face meeting time. This is going to accelerate with the shutting down of key public transport networks. Most businesses tend to keep a tight handle on their travel and subsistence costs but it still astounds me how much is spent on travel that clearly isn’t mission critical.
This scrutiny and justification of business travel (only when absolutely necessary), as well as complete restrictions on international travel is an area that could really demonstrate that business can still be achieved via remote contact only. There are three key inefficiencies in the travel process.
- Lost productive time to transport delays/cancellations and transfers are transport interchanges
- The actual costs of travel, which seem to be increasing all to often
- Delays to decision making caused by the task of co-ordinating diaries for numerous people to be in the same room at the same time
This efficiency saving could potentially outweigh the benefits of face to face. Cost savings are immense and there are also significant environmental benefits as well. You only have to look at the images of air pollution in China pre and post lockdown to see the very visible benefits.
I would argue that out of this crisis there is a clear opportunity to adopt new business practices – do we really need to ‘see the whites of peoples eyes’ in order to do business or is it now acceptable to see the whites of their eyes via a video call? In the future clients may think more highly of their suppliers if they are demonstrating an increased consideration of environmental and health factors in their preference for an online meeting. Advances in VR technology must surely mean that meetings of the future will feel like we are all present even though we are not?
Working from Home
The news yesterday of the UK schools closing by the end of this week is not a surprise. It will certainly increase the challenges on households as parents juggle their ability to do their job remotely with looking after their children. There are also major challenges around childcare for key workers who will still need to go to work, this includes anyone within the NHS, Grocery or Pharmacy businesses, and logistics/delivery.
The detail on coping with working from home and suggestions on how to keep the kids occupied are the subject of a future blog (frantically being written!) but here I wanted to focus on the positives of the situation. We engage with businesses that have different attitudes to flexible/home working, ranging from the ‘must be seen in the office’ all the way through to 100% home based. We covered some thoughts on this in a previous blog. Read ‘Flexible working: Trust is all you need’.
Some of the newer start-up businesses we speak to have found the transition very easy as they already have the infrastructure in place to support home working. Other businesses that may struggle with the transition to operating a completely remote workforce. It is not just about the technology it is about the teams being comfortable will new ways of communicating – this could be a time when new stars will rise from businesses and people who fail to adapt may wither into the background.
This period of enforced home working, whilst challenging due to the economic deflation that will be an inevitable result of such a global catastrophe. This will hopefully demonstrate to those inflexible businesses that home working can be done, and that people can be trusted.
The outcome may result in increased adoption of technology to enable workers to interact with colleagues, suppliers and clients in a remote manner. I hope we will see more flexible conditions in employment contracts about where your normal place of work is. Most of my candidates who are parents ask about how much flexibility there is in the role. This can be a significant factor to someone accepting a role. This flexibility may not just be days of the week expected in the office, but also around typical working hours. There are financial issues to be overcome around reimbursement of travel costs to the office if you are a home worker – but if everyone was contracted to work from home this would be a great incentive to severely restrict travel into the office. The added benefit being reduced office space requirements (apologies in advance to any office agents).
See you on the other side (but speak to you before)
It is fair to say that in any crisis there are winners and losers. This will provide a fundamental shakeup of businesses and there is no doubt there will be job losses before things recover. Those businesses that adapt and adjust best are the ones that will survive, and I suspect that any business that still clings on to outdated old school beliefs may fall by the wayside. We have already seen this in retail with the demise of the Department Store as an outdated concept that has failed to adapt to the times.
There have been some positives out of this period – I for one have noticed an increase in activity connecting to long lost contacts. These are people who do not circulate in the same orbits as you and so it is very rare that you meet (ships that pass in the night). It is typically because you can’t get a date/time/location that works for the both of you. Now that the location factor has been removed it is far easier to get a date/time that works. Some would argue that if it was important to meet with these people then you would, but the counter to that is the old school sales funnel which largely suggest that the more conversations you are having the more opportunity will present itself.
So use this opportunity to re-connect with old acquaintances – you never know what business may come out of it!
Author: Steve Halsall