The devastating impact of COVID-19 was felt by businesses across the planet, regardless of their industry or scale. The sudden and unexpected disruptions crippled many businesses, including the most powerful and influential ones that dominated global trade. And the recovery process has been slow as entrepreneurs and business leaders grapple with the new reality that has left no one spared.
The impact of COVID-19 is far from over. In fact, the disparities in how governments tackle the pandemic could mean that it won’t be over for another few years. So, now is a good time as ever to rethink how you do business and find new ways to thrive amidst a global outbreak.
From integrating remote work practices to gearing up digital retail capabilities, many businesses have already responded in different ways as they scramble to recover. But standing strong against the next global health crisis demands a more holistic approach to how companies operate.
Here are six critical areas to ensure the continuity of your business and build resilience before the next pandemic hits.
1. Embrace automation
While larger corporations are quick to adopt automation technologies, smaller businesses have been slow to follow suit.
The benefits of automation are especially amplified during crisis situations such as a pandemic. For example, it can help create more productive workflows by cutting down on paperwork and minimizing the need for employees to physically sit in offices. This could allow more team members to integrate with remote work practices.
Automation technologies can also help streamline the data capturing, processing, and reporting processes. This can provide speed, efficiency, and accuracy for planning and decision making that are especially critical during crisis situations.
And it is not just limited to internal processes such as finance, supply chain, and human resource management. It can bring just as many benefits for critical activities that involve your external stakeholders. For example, marketing automation tools like chatbots and automated emails can help increase the efficiency and consistency of the customer engagement process throughout the sales funnel.
The cost savings are also significant. Chatbots, for instance, are expected to bring $8 billion in savings by 2022 by providing automation support to the customer engagement function.
2. Adopt lean strategies
Cutting down expenses is one of the most favored strategies when a crisis hits. But COVID-19 has forced businesses to step back and re-evaluate the very norms of spending.
In the future, businesses that impress the most may not be the ones with the biggest offices, but rather those with the most impressive technological tools. And shifts in these spending patterns could help deliver better efficiency and cut down unnecessary costs to run leaner operations.
But running a lean business is not just about slashing expenses and reallocating spending. It’s also about adopting lean practices to improve operational efficiency. This will help build the agility and speed that are essential to better adapt when sudden challenges strike.
So, re-evaluate your operational strategies. Shred activities that are non-value adding and those that place an unnecessary strain on your workflow efficiency. Consider outsourcing activities that are setting back your business’s agility and speed. Restructure decision-making hierarchies to remove unnecessary red tape. This can speed up approval processes and improve accountability.
3. Strengthen your digital presence
When a large part of the global customer population was left immobile by the pandemic, the retailers that quickly regained traction were mostly the ones with a strong digital footprint. Nike, for example, saw its online sales surge by 82% in the June-August quarter, while its high street businesses struggled.
Clearly, extending your retail operations online can certainly payoff during a crisis of this magnitude. But even if your product categories cannot be integrated into a digital sales platform, there are many ways you can rip the benefits of a strong digital presence.
Product information, testimonials, and recommendations can all go a long way in providing ease and convenience to your customers’ purchasing process. And when you can no longer use one-on-one communication techniques such as point of sale materials, product demos, or even customer hotlines, your digital platforms could easily step in.
And creating a digital brand following and engaging them in real time are even more important to build trust, so when a crisis hits, they know who to lean on.
4. Strengthen data security
A sudden catastrophe could leave businesses vulnerable as they attempt to grasp the unexpected changes to their business environment. And COVID-19 was no different.
In response to self-isolations and lockdowns, many companies shifted to remote working methods in a bid to recover their operations. However, employees were largely unprepared and untrained to work securely from home. And this gave rise to security vulnerabilities. According to one report, complaints about cyberattacks surged by a staggering 400% with the pandemic.
Whether it’s ransomware or data theft, a cyberattack could have a devastating impact on any business. And with increased adoption of remote working methods, companies would now need to re-look at data security with renewed vigor.
Data security policies demand a revamp to accommodate work-from-home (WFH) practices. Employees need urgent and continued training to help maintain safety and security in their new work environments at home. Companies should also invest in building new security infrastructure to prevent vulnerabilities, establish greater control, and create a secure WFH environment.
5. Build agile supply chains
When COVID-19 hit, supply chains came to a standstill, paralyzing businesses and creating severe product shortages. With many companies relying on transnational supply chains, the global health crisis pushed them to rethink how they brought goods to the market.
This calls for new ways of thinking on several fronts. For example, when the pandemic emerged, consumers began to frantically stockpile. And the businesses that once enjoyed the efficiencies and cost advantages of just-in-time inventory systems, struggled to cater to the sudden surge in customer demand.
So, businesses will now need to re-evaluate their supply chain operations and adapt their inventory management policies to mitigate risks posed by a long-term global catastrophe. This might mean compromising cost savings to avoid severe product shortages and secure short- to medium-term sustainability of the business.
Moreover, assessing resilience and agility to respond to a global crisis must be a core criterion when selecting suppliers and logistics partners in the future. And selecting suppliers with a larger geographic spread could provide better risk mitigation solutions in the event of a global crisis.
6. Develop WFH frameworks
Remote working was an unfamiliar concept for many employees until COVID-19. And when they were suddenly forced to work from home, the transition was far from smooth.
With plenty of signs that remote working practices might stay in the long haul, it’s important to develop WFH frameworks to help employees adapt and maintain productivity. It will also help employers to address critical challenges often encountered when managing a remote workforce.
Here are some of the essential aspects to take into account.
- Define remote working policies, clearly explaining the work processes, acceptable practices, and guidelines.
- Deploy technology tools for a smooth workflow with better access to work-sharing, networking, and communication.
- Prepare your workforce to adopt WFH without expecting them to find their way. This could include employee training and providing necessary IT resources such as secured devices and software.
- Build the necessary infrastructure to facilitate an efficient workflow and to support workforce management, for example, with remote monitoring and access controls.
- Cross-skill employees to mitigate unexpected disruptions due to crises.
- Develop strategies to engage a remote workforce. These can range from regular check-ins to virtual hangouts.
Many companies were caught off-guard by the devastating impact of COVID-19. The disruptions to businesses were at unprecedented levels and some may never recover. But it also provided much to learn from―about agility, resilience, and most importantly, about how companies approached business continuity.
So, it’s time to regroup and recoup and adopt new strategies to thrive in this new world order.
After all, challenges are inevitable. And no amount of planning could help you anticipate and react to a crisis with 100% accuracy. But your ability to prepare, adapt, and build resilience will determine the level of success your business could achieve.