By Dominic Irvine, Managing Partner at Epiphanies LLP.
Learning the lessons
There will be both good and bad things that will come out of Covid-19. We should make sure we keep the good things that we have experienced.
Things that were once considered essential will have ceased during the crisis. As we come out of Covid-19, it is a great opportunity for each department and individual in an organization to review those things that they stopped doing to identify whether they need to be reinstated or whether the solutions developed during the crisis offer a better way going forward. Levels of motivation towards this activity will vary depending on the perception of threat to current roles. Covid-19 has been an exercise in innovation although many may simply see it as ‘survival’. Innovation loves a constraint, and the constraints we have experienced have forced people to think laterally in order to solve seemingly intractable problems. Some companies have seen significant increase in sales (online games, video conferencing platforms), asking what these companies have that has proved so popular will provide useful insights into consumer behaviour.
The circumstances have forced many people to work virtually, people who otherwise assumed their roles could only be done face-to-face. For many people working from home has opened their eyes as to what can be done, and also the limitations of existing technology. How do we learn the lessons of which aspects of people’s roles can be done virtually and which do need some form of face-to-face interaction? Some people have been stymied by having low capacity and slow broadband. How do we ensure people have the right infrastructure to make home working effective?
Virtual working is a skill and many have had to learn fast. What lessons can we learn and share more broadly to help upskill more people in order to increase the efficiency and effectiveness of virtual working? Quality of interactions between leaders and their teams may well have improved for many as a result of having more time for face to face video interactions and learning the discipline to schedule more of them. It would be a shame to stop doing these things..
Many people will have discovered a better balance of work and non-work, primarily through saving the commute, but also through establishing better working practices such as finding the best time of day to get things done and being able to work out when the best times are to pause and recharge or do something different. These lessons will apply just as much after the crisis as they did before. In just the same way, the time at home has many people starting exercise classes, learning how to cook, learning new languages, reading books, these activities have been positive, enjoyable and uplifting. They too have just the same value after the crisis as they did before. Helping people maintain these habits may well help with overall wellbeing and in particular mental health. The overarching lesson here is that if you manage yourself well, the traditional boundaries of “working day” and “my time” can be superseded by a more blended approach. However some people may be feeling the opposite and instead have the sense of being on call 24/7. This may be based on the feeling that because you are at home you should be working harder because of having been conditioned that this isn’t “proper work”. For these people returning to an office may be a relief. Helping them realise that the value they bring comes from the quality of their thinking, and not where that thinking is done, will be important.
What value has home working brought in terms of reduced CO2 emissions? Reduced pressure on office space, parking and other pressures on office facilities. Retaining as many of these advantages as possible will be beneficial to the bottom line, the individual and the world.
Whilst pandemics are thankfully rare (although increasing in frequency), economic crises are more common. Given this, and the fact that Covid-19 has become an economic crisis, a review of the extent to which a business can be better prepared for such eventualities in the future will be a useful exercise. The basic checks for businesses are sufficient working capital to both survive a crisis and to have the wherewithal to be able to start trading as conditions improve (there is no point in surviving if the lead lag between working and getting paid is too great for the business). The ability to reduce opex rapidly and the capability to mothball capex projects will also help ensure survival. As usual with all management, it requires judgement. The rush to spend less today may result in greater pain later when the basic requirements that drove the need to invest still remain but the costs are now greater as a result of mothballing. It will also be useful to determine the key metrics post Covid-19 and to review and set new targets as appropriate. Given people do what gets measured and what’s in their best interests, the choice of metrics should be considered carefully as it will drive the behaviour of employees.
Supply chains are a potential issue. On the one hand there may be opportunities to purchase at significant discounts as a result of organisations seeking to reduce inventory and generate cash flow, on the other hand with the world having been in lockdown for several months and little or no manufacturing taking place during this period there could well be shortages and a significant increase in price for some items. Having the wherewithal to trade and the demand for business is of no value if you cannot secure the materials needed to produce the goods. How do you mitigate against the risk of ensuring you are not dependent on one jurisdiction or geographic region for your supplies? If a region closes down are you in a position to be able to continue trading? What other supply options do you have? The level of candour (or lack of) demonstrated by some governments has driven suspicion about the true state of wellbeing of parts of their populations. This has eroded trust and confidence in the reliability of those countries in times of crisis like these and may well shape longer term opinions.
We’re heading into a recession
This downturn is going to affect many businesses for some time. Many businesses will have already taken extensive measures to manage costs. As we come out of Covid-19 into the recession, it is likely that many of the measures taken to control costs during Covid-19 will remain in place heading into the recession, with the added challenge of furloughed staff being made redundant. This means many organisations will have fewer people with significant organisational restructuring taking place. The people that are left will need help forming their new teams and working out how to operate in the new era of austerity that the recession will bring.
Many people have accepted salary cuts from employers on the grounds of protecting the business. It is unlikely that these reductions will be reversed as the financial pressures will remain. If this is not managed carefully it could drive down employee engagement. It may well be that the effect of the furlough scheme has simply been to delay the ‘slash and burn’ of redundancies you would expect in such an economic downturn. More fundamentally, the relationship between individual, employer and the state has changed. What the lasting impact will be of this change is a moot point.
Communication is going to be critical
Whilst the COVID-19 has seen a dramatic change in circumstance for many, much goodwill from society towards this common foe has engendered a willingness to be flexible and adapt to what’s happening. This in part is down to an increasingly clear message about the key things you need to do / not do. Extensive communication from the government and the media has helped. As we leave the crisis and the change continues, organisations would do well to maintain high levels of communication to keep people informed of what’s happening and why. The goodwill towards shareholders and or management teams is unlikely to be as great as it has been towards the government and each other during the crisis. The consequence of this is much greater workforce unrest about decisions being made.
Many people may wish to catch up on opportunities for holiday, particularly those who have remained in employment during the crisis. Many of these people will be physically and mentally tired from the ordeal of the Covid-19 crisis. Even those who were furloughed may still wish to take leave as they will wish to escape places they have been trapped in for many weeks. With holiday allowances allocated per annum, many people may be trying to get in all their leave in the last half / quarter of the year. Some thought needs to be given as to how to manage holiday entitlements.
It is very likely that everyone will know someone who dies from Covid-19. There may be higher levels of support required for those in some way traumatised by the experience. If support relies solely on professionals then those services will be overwhelmed. Consideration should be given to support groups within the organisation as well as encouraging a sense of team. Support groups do not take the place of trained counsellors and they should not see themselves as much, but there is much value they can add to helping people cope.
Control the controllables
Going into this crisis there were a great many things that were outside of our control that we could do little about. Coming out of the crisis the same will apply. We need to maintain a focus on the things we can control rather than worrying about the things we cannot.
Dominic Irvine © 2020 All rights asserted.