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Five business tips to recover from the pandemic

There is a second wave of impact that Covid-19 is creating, beyond crisis to health and life. As global lockdowns grind industries to an abrupt halt, we are already seeing businesses shuttering and the early signs of mass unemployment. Even when the pandemic eventually comes under control, weak consumer sentiment, disjointed supply chains, and poor investor appetite could continue to distress our efforts at economic recovery.

China has experienced some success at controlling the spread of the virus, and is now encouraging businesses to gradually re-open. Just as its government is offering social welfare protection, tax, utility, social security, and rental waivers, and subsidies to combat food inflation, private sector players are also stepping up such as with insurance companies offering free coronavirus protection. The following five observations of adaptability, creativity, and public-private partnership in China could offer inspiration for leaders elsewhere, as they prepare in advance for business recovery.

  1. Encourage mobility in the talent market. Restaurants and service-based companies experience pressure to pay salaries when staff utilization is low, yet there has been a spike in manpower demand among logistics and delivery firms. Rather than making staff take unpaid sabbaticals, employers are ