By Phil Jones MBE, Managing Director of Business Technology Solutions Provider, Brother UK

Phil Jones (1)

As boxer Mike Tyson once said, “Everyone has a plan until they get punched in the mouth.”

A shrewd observation from arguably one of boxing’s greats.

To be world champion, you’ve got to adapt your game plan depending on how you feel, and in response to what your opponent throws at you. And it’s exactly the same in business.

While it’s reassuring that lockdown is gradually being relaxed, and the economy is starting to open back up, there are very few businesses out there who can simply pick up where they left off in March.

Let’s be honest; the last three months have been one hell of a punch in the mouth for the majority of business owners.

Each and every business has a story of how it’s been impacted so far. Now’s the time to look ahead and consider what a safe, secure and productive post-Covid working world could look and feel like.

Leadership is key

In uncertain times like these, people look for clear direction, so they're not inclined to trigger their emotional response mechanisms, when heavy pragmatism is required.

The directors of our business have a daily call, where consistency, clarity and building confidence are key considerations.

We make decisions directed by the acronym, ‘CALM’, which stands for Compassion, Action-Orientation, Level-Headedness and Mindfulness.

The coronavirus crisis has exposed both good and bad leadership practice, and our desire is to be on the good side when looking back in years to come.

That means being led by our values, and ensuring the key decisions we make in big moments clearly relate back to them.

A Covid-secure workplace

As business leaders, we’re responsible for the wellbeing and livelihoods of large numbers of people, and we shouldn’t take on a greater level of risk than we, personally, are comfortable with.

I’ve been very clear about this with our whole workforce, and it means they know the business is taking their health and safety extremely seriously.

While we’ve all been practising social distancing on an individual level for many weeks, making it a reality at work is a different kettle of fish – especially if you’re a small business where facilities management may not fall within anyone’s remit.

There’s lots of guidance on the government website, that will help you identify touch points and processes in your operation where social distancing might be a challenge. Then you can work out how to mitigate them.

We’ve already taken care of practical things like installing perspex screens on desks, setting out one-way systems and putting markers on the floors at two-metre intervals.

But the last thing I want is for our office to feel like an intimidating, anonymous control zone. So we’re making sure our personality and culture shine through, as well.

It’s a basic application of nudge theory – using positive reinforcement and indirect suggestions to influence behaviour and decision making.

We’ve got a bit of a head start in that we make and sell label printers (!), but labelling up the office has been fundamental. We’ve done it in a balanced way, ensuring clear and appropriate signage is installed where needed, but with a touch of humour when appropriate.

To make people smile, we’ve put labels on the mirrors in the bathrooms, saying fun, feel-good things like ‘You look beautiful today. Now for a good hand wash!’.

And colleagues are currently writing short, Covid-related poems, which we’ll put onto labels and apply in areas where people might not be expecting to see them, such as on the back of a toilet cubicle door.

We’re also supplying high quality, Brother-branded PPE and hygiene essentials to all of our people.

If everyone has the same face masks and hand sanitiser, no-one needs to feel self-conscious, and it breeds a ‘we’re all in this together’ sense of community.

Ensuring third party compliance

We’ve been clear about what we’re comfortable with, and we’re empowering our people to do the same.

Internally, everyone will be briefed on how to arrange a socially-distanced catch up, and we’re communicating our expectations to external parties, too.

This means all visitors to our sites will feel comfortable that we have thought through their safety, as well.

All non-essential travel and visitors will remain off the table for the foreseeable future, but there are some essential health and safety services that do require in-person attendance, like the maintenance of fire equipment and hygiene facilities.

The same applies when our own people are visiting third party customers. We need to be sure that they too are taking the situation seriously and keeping our colleagues safe.

All sorts of new protocols will have to be adopted in the foreseeable future, to ensure social distancing is managed in the right way.

Keep communicating

Even when you're delivering practical information, it's possible to be clear, concise and useful, without coming across as too corporate.

Let empathy be your guide, avoid managerial speak, and keep it real.

Ensure there’s connectedness within your business, so that you understand people’s challenges and concerns, and can make sure you’re being sensitive towards them.

And if there’s one thing to keep in the back of your mind as you go along: it's about cause, not applause.

I’m optimistic that we can take some positives from this when the world returns to normal. I’ve always thought that a great business is one where its people execute its strategy with alacrity (a happy state of readiness).

And in our experience, discretionary effort from your people appears in the middle of your crisis – as long as they remain engaged, feel cared for and are confident in your decision making.