The impact of COVID-19 has changed almost everything we know. We discuss how to prepare your business and workforce for the potential impact of a second wave and beyond.
As the world navigates the impact of COVID-19 and what the future entails for business, consumers and society as a whole, only one thing is certain.
This is not the end.
Perhaps it is only the beginning of the end. And the future will be very different when we do reach that inevitable end, whenever that may be.
“Now this is not the end. It is not even the beginning of the end. but it is, perhaps, the end of the beginning.”– Winston Churchill
The impact of COVID-19 on business has undeniably been an existential threat. As businesses have begun to reopen and breathe a sigh of relief following the first lockdown, preparing for the new normal, the landscape has suddenly changed again.
What we are seeing is a fluctuating, rapidly changing landscape as societies and governments respond to flattening curves, rising peaks or the reemergence of COVID-19. And the impact that has on how we all live our lives.
What emerges then is a fractured reality. Broken between borders. With geographies suddenly breaking apart multinationals’ response to the coronavirus pandemic into local markets and case-by-case scenarios.
There also remains the question of the foreboding ‘second wave’ and how to prepare for the impact this will have on already weakened positions. We outline a five-step plan to develop and strengthen resilience for what comes next and beyond with COVID-19.
Continuously innovate and experiment
In a matter of weeks and months, businesses have had to reinvent and adapt with initiatives that would have previously taken years to come to fruition. For example, at one European retail chain that has around 1,000 brick-and-mortar stores across the world. The chain, owned by a private-equity fund, had no e-commerce presence. They established an e-commerce business in just three months and delivered 3 per cent like for like growth in their market.
Innovation is now on steroids. Those that emerge stronger will be more digital, data-driven and in the cloud. They will invest in people – both their employees and their customers – as their needs change with the fluctuating urgency of COVID-19 and its impact.
Follow these steps to continuously adapt to the impact of COVID-19:
- Invest in people – create listening programmes to keep your finger on the pulse of how your employees and customers are responding to the varying impact of COVID-19 and infection rates. Many people are anxious about returning to the office or returning to public spaces. Be data-led and respond accordingly to what the data tells you. Foster cultural agility by investing in new ways of working and mindsets. The digital skills gap is growing wider, and COVID-19 is accentuating those that have the skills required and those that are behind. The European Commission believes there could be as many as 756,000 unfilled jobs in the European IT sector by 2020. With the World Economic Forum estimating that 135 million new roles will be created by 2022 in response to digital transformation. Create bespoke training programmes to close your own digital skills gap.
- Rapidly experiment – as consumers behaviour changes with the impact of COVID-19, adopt an experimentation mindset within your teams. Previous assumptions are history. Double down on what worked during the lockdown, and now iterate and experiment further. Use the learnings from what didn’t work, so that the same mistakes don’t happen again and risk is mitigated. In fact, in his book ‘Experimentation Works’ Stefan Tomke shows that companies that build an experimentation organisation greatly outperform the S&P 500 index. Use the best digital tools available, be more data-driven and automate where possible. Break down barriers to experimentation and move at speed. Watch Growth Tribes experimentation framework for more detail on building growth experiments.
- Think global, act local – your supply chains, workforce, operations, systems, and finance will all face varying scenarios across global boundaries. What if your supplier is thrust into another lockdown? How can you mitigate this? Use AI and machine learning to identify correlations in data from macro decisions into local behaviour. Simulate the most effective solutions in response. Equally, as greater digital adoption is embraced, markets will become even more global. You will be better set to meet this new opportunity if you follow the trend towards digital.
Customer centricity is critical (as it always has been)
COVID-19 has forever impacted our experiences as customers, employees and humans. Changing attitudes and behaviour as a result. How consumers buy goods is accelerating digital transformation, and the way businesses design, build, communicate and run consumer experiences.
For example, according to Google, since the beginning of March search interest in online shopping and ‘how to buy online’ has doubled worldwide. The huge decrease in face-to-face interaction, and the acceleration of e-commerce adoption and new ways of interacting with customers through contactless payment, delivery and services are just some examples of how digital strategies are needed to capture new market opportunities.
Follow these steps to be COVID-19 customer-centric:
- Embrace change – the adoption of digital channels saw unprecedented growth throughout the pandemic. Almost instantly changing the culture of how customers interact with businesses. In the U.K. alone, online shopping soared to become 30% of retail sales in April, up from 22% in March. The future not only relies on digital transactions but digital engagement to build relationships. Your digital brand is more important than ever – it is now the shop front and the shop floor. Are you offering the best experience for your customers? Is your UX best in class? If not, then you may lose out to competitors, as many offline only high street retailers are finding out.
- Work digital – the sudden uprooting of your workforce to working from home has, in itself, led to innovative new ways to keep continuity in customer services. Google Meet, for example, saw its peak daily usage grow by a factor of thirty. As a result, how you deliver customer service will forever be different. And uniquely flexible, digital ways of working will become the norm. With 80% of employees now saying they want to work from home at least some of the time.
