How are enterprises staying above water despite the deepening COVID-19 crisis?
Organizations that have survived the pandemic have one important lesson to offer: employee health dictates the health of operations and business. Product creation or service delivery is at risk if workforce well-being is compromised.
2020 was a year that many would rather forget. The promise of vaccines gave hope that an economic resurgence would lead to a better 2021. Instead, cases surged in many parts of the globe, including the US, the UK, and India.
2021 Covid statistics highlight the ongoing struggle against the splash-back of the second wave. Some businesses, however, have kept their heads above water despite the odds. Their success comes down to an employee-first view, proactivity, and adaptability—with practices, policies, and flexible working arrangements.
An employee-first view
Organizations that have survived the pandemic have one important lesson to offer: employee health dictates the health of operations and business. Product creation or service delivery is at risk if workforce well-being is compromised. This demonstrates a clear need for employee care in and outside the workplace.
Many organizations have gone fully remote to protect their employees. However, this is industry specific. Technology companies have an inherent advantage as they can facilitate remote work for most of their employees—from recruitment to service delivery. Other businesses like hospitality, leisure, and transport cannot digitalize in-person interactions, leading to an unavoidable loss of business and revenue.
As we emerge from the pandemic, it’s clear that people- and remote-first strategies catalyze employee and customer success. Safety will take precedence over physical presence, with employees preferring flexibility and becoming more productive as a result.
Thriving in Crisis: Proactive or Reactive?
When the pandemic started, the key focus was employee safety. Then, as the industry began to normalize, it became all about employee experience, global culture, and training for a digital future. The next leap was reinventing operations to become digitally ready across all functions.
Merely reacting to disruptions puts businesses on the back foot. To thrive, organizations must adopt a proactive approach by foreseeing challenges and preparing well. Shifting organizational mindsets will help define procedures that prevent disruption at its source and provide certainty and structure in crisis. In parallel, leaders have changed their styles—countering the VUCA world with empathy and communication, and by positioning learning as the key differentiator. Employees learned how to make decisions on their own in a decentralized and “flatter hierarchy.”
Resultantly, most employees at thriving enterprises knew what to do, how to use different tools, who to cover for, how to detect potential issues, and react “locally.”
Adapting to Change
In nature, an organism has two options when faced with a challenge: adapt or die. This Darwinian philosophy rings true for organizations as well. Imagine a brick-and-mortar store with no digital e-commerce capabilities. In a sudden lockdown scenario, their customer base wouldn’t feel safe visiting the store, resulting in falling revenues and looming uncertainty. Also, employees wouldn’t be prepared to sell their product online.
The store’s weak link is its legacy commerce model. By deploying e-commerce capabilities, the store can prevent disruptions and grow the business simultaneously. It can reach its local, loyal customers via social media, and in time, expand its global base. But the way employees would interact with customers to position their products online would be completely different.
Many industries—retail, food, beverages—did adapt, shifting to e-deliveries and online orders. Still, procuring the necessary capital to invest in e-commerce remains the biggest hurdle. This is where established technology companies have thrived.
While this is attributable to the adaptability of the organization, it must be inculcated into its people also. This means employees should be learning new skills and new ways of executing tasks, often virtually. Learnability is key here; otherwise, the entire organization is at risk of lagging adoption. A few areas successful companies have helped to drive include:
- Enabling virtual & collaborative learning and delivery
- Training employees on more efficient ways of working remotely
- Enhancing the learner mindset across multiple related skills
- Improving ease of processes with automation
Improving digital learning with virtually engaging content, micro-learning nuggets that are available anytime, anywhere
Those who did not prepare the workforce with these new skills, or enable them with new work processes, saw performance decline and took a hit to business operations.
Handling Future Disruption by Preparing Now
For organizations that survived the uncertainties of 2020, the reopening of the global economy will be a welcome relief. Invariably, the focus will be on recouping losses; however, they must continue to invest in training their employees with new skills and on the improved ways of performing their job.
New technologies and automation, to make remote working as efficient as possible, will become essential tools. And with more widespread learnability and adaptability, businesses will be ready for the next big crisis. This increases the risk mitigation capabilities across all business functions, and in turn ensures that every department has a plan to combat significant disruption on their way to becoming future-ready. – Sujit Sahoo