The COVID-19 pandemic is often described as a “once in a lifetime crisis”. The impact of COVID-19 on the economy, governments, businesses, and people is unprecedented. These turbulent times call for changes in the way we work and engage with our customers and the workforce. And indeed, COVID-19 has pushed organizations, governments, and leaders to achieve transformational outputs, which typically take years, in a few weeks.
As we see significant changes in thinking across the business and policy, the question arises “Is this the new normal?” Organizations across the board are rethinking ways of working to drive core outcomes, such as productivity, performance, and financial health. This crisis may well be the harbinger of the next Industrial Revolution, which leverages and enhances everything we have achieved with Industry 4.0 at a rapid pace.
Success stories across sectors
Each sector faces a set of unique challenges, but some sectors have witnessed great success stories. One of the fastest responders to the new way of working has been the banking and financial services (BFSI) sector. It seems to have rapidly put in place technology to enable remote working without any reported significant compromise of access and data security. The sector has also conducted reviews of the available infrastructure, including VPN connections, security tokens, bandwidth, and laptops. Many organizations have supported employees to quickly adapt to remote work arrangements. A large state-owned bank sought consulting support to help its employees quickly adapt to remote work arrangements. Another global banking major is conducting sessions on “navigating the crisis” for its leaders. Lean supply chains have had an impact on the automotive industry, slowing or halting production in many cases. The financial stress and potential failure of smaller suppliers are causes of concern across the industry. Energy, resources, and industrial companies face the biggest constraints in offering flexible and remote working solutions. They have been focusing on providing personal protective equipment and ensuring sanitation at workplaces, to protect employees. Most customer-facing companies are finding new ways of working; several companies are revisiting the existing e-commerce landscape and developing digital roadmaps for the short, medium, and long term. Some leading companies in the service industry promoted “no-touch” experiences to shift away from the “brick-and-mortar” presence.
The impact on people
Our early-days survey in China and subsequent surveys in various global locations confirm that from the beginning of the COVID-19 outbreak, employers have focused on the health and safety of their workforces. The pressing need at the moment is to manage work and “keep the lights on”. This has meant interventions ranging from changes in core HR policies and processes (such as allowing remote working and redefining terms, including leave and work hours, and remote workflows) to targeted initiatives around wellbeing, mental health, and employee engagement.
Virtual work is a whole new challenge for some people. This means new ways of managing teams, building engagement, measuring productivity, tracking outcomes, and addressing challenges in collaboration and technology. A number of tools are already being used by many organizations.
The role of leadership
Leaders need to change in many ways to stay effective in the changing business environment. They need to be self-aware and make the changes necessary to lead in these unprecedented times. As organizations start thinking about stabilizing and thriving, they need to consider focusing on building a resilient leadership that is able to learn, recover, emerge stronger, and thrive through the next crisis. Leaders need to work more collaboratively. They need to demonstrate more empathy and trust than ever before, while at the same time incorporating agility in decision making and work execution.
One of the biggest dilemmas for companies today is managing cash flows in a way to keep their businesses running and protect jobs. We are seeing the top management across sectors is leading from the front and taking pay cuts, as a means to try ensuring that redundancies are considered the last resort.
The COVID-19 situation has led the business community to reconsider the adequacy of its preparedness to deal with such crises again in the future. Organizations need to navigate through the current crises and drive short-term survival plans. They also need to be prepared to quickly stabilize and use learnings from the current situation to build a resilient organization. Organizations are reconsidering the shape of business models and ecosystems of the future, and reworking employment arrangements. They need to educate employees not only on the changes in the business environment, customer engagement, and digital capabilities, but also on managing crises, adaptability, and resilience.