Innovation and Productivity with a Remote Workforce
As a second wave of Covid-19 lockdowns loom, non-essential businesses look to remain productive or, in some cases, solvent. Still reeling from spring shutdowns and uneven summer results, many businesses move toward a season of further government regulation and overall uncertainty with their very existence at stake. Can careful strategizing increase the odds of surviving, or even thriving, during the next phase of the pandemic? Consider the following four lessons, learned during the first lockdown.
Short-Term Pivot: Altering Your Business Offerings Can Enable Survival
When last spring’s lockdown threw ‘business as usual’ into chaos, some companies were able to pivot their goods, services and logistical offerings to meet the challenges at hand.
“The creative response can come in many forms, from developing a novel product or service to an alteration in a process or even ripping up a whole business model,” writes Julie C. Thomson for ‘The Conversation.’1
As the need for personal protective equipment became apparent in the early stages of the pandemic, some clothing manufacturers began producing masks and other necessary items. Small breweries began pumping out hand sanitizer.
Restaurants, reeling from the shutdown of their dining areas, responded by improving their delivery offerings and infrastructure, often supporting these endeavors with creative marketing initiatives.
Gyms went digital. 902 Athletics, a CrossFit gym in Bridgewater Nova Scotia, disinfected every piece of training equipment and allowed gym members to take the equipment home and participate in Zoom classes.2 The Foundry, a gym in London, England, launched ‘Where the Strong Belong’ an online fitness and support platform offering live and on-demand classes.3
Unfortunately, not every company is in position to make such a transition. Determining whether there are alternate revenue streams for your company might require a bit of outside the box thinking. Consider not just your current offerings, but your assets, core competencies and personnel. Is there an unmet need that your company may be able to address?
Level-Up: Utilize Downtime by Investing in Company and Staff Development
If you’re not moving ahead in business, you may be falling behind. These words have never been more true! For companies with pockets deep enough to weather the current storm, the upheaval may bring long term benefit.
Josie Rudderham co-owns ‘The Cake and Loaf’, a bakery in Hamilton. Much of their pre-pandemic business was walk in, making it difficult to predict the appropriate mix of goods to bake on a given day. When the first lockdown hit the business invested in an e-commerce infrastructure, emphasizing pre-orders, a move which added a level of clarity to the production process. The transition, born of necessity, may become permanent.
“I don’t know that I want to get back to the way things used to be, to be perfectly honest,” says Rudderham. “I’m not sure that was actually healthy for anyone.”4
“Even before the current crisis, changing technologies and ways of working were disrupting jobs and the skills employees need to do them,” advises management consulting firm McKinsey & Company.5
Downtime projects could be as grandiose as a total re-imagining of your business model or as simple as the completion of rainy day task lists.
As HR consultant Judy Slutsky advised us last spring, “Ask your employees: ‘What are the projects that you have on your list that you have not had a chance to get to? What are the value-added projects that we reasonably could do in the next three to six months?’”6
It’s always good practice for companies to continually assess the future of their industry and strategize accordingly. Updating technical infrastructure, re-imagining processes and training employees to meet the needs of tomorrow are mandatory initiatives for companies looking to remain vital. While financial realities will prevent some businesses from hiring at this time, those with financial resources and long-term planning in place will find skilled individuals available for hire.
Take Advantage of Government Relief Funds
The Canadian Federal Government recently announced $600M in new spending designed to provide relief for small and medium sized businesses. This in addition to $962M already on the table.7 CanExport, a program launched in 2016 to help small business owners and entrepreneurs break into new international markets, recently began providing financial assistance to companies looking to develop and expand their e-commerce presence, attend virtual trade shows and navigate Covid-19 related trade barriers.8 For cash-strapped companies, a thorough investigation of available funds is in order.
Emphasize Communications with All Stakeholders
The situation for business, government and the public is evolving on a daily basis. Since we can’t predict the future, it’s important to limit confusion through well-considered communications.
Dialogue with those to whom you owe money, and with those who owe money to you, can help everybody manage finances accordingly. Relationships with clients can be maintained through concise and timely announcements regarding service offerings and safety initiatives. Robust and honest communications with employees can mitigate the damage done by rumours and uncertainty. While not all news is good news, reliable information is generally superior to speculation and rumour.
The cost of Covid-19 for businesses has been brutal and, in some cases, fatal. The pains of a second lockdown cannot be eradicated, but careful planning and strategizing can increase the chances of survival for many of the companies our economy depends upon.