No one could have predicted, back in January 2020, what a different world business owners would be facing less than two years later. The challenges of the pre-COVID era seem innocuous by comparison to the lockdowns, disruptions, financial uncertainty, and physical and mental health hazards that are a part of daily life in late 2021.
But with every test of your strength comes the opportunity of learning how to fight harder, and come out stronger on the other side.
Recognise the value of being prepared
If there’s one thing the pandemic has taught us, it’s that we simply do not know what the future holds. But not knowing doesn’t mean not trying to prepare for the unexpected. And being prepared means having a contingency plan.
You have a fire drill for your business premises, and likewise your contingency plan should be a set of procedures that swing into action as soon as a business emergency occurs.
Here’s what it should cover:
In what location the business will continue (if possible)
What business continuity methods will be used (e.g. remote working and collaboration, online orders, contactless physical delivery, service delivery by video)
Software and systems in place to enable work to continue offsite
Delivery of devices and other equipment to employees
How to continue accessing inventory and consumables
Financial support and buffers to make sure the business survives
Mental health initiatives for business owners and employees
A ‘return to normal’ road map
Embrace the digital future
Much of the preparedness listed above relies on having a largely digitised business. If there’s a silver lining to the coronavirus cloud, it’s that it has underlined the importance of getting up to speed on the digital expressway. Businesses with their software in the cloud, their records fully digitised rather than on paper, and online productivity and collaboration tools already in place, would almost certainly have found it easier to adapt to the sudden change in business conditions.
Every organisation needs to invest in digital functionality, not just in case there’s a next time, but also simply because it’s the future of business.
Facilitate open communication
The requirement to make an extra effort to communicate with staff during the pandemic has taught many employers the value of regular and open communication. All too often, the assumption that everyone knows what is happening in the business – its achievements, challenges, plans for the future – can leave some teams and individuals feeling left in the dark, ignored and undervalued.
And it works both ways. Making sure to ask employees frequently about what is happening in their work and personal lives will add to your business insights and promote their wellbeing.
Maintain a work/life balance
Now, more than ever, it’s vital to draw a line between your working life and your personal life. In an era when a great many people are surrounded by their work – literally – you need to make enough time and space for your personal and family needs. It actually makes business sense, because if you don’t, your work life and your business will suffer along with your mental health.
The same concept applies to your employees. Whether or not they are working from home, business hours and personal hours should not be inextricably merged. Recognise that they too are facing extraordinary challenges, and allow them flexibility of hours but also the right to switch off when they have completed their daily workload. And perhaps have a chat about the rewards – time with friends, eating out, concerts, sport, travel – that residents in all states can look forward to once we hit those vaccination targets.
Foster a culture of trust
It’s a given that you can’t see what your remote workforce are doing every minute of the day. But do you really need to? The idea of ‘presentism’ has been dropped in favour of a focus on heightened productivity, based on trust. Giving employees the flexibility to balance their roles as paid workers, carers and – in some cases – home-schoolers, can pay dividends in the form of loyalty, accountability and job satisfaction. You will probably benefit from maintaining this flexibility even when your business premises are fully available once more.
History tells us we will bounce back
The current economic conditions are far from unique. The global financial crisis in the first decade of this century, and, looking further back, the 1987 crash, global wars and the Great Depression, were all followed by periods of stunning regrowth and recovery. Every generation can learn from past challenges, to make the future even brighter.