For many businesses, the realization that measures to confront the COVID-19 virus could continue for many months has prompted an evaluation of their response, as well as preparation for an uncertain future.
Many businesses will be approaching this planning stage with little understanding of how to deal with such a crisis. But even those who have planned ahead are still learning lessons as we negotiate this unprecedented situation. To help you structure your plans for the future — no matter what your current level of preparedness — we’ve put together a list of key factors you should consider based on what we’ve learned so far.
Be proactive, not reactive
It’s hard to prepare for such an event, and many businesses have fallen into the trap of reacting to daily news. However, while it’s important to keep an eye on how a crisis is developing, this cycle of management based on news and speculation can cause more problems than it solves.
Communicate with your team regularly to establish any changes in how they work. Respond accordingly and provide any extra resources they require to continue doing their job effectively. In cases where your business has to close, plan ahead by considering how you will reopen when you have the opportunity.
Could you alter your service in some way? Is it possible for you to adapt to your products? Perhaps your staff work from home?
If you’re struggling to see a way forward, consider evaluating the strategy of similar companies in case you can replicate their approach. Communication is important here, too. Speak to your customer service team and find out how your customers are responding to the crisis. By proactively considering their needs, you can reduce the impact on all parties and keep your business running where possible.
Create a framework
Structure and routine are the key to keeping your business moving, even if it’s operating on a smaller scale than usual. Put a communication framework in place to ensure your staff, customers and suppliers know when to expect or provide an update. A scheduled phone call each week and a daily afternoon email update could be enough to keep your team working together and prevent any party from feeling isolated.
If your team is used to more contact, you can communicate even more. Regular updates from those in positions of responsibility will keep employees and colleagues in the loop and ensure everyone is on the same page. However, it’s important to filter this information to ensure you only cover the information relevant to the team in question and avoid unnecessary stress.
Where you feel your team is lacking in resources, you need to focus on putting policies in place to rectify the problem. The security and comfort of your team are paramount when negotiating a crisis, and remote working or changes in job role may present problems if not handled properly. Some may require technical help or the provision of a laptop, while others may be struggling to get the food or healthcare they need. By pulling together, you can boost your team’s spirits and ensure they feel connected to and valued by you and your business.
Prepare for the future
Remember to stay true to your core. As a crisis unfolds it can present unfamiliar challenges that easily distract from your core purpose. Whether you’re tackling obstacles or seeking to take advantage of new markets, a distraction from your core vision could result in the loss of loyal customers. As before, communication is key here. By engaging with your customers and reassuring them that the aspects of your business that they value will be made available where possible, you’ll be keeping them in the loop.
Zoom is an excellent example. Having leapt from 10 million daily users in December to 200 million in April, many of whom are using the technology in new ways, it would have been easy for the business to get bogged down creating new features to roll out in a rush. However, Zoom has instead suspended all new features and focused on its core business and security, ensuring users have the safest and most efficient experience possible.
That being said, COVID-19 is unlikely to be the only crisis your business will ever face, so consider how you can learn from your current situation and build a bullet-proof crisis plan for the future. Start by engaging with those affected by the changes to your business, including employees, suppliers and customers.
Encompassing all of the above, your framework should be focused on a decision-review. Ensure management has the opportunity to review decisions regularly using a check and balance system. By focusing and centralizing your decision-making, you will be able to act with speed but without compromising your core business.
COVID-19 is an unprecedented crisis that we cannot predict or measure, but you are not alone in your struggle to deal with its impact. There are many forms of external support and resources available to help struggling businesses during this time.
In fact, governments all over the world have put together a range of short- and long-term support packages to reduce the impact of the virus on the economy.
In Chile, the government has announced it will send stimulus checks to 1.8 million of the country’s lowest-income households. Similarly, in Hong Kong, the government has announced a stimulus package of HKD137.5 billion that will support both individuals and businesses. Meanwhile, the UK government is focusing on its furlough scheme, which will pay wages for threatened jobs to help employers and staff. So far, the requests are expected to total around £2 billion. In addition, there are many technology companies using their software to help those in need. By searching for the government aid and technology related to your industry, you could make use of free tools and support designed to help you adapt to any changes your business has faced.
Even with support, there will be many unexpected challenges. Handle them in the best way you can but prioritize your employees and team. Remember, it is they who are ultimately responsible for keeping your organization afloat. Ensuring they are prepared and supported now and in the future will prevent challenges from becoming catastrophes.
COVID-19 is likely to impact upon businesses for months or even years to come, but it doesn’t have to mean the end of your company. By preparing for the new phases of the pandemic, as well as any future crises that come your way, you will put yourself in a much stronger position to react and survive. In fact, you may even discover new opportunities that help your business thrive.
Focus on the management of your people and the creation of a framework that keeps you ahead of the game without being drawn into the cycle of reactivity. And where possible, take advantage of external support that could ease pressure on you and your business.
Remember, this too shall pass. Will you be prepared for the next crisis?