A virus for which there is no cure – Increasing panic and death counts and scarce commodities. Home confinement and lockdowns. Domestic and economic discord. People going on a rampage in stores and hoarding stuff in panic – supplies, medicines, sanitizers and food. Mental trauma and disorder. Quiet, calm and deserted cities and roads. Manufacturing, businesses & factories – shut. All commutes & travel – banned. Modes of transport like – Airports, buses, trains – Shut down. All the staff of the Police, military, para-medical staff, government machinery and doctors – on duty to reinforce the law and fight the pandemic. A highly contagious, fatal Virus on the loose, and no cure in sight. And this is not a plot from some Hollywood movie – this is today’s reality.
With everyone trying to just maintain status-quo, it’s been a tough few months for the world as we stumble from experiment to experiment to navigate a new normal amid the corona virus pandemic. From a personal standpoint, all of us have been practicing social distancing by staying inside our homes, canceling plans, and avoiding crowded spaces. On the Professional front, most of us have experienced working from home – it started with an indefinite timeline of when we would resume work from our respective offices. For those in businesses supplying goods and services, there have been disruptions in day-to-day operations because of gaps in supply chain, fluctuations in demand, and retail closures, to name just a few of the many challenges businesses are currently facing.
The governments and leaders did what was required – the lockdown emerged as a hard but absolutely necessary wise decision, requiring full compliance. Even the business with private company registration and LLP registration allowed employees to work from home. It seemed the best way for to avoid the deadly virus and also to stop the infection from spreading. To arrest the spread of corona, everyone was confined to their homes and hence equations radically changed – workplaces were shut down and so did educational institutions. Factories and production lines came come to a halt. Highways were quiet and airlines stopped operating flights. Essential services were operating with a skeleton or minimal staff. As educational institutions continue to rally their forces and conduct online courses, students are learning to come to terms with online education as a routine medium. For working professionals, Virtual meetings over skype and zoom became the norm as the virtual world became the real one in a scary scenario.
Now, as many lockdowns around the world begin to ease, businesses, leaders & entrepreneurs are wondering about the way forward. The thought of starting work is complex – in more ways than one. Most importantly, there is no set method or rulebook for navigating the way forward. It is in this context, that Bain & Company’s new research, Back to Work: Advance, Retreat, Adapt, Recover, offers pointers for approaching core problems that businesses will have to deal with in a very transformed environment. “For most business professionals, it will be like starting a new business rather than restarting work.” said Hernan Saenz, head of Bain & Company’s global Performance Improvement practice. “Returning to work will be far more complex than turning the lights back on and restarting operations.”
As economies slowly open up and businesses restart functioning, organizations, entrepreneurs, team leaders and individuals will all have to contribute to bring forth the “New Normal” – where safety, precautions & awareness will play a central role. Against this backdrop, organizations will need a depth in approach and strong, agile mindset to cope.
Here are a few ways to approach the situation:
Tapping in house Talent
If you choose a few senior team members who can be part of a crisis team – they will be able to lay down processes, map routines and enable coordination out of chaos. Since senior members know the routines and business models of the organization, they can lay down roles for each team member and run them through imaginary scenarios where they can respond as per conditioning or training. These responses can be analyzed and debated at length by other team members and constructive feedback given. These discussions will also serve as a platform for judging how well the team functions as a single unit, and how they will cope when it comes to a crisis. It will be a good idea to present them with real-life issues of the business continuity and longevity. As they are already part of the system, they can give feedback that can be useful and constructive.
Usually the leadership function by its very nature does not involve participation, the current situation calls for a different approach by the organization’s top leaders. When the future of the business is in question, it is a good time for involving the team members in operations to sustain the business. This will begin with telling everyone that they have a stake in the longevity of the business and then inviting their participation in doing what they can to resolve matters. One of the benefits of participative management is that it will also serve as a team-building exercise for everyone involved and this will help the business itself in the long run. This form of Inclusivity will have long term benefits – not only will it help in faster decision making, but it will help get proper feedback. Added benefits are democratization of authority and multiple views of issues at hand.
Encouraging Resilience & Adaptability
With lockdowns being relaxed, remote working, virtual meetings and work from home become the new normal – for a while. Hence for business survival, companies will need to be increasingly resilient and prompt in response, adapting to with different ways to respond effectively to the crisis and business requirements. As team members collaborate more rights of employees during COVID-19 takes the front seat, at a distance (within or outside office) designations can take a pause, roles can expand as per ability and fill in gaps where required. When team members are made stakeholders in decision making, their responses will go beyond those of employees – they will step up to the plate and increasingly become more reliable and independent. They will become stakeholders in the process and own outcomes. Newer learning and skills will be absorbed. As roles and responsibilities expand, newer skill sets will have to be developed or possibly shared. Team bonding will be an integral part of the business continuity plan. Overall, this will ensure that a resilient, innovative gene in sown into the organization’s DNA.
Swapan Dholakia is a senior Communications and Trade Advocacy professional. His current interest areas are trade diplomacy and leveraging Communications to impact society & audiences at large.