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The Coronavirus has halted business-as-usual, but is there a silver lining in this? (Part 1)

Tay Kae Fong
Tay Kae Fong

April 1, 2020

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Photo by chuttersnap on Unsplash

As this is written, countries around the world are struggling to deal with the Covid-19 pandemic with many imposing travel restrictions and border controls. Companies have implemented work-from-home arrangements, while governments are working out massive stimulus packages to deal with the economic fallout. What might leaders do to stay ahead?

The Binomial team discussed (virtually) how priorities will shift, and what companies can do to surge ahead when things start to recover. While we may not have all the angles covered, we concluded this is actually a good time for companies to work on their innovation, strategic planning, and branding.

Our discussion was broadly categorised into: (part 1) We need to get out of the crisis together, and (part 2) Be first out of the gates when recovery begins.

Before we begin, it would be remiss of us not to mention the basics. Please evaluate your cash flow and liquidity to work out how long it can last. If you’ll run into issues within a year, take steps now to manage costs, collect debts, and look into activating your line of credit. We will likely need 1–2 years to clear this.

Part 1: We need to get out of this together

Let’s get one thing out of the way: we (you and I, colleagues, fellow citizens, people) need to stay alive and healthy before everything else can matter.

Don’t kill the Golden Goose

At times like this, salaries become the line item that leaders start to scrutinize as revenue wanes. No leader wants to let staff go because of poor business performance, though that is a reality we face.

That said, if people drive our business, as leaders love to proclaim, then let’s not get too hasty in killing the Golden Goose. Whenever possible, consider creative arrangements, and rope the team into the process of finding solutions for them to stay in the company or ways to transition out in a less painful way.

One creative arrangement is employee-sharing, where companies with slack in their business (e.g. retail and restaurants) temporarily place their workers in companies that are seeing a boom (e.g. healthcare and food delivery).

Alibaba’s Fresh Hema did just that back in Feb when they took on employees from other affected companies, like malls and hotels, in a short-term capacity to help them address the spike in home delivery requirements.

In addition, don’t feel you alone have to figure everything out. We’ve seen how involving staff can uncover arrangements that work for everyone.

A hotel owner revealed that staff were so concerned about their jobs that one offered to work for free as long as he could eat at the hotel (they provide all meals for staff). The owner convened an all-staff, and in the end, agreed to keep everyone while they agreed to shorter work hours (and corresponding pay). The food arrangement stayed for all.
keep calm and stay home

Over-communicate to address anxiety

In the midst of the medical crisis, we also need to pay attention to how anxiety is affecting us, leading to irrational behaviour like hoarding and other irresponsible acts from otherwise well-educated and reasonable people.

We believe timely communication is a powerful way to mitigate anxiety during these times of volatility and uncertainty. In fact, we think this is a time for over-communication to provide a sense of certainty.

A good example at a country level is how Singapore’s government has rolled out a nationwide WhatsApp notification service with daily updates to keep the nation updated on the situation along with the latest policy changes and tips for staying safe. Residents have come to expect the message every night, and to a certain extent, it is something for people to look forward to.

For communications to be effective, it is best delivered at a regular cadence to all relevant stakeholders, so they know when the updates will come and can wait for it to make decisions.

In addition, keep communications two-way by providing staff and partners an easy way to reach you and telling them that you are open to getting ad hoc updates. This way, you can get input from the ground faster.

a dog and a woman working from home
Photo by BRUNO CERVERA on Unsplash

Master working together virtually

As more people work from home, don’t take for granted that things will just work. Remote working requires robust and scalable cloud technology with internet connectivity safeguarded by authentication and cybersecurity, i.e. it is not as simple as getting on the internet at home.

Plan and work with your IT colleagues to figure out the best way forward, possibly via a “cloud-first” strategy to help boost internal resilience levels.

In addition, having a robust web conferencing system is now a crucial part of communicating with and coordinating everyone. Learn how to get the most out of your system, from features available to best practices. The good news is that there are a ton of resources out there to help, like this list of tips.

In addition, be on top of conducting virtual presentations and events, e.g. webinars, if they are relevant for your business. Again, there are ways to make webinars engaging and interactive, from creating a good agenda to using the poll function to getting audiences to share questions.

In fact, one upside of webinars is that you get to ‘hear’ from introverted audience members via the Q&A (that you can set to allow annonymous questions). This way, you hear from more people apart from the most vocal.

Up next: Part 2 (Be first out of the gates when recovery begins)

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