Warren Buffett once said, “You only find out who is swimming naked when the tide goes out.” The tide from the COVID-19 pandemic could leave many businesspeople feeling very bare as they enter a brave new world.
Many humans can and do respond to challenges and crises by building new mental muscles. Music producer Brian Eno believes that surmounting obstacles increases creativity and uses a process called “Oblique Strategies” to produce some of the century’s greatest albums. Sir Isaac Newton’s theories of gravity were famously developed during a plague.
Here are six ways you can improve your business due to the current crisis:
1. Embrace online — seriously this time.
Even as the world has moved online, our reluctance to change has stymied our progress.
What if you could never meet suppliers or customers in person again? Now that you are familiar with video meeting platforms like Zoom and Skype, what else can you move online? Do you need to meet doctors, lawyers or accountants in person, or could you communicate mainly online?
What about your staff? Many workers want to telecommute for some or all of their work, and impossible suddenly isn’t impossible anymore. Less than 5% of Americans and less than 10% of Europeans work from home, and the U.K. average commute is 45 to 65 minutes per day.
I’ve discovered during my interactions with some of my Chinese colleagues that they don’t feel they’ll ever exclusively work in offices again after four months of restrictions. Video conferencing, VoIP, document sharing and the speed of the internet make it realistic for people to work from home. Can you rethink the possibilities for your office?
2. Training and retraining.
The current crisis has emphasized that all workers need to have basic computer literacy skills — and that’s just the beginning. As the traditional education system stumbles, continuous learning (especially online) will distinguish those who win in the employment and salary stakes.
The current situation is an unexpected opportunity for all of us to embrace online courses to learn languages and skills and acquire certifications. Traditional universities are stepping up, but sites such as Khan Academy, edX, Coursera, LinkedIn and YouTube are already providing knowledge and skills training for free or through promotional offers during this period of “social distancing.”
The goal should be to return to the workplace with new or improved skills!
3. Human talent and customer loyalty.
One consequence of the pandemic is that employees are unlikely to switch employers over the next 12 months, either staying loyal to those who paid them while stuck at home or out of the need to recover financially. Customers may also remember who kept the shelves full and be more loyal than usual. The loyalty halo will fade, but now is the time to create solid teams and a clear direction for your business.
Just as consumers are embracing previously “boring” but safe choices in food, investments and employment, I believe safety and loyalty will be valued in the immediate aftermath of the pandemic. Unfortunately, this is unlikely to be the last global crisis we will face.
4. Can we do it cheaper and better?
Why do meetings seem to take half as long online as they do in the office? I believe the work world needs to embrace a mix of in-person and online meetings and use each appropriately.
Humans are social creatures, and face-to-face meetings are important. Nonverbal communication and tone of voice can get lost in the virtual world of emails and Slack. The social bonding of getting a cup of coffee together creates space to develop better working relationships, but meetings slow down as everybody attempts to have their say and the group tries to be inclusive.
Can you rethink the process? With new tools and technology, can you improve it? Can you make meetings faster, with a bias for action, with clearer, better outcomes? When is travel really necessary? Can you remove costs? Can you avoid sliding back into old practices and habits once the pandemic is over?
5. Work-life balance.
Work-life balance is not a new idea, but many managers still aren’t managing it. Increased connectivity should help us work smarter, not longer. While EU companies restrict hours worked per week and have generous leave policies, numerous U.S. companies expect long hours, with many executives putting in 72-hour workweeks. However, in a worldwide marketplace, you can find yourself at a competitive disadvantage if you’re reluctant to stay connected.
This pandemic might be some people’s first glimpse of their own mortality. Will this change our attitude — or our teams’ attitudes — toward work? How does that change the workplace and the way you manage? Can you reimagine how you structure work practices and expectations?
6. Change is good.
What changes can you make in your business to make it more effective and resilient?
What options does technology offer? Can you use artificial intelligence to make better business decisions? Can you implement 3D printing to replace broken parts or even print a lunchtime pizza? Could VR or AR train your team better and enable virtual factory visits? Can you use robots to replace menial jobs or machine vision to reduce errors and eliminate mistakes in production lines?
In business, change is good. It generates innovation in the office status quo, helps you embrace new technology, creates new opportunities for the team, prepares you for new customers types and more.
As another phrase goes, “If you don’t like change, you are going to like irrelevance even less.” Don’t be caught naked as the tide from the pandemic retreats.