We are now a little further down the path of social distancing where, for those businesses who can function by working from home, we are settling into new routines using the ‘zoom’ approach to our working lives – albeit it isn’t a comfort zone for everyone and for many we are still getting used to the changes, particularly if our new co-workers include partners, children and pets.
For those organisations where working from home is just not an option, particularly in the retail and some service industries, they are now coming to terms with a sustained period of greatly reduced revenues, and in some cases, no revenue at all.
Despite Government interventions, such as JobKeeper payments, many organisations are now starting to consider what they should do next and are asking us for advice – should they pause their work, plan for the future, and be ready to roll it out when the situation becomes normal (whatever normal might look like in the future), proceed with existing plans, or pivot their business and work in an entirely different way?
Making these decisions is very painful for many whose small businesses have been their “baby” and the amount of blood, sweat and tears that it’s taken to get to where they are now. And making decisions for their employees is really hard – many are the main income earner and making responsible and informed decisions between business and personnel is super hard. How do you ensure you outlast the COVID-19 crisis, come out the other side and still have employees for your business?
There’s much for organisations and businesses to think about so we’ve put together some ideas to prompt your thinking:
If you are able to reduce your outgoings and utilise some government support to pause or hibernate your business, there are some benefits to putting things on pause – it gives you some time to prioritise and think about broader plans for your organisation. It might also help you have the space to think through the approach and align it better with your strategy.
Many of our clients have really struggled with this option because they want to do the right thing by their people. With the Government’s JobKeeper support, it may be possible to keep your people, and keep your outgoings under control. Noting of course that small businesses rely heavily on cash flow and that is super important right now.
If you do take a pause, make sure you use the time to plan. What might you need, when the big ‘play’ button is pressed again? Can you start where you left off or will you need time to get fully back up and running?
At the moment we are unsure how long we might need to pause our businesses and organisations and if we pause our activities for too long then it will amount to a large backlog and shorter timeframes for delivery. But again, do we know what is ‘too long’? There are also some things that you simply cannot pause such as culture, performance and the wellbeing of your people.
And let’s not forget that many small businesses are part of a larger supply chain. Others may need you to continue your business to help keep them afloat during this disruption. Like a stack of cards – one key piece might mean collapse of many others.
For the big organisations and business, it is worth bearing in mind that some partner businesses may not be around when you’re ready to press play again and reconnect.
You might have had grand plans before COVID-19 and were all ready to go then wham! – you’ve found yourself at home with your team displaced and now you aren’t sure if the way forward you’d all committed to, is going to work in this new world. There are many small businesses in the same boat, trying to pivot business from their original purpose to something new and needed – so what are others doing to adapt to the current environment?
Moving online – shifting to click and collect or click and delivery to promote your products online.
- If you have a customer database, then let your customers know as soon as you have this capability and can offer the service. One bar in Sydney has really thought outside the box on this. They’ve started to deliver cocktails, including glass hire, and access to the in-bar playlist so they can provide the whole in bar experience at home.
- If you don’t have a customer database, look for ways to build contact with your customers via social media, offering personal responses, extending your communication channels to SMS, WhatsApp, and Video conferences. Let your customers tell you what they need most from you right now.
- If you have products for sale, offer a virtual tour of your shop to promote online sales. This has worked for art galleries, and even places like zoos are offering virtual visits with behind the scenes views of different animals every day.
Consider what is currently in demand and whether you can shift your business model to meet that demand. What are your key capabilities, and can they be refocussed to meet a current need? Include your team in a brainstorm to identify unmet needs and consider how you and your team could meet some of these.
- In one example, a busy café that is now deserted has changed its menu to simple, home cooked meals, and is offering these for delivery to those who are in isolation.
- Another restaurant/café is using their supply chain to box grocery staples for delivery.
- Some fashion manufacturers have started sewing masks instead of t-shirts, and one company who usually brews gin is now manufacturing hand sanitiser.
- One company that usually provides goods for conferences which are running at zero at the moment, is using this time to redesign their business model, looking at how they might use their supply chain to provide products currently in demand such as face masks, hand sanitiser, and dare I say it, toilet paper!
For many organisations and businesses there is an opportunity to continue in parts – many that we’ve chatted to want to see if they can continue working through the disruption. And with that people mention that they feel some level of guilt about continuing with plans or serving their customers during the disruption.
There is opportunity by proceeding to think creatively – use the tools you have and get all of your people involved in the discussions.
Some thoughts on proceeding:
- If developing a strategy or plans, consider leaving consultation and input periods open for longer by using technology.
- For those employees who may not be able to sit on an online meeting or training opportunity for two hours consider recording a webinar and hosting a document or interactive white-board where they can provide input and share ideas with others. Always ensure two-way communication and feedback mechanisms are in place and that everyone is included.
- Consider if the timing and original approach is right – you might find reviewing the approach means you could have a better outcome, similarly timing wise – one option might be better than another proceed with based on the current circumstances or market.
Whichever way you decide to go, it is super important to think about your people at work. And while there is disruption at the moment, there are still four things that people look for:
- Purpose – meaningful work (from top to bottom everyone wants to do something that supports the business, it might be a variation of their role but it still needs to be meaningful)
- Relationships – people who care that you are part of their team and contributing (valuing and supporting your people while ensuring you communicate and are honest with them)
- Agency – freedom to do it your way and the trust that you’ll get it right (don’t be afraid though to ask for help along the way from those around you!)
- Accountability – playing a role that people rely on. (lead well and your people will follow)
Irrespective of the option you take, don’t rush immediately, take a moment to reflect and consider your approach – there is not a precedent to copy and your approach should reflect your culture and your business.
For mwah.? We’ve used a combo approach – some things we’ve paused on while others have ramped up and are proceeding faster than we’d planned and some we’ve pivoted and reframed. Throughout all of this we are taking a deeply personal approach to ensure as a team we are in it for the long haul.