The outbreak of COVID-19 has galvanised governments around the world into taking actions to safeguard the lives and livelihood of people. The most immediate action taken was the increments in critical-care capacity, implementation of lockdown measures, and partial business closures to flatten the disease spread curve. To buffer against the negative economic impacts of which, different stimulus and liquidity measures have been administered. Though the virus spread shows signs of abating, it is still a serious public health concern. As more countries are reopening their economies, a new challenge awaits us – what will the future hold?
There is no definite answer and no used cases for reference. COVID-19 and the induced economic shutdowns as a result of which is the first in our age of modern and globalised economy. This shows that leaders and companies across the public and private sectors can no longer seek normality enjoyed in the past. In light of new information and the dynamic situation, new approaches must emerge to ensure successful restarting of business activities.
1. Better, smarter work for everyone
Many companies around the world were ‘forced’ to operate remotely during the lockdown period. Some lamented and complaint about inconvenience whereas others were finding innovative ways to work from home. Those who were successful had an epiphany – they realised that their old way of doing things can be improved; there would more workplace flexibility by redesigning and streamlining work processes, and radical changes can be made to their operating models. The effects? Leaner business structure and a more collaborative workforce to take on the post-COVID economy.
First, consider if your business has unnecessary bureaucracy which stifles innovation, dampens new ideas and slows down work processes. If so, it should be removed and replaced with shorter decisions chains.
Second, encourage better collaboration and two-way communication through telecommuting and virtual collaboration tools. With these tools, employees can communicate more effectively with one another, on-the-go. When employees require quick confirmation or clarification from fellow colleagues or superiors, they can easily reach out to them through instant message platforms such as Slack or Google Chat. In circumstances where the projects involved are more complex and involves stakeholders from different locations, video conferencing could be an alternative to discuss sensitive content, rather than doing arranging face-to-face meetings. Gone are the days where projects discussions are stalled while awaiting everyone to be physically present.
Finally, more technologies such as Artificial Intelligence (AI) and machine learning should be utilised to automate certain processes and create a more data-driven organisation. The freed-up manpower could be re-deployed for other more value-adding purposes. In the case of retailers, COVID-19 has accelerated the use of technology to make more data-driven decisions. In the past, merchandise buyers and managers spent a substantial amount of time scouring the retail shopfloor every day to decide which items to markdown and to find out consumer sentiments regarding their offerings. They would return to office and manage old and new inventories using spreadsheets. With the lockdown measures in place and mobility severely restricted, such traditional ways of doing things had to change. More merchandise buyers and managers are turning towards AI to study ecommerce data, electronic word of mouth (eWOM) and social media sentiments for real-time insights on consumer preference. Algorithms were also used to optimise retail markdowns and inventory management.
Since these innovations and changes have produced agility and positive results for companies, they should be continued into the post COVID-19 phase and into the long-term. A good balance between onsite and remote working is not as difficult as one would imagine.
2. Safer experience for clients and employees
Heightened vigilance and concern for health and safety will continue as countries emerge from lock own. Maintaining responsible, physical distancing remains a top priority to prevent high influx of people which could lead to the resurgence of the virus. Face-to-face meetings with clients should be avoided and replaced with online conferences, whenever possible. Staggered working hours can be implement to reduce close social interactions among employees. Even for companies such as freight forwarders or manufacturers who may not have direct-contact with clients, hygiene in the end-to-end processes continues to be a key. There should be regular sanitation, minimisation of human handling in the back offices, production, and storage facilities.
Companies are encouraged to maintain a record of their employees entering and leaving the offices so that ‘contact tracing’ could be made easier. ‘Contact tracing’ is a public health initiative aimed at can quickly identifying and isolating individuals who are at-risk of COVID 19 and prevent the further spread of the virus. In Singapore, a national digital check-in system that logs the names and identification details of individuals have been implemented at places with high human traffic. Examples include workplaces such as offices and factories, and hotels.
It is difficult to think of the post COVID-19 period amidst much uncertainty. Yet, businesses have to be expectant and well-prepared for the future; the new normal. The mentioned tools and examples are concrete suggestions and actions that businesses can draw inspiration to transform, respond more agilely and become more resilient in time to come.