- Be flexible – those who have adopted agile human and digital workforce capabilities have been able to navigate the impacts of COVID-19 better than their competitors. Under the sustained change in customer behaviours and workforce capabilities, there will be a need for more flexible physical spaces, platforms and data to respond to changing consumer demands.
“For example, according to Google, since the beginning of March search interest in online shopping and ‘how to buy online’ has doubled worldwide.”
Transform your workforce
COVID-19 has disrupted global workforces in ways not seen in living memory. For example, working from home will be a long term norm, not a short term fix. And organisations need to adopt a human-centred, systems minded approach to ensure workforce resilience. Future-proofing their capabilities to emerge stronger than before. Even before the impact of COVID-19, 92 per cent of company leaders thought their business model would not remain viable at the rates of digitisation. And COVID-19 has only accelerated that trend even further.
Follow these steps for resilient workforce transformation:
- Assess skill profiles – undertake a data-driven capabilities assessment of your employees. Create a baseline for skills that you have against the skills that you will need. In the UK, 72% of large companies and 49% of SMEs are suffering from technological skills gaps, and the percentage of senior leaders who say they are not confident in their own digital skills has risen from 28% to 37%. Encourage self-determined learning. Digital skills, such as in artificial intelligence, are the most in-demand skills of the future. As shown by LinkedIn’s Emerging Jobs Report.
- Close the skills gap – now that you have a benchmark, invest in learning and development. Close the skills gap in the most in-demand skills of the future. Which, thanks to COVID-19 and the great acceleration, are the skills of now. Develop curated learning pathways, allow people to choose their education, and release the potential of your people.
- Become a continuous learning organisation – workforce resilience will be embedded by adopting continuous learning. As the world of work continues to change, your workforce will need to update their skills. Encourage and expect personal growth, keep innovating and investing in new ways of working and new technologies. Stay connected with people who may be furloughed, or in transition, through learning and foster trust in your vision.
“Even before the impact of COVID-19, 92 percent of company leaders thought their business model would not remain viable at the rates of digitisation, and COVID-19 has only accelerated that trend even further.”
Adopt agile ways of working:
To adapt to the accelerated pace of change brought about by COVID-19 leaders need to adopt more agile ways of working to manoeuvre through uncertainty. This is achieved by changing the way that teams function and the processes they use to deliver projects to agile ways of working. It involves breaking larger projects down into more manageable short iterations or sprints and breaking down silos for better collaboration across departments and skill sets.
Follow these steps to adopt agile ways of working:
- Break down hierarchy – rather than following the traditional or linear, top-down approach to project management, where every stage of a project is finished before moving on to the next one. Agile is a more modern, flexible, team-based approach. Agile will require wholesale change for many organisations, that counter-intuitively, may need some top-down control to be achieved. Without leadership buy-in, Agile is very hard to get off the ground. Be open and communicate with leadership teams to instigate change.
- Invest in Agile training – this way of working will require relearning fundamental working processes. As such, it is worth investing in training initially. So that teams can be onboarded effectively with the best practice for Agile methodologies.
- Develop cross-departmental coordination – to ensure there is collaboration between other traditional, non-agile teams and projects transparency and communication are vital. For example, by offering real-time visibility of on project status for all groups via project management tools.
“To adapt to the accelerated pace of change brought about by COVID-19 leaders need to adopt more agile ways of working to manoeuvre through uncertainty.”
Go boldly digital
Even before COVID-19, businesses’ resilience to change was being tested by digital transformation and new ways of operating digital infrastructure. Now, COVID-19 has only accelerated that trend towards digital transformation. A survey of 2,569 enterprise decision-makers in June 2020 across nine nations found that Covid-19 was the digital accelerant of the decade and has accelerated companies’ digital communications strategy by a global average of 6 years. With as many as 96% of UK enterprise decision-makers noting that pandemic sped up their company’s digital transformation plans. With 66% said it did so ‘a great deal’.
Follow these steps to go boldly digital:
- Embrace digital ways of working – enable employees to work remotely. With a focus on deploying collaboration tools, new ways of working and culture (for example, with virtual meetings).
- Close the digital skills gap – your people are the ones who will implement digital solutions, and they need the right training to ensure they are operating optimally. Utilise automation to compliment your workforce. Free up valuable time from high volume tasks with AI and machine learning methods, for example.
- Utilise the cloud – navigate surges and falls in demand, manage risk, and deploy instant innovation by leveraging the cloud. Take advantage of the clouds pay-as-you-use model, and align technology costs with demand and usage.
“A survey of 2,569 enterprise decision-makers in June 2020 across nine nations found that Covid-19 was the digital accelerant of the decade and has accelerated companies’ digital communications strategy by a global average of 6 years.”
Even before COVID-19, businesses were facing huge challenges to their operability and resilience brought about by digital transformation. The impact of COVID-19 has been to accelerate that trend and test businesses as they have not been before. Then the threat of a second wave remains. Future proofing is the best way to survive and emerge stronger when we do finally emerge into the ‘new normal’. Though change is a constant, and normal never really stays normal for long.