COVID-19: Alert bar

Re-imagining business to prepare for a ‘new’ tomorrow

There’s no doubt 2020 is testing businesses of all sizes, with many seeing revenue streams vanish overnight and others having to quickly shift to home-based workspaces. How are they adapting and preparing for what’s next?

As we emerge from social isolation and face into the ‘new normal’, this could be an opportunity to reflect on how this dramatic shift in the way we work and meet customer needs has challenged long-held assumptions.

“It’s an interesting time for business leaders,” says Renae Hanvin, who works with businesses and government to help build resilience to disasters as Founder and Director of corporate2community.

“In every disaster, there are opportunities without a doubt. Depending on the impact on their business, leaders may see it as a time to adapt. And those who can adapt – who can act in the best interests of employees and suppliers and deliver on new customer expectations – will be able to build trust and be in a better position when disaster strikes again.”

Accepting that crises will occur again is part of this new normal, so thinking differently about the fundamental business model is the first step. “Even small businesses will need to do more to plan for continuity, and protect their livelihoods,” Hanvin suggests.

“A number of businesses have started to look at what else they can be, rather than just one core business service offering or in one market.” says Brian Budlender, Australia Post Sales Director.

“I think this has definitely changed things for the longer term. Everyone is going to be quite adaptive to different markets. How do they broaden their business so they're not exposed if something like this was to happen again?”

Strengthening team connections while working remotely

Flexible working has been on the rise for some time, with more than two-thirds of Australian employers allowing remote working in 2018. But the recent shift to enforced working from home for those who can has tested the impact on employee experience, productivity and collaboration.

In mid-March 2020, consulting firm Deloitte had roughly 20% of its 10,000 employees working away from the office. By mid-April, that figure was 95%.

CEO Richard Deutsch observed in an interview with Money News, “the agility to move that quickly has been phenomenal and the technology has stood up, which has been great.” But he also acknowledged the isolation working from home can cause – and the importance of communities where people can physically interact.

A recent Gartner survey suggests 74% of businesses will move at least 5% of their previously onsite workforce to permanently remote positions once restrictions have lifted. To do so, they will need to find new ways to keep those employees socially connected.

Many organisations now have the digital tools and capabilities to keep their staff working productively from home – and are exploring human ways to ensure social bonds are preserved. This can be especially important for extroverted employees and those living alone.

Events like virtual office trivia or tours of each other’s homes are a chance to recreate the office banter and reduce the impact of loneliness. During Covid-19, leading tech company Atlassian even facilitated a virtual painting class.

New ways to connect with customers

For businesses in sectors facing significant disruption, thinking outside the box about how to connect with new and existing customers has never been more important.

Deloitte data suggests Australia’s empty gyms, entertainment centres and theatres are set to lose the Arts and Recreation sector over $6 billion between April and July, while accommodation and food services will be short about $8 billion in lost wages and profits.

Gyms and yoga studios have taken their classes online, with on-demand fitness-class streaming on the rise. Some cafes and restaurants are pivoting to takeaway, while their suppliers are also going direct to consumers with home delivery of deli hampers or fresh food and veg boxes.

Even the local library is re-thinking ways to ‘deliver direct.’ When restrictions escalated in March and libraries were forced to close, Victoria’s Eastern Regional Library Corporation worked with Australia Post to create a new book delivery service straight to readers.

With 13 branches, the corporation services Victoria’s largest catchment of library members. “We set up four branches to be regional hubs, in ‘hotspot areas’ and have courier services running from those hubs,” explains Premal Niranjan, Eastern Regional Library Corporation’s Corporate Manager Business and Technology. “We also use our head office to send via eParcel.”

Learning how to shift their service from physical borrowing to an eCommerce-style delivery was a steep learning curve, but the service is now able to package up boxes of books for households based on specific requests or library staff recommendations. Flat-pack boxes to accommodate different-sized books, printed manifests and contact-free driver pick up areas are now all part of the process.

“We’ve refined it a lot. We started with one way of doing things, and with support from our branches we’ve found out what’s working well logistically. We’ve gone from running a library service to this!” says Niranjan.

Our collective response to COVID-19 could also be a catalyst for positive change, but businesses don’t need to navigate this journey on their own. Trusted partners and advisers can help you build new capabilities to reimagine your employee and customer experience, as well as robust continuity plans to build resilience to future challenges.

“It’s about how companies start to think about themselves as more than what they are today. And how can they future-proof themselves,” says Budlender.

So while some response measures may seem temporary, it’s possible many industries will operate differently in a post-pandemic world. By co-creating within your network, and evaluating business priorities as we move into the recovery phase, your business can embrace the new normal.

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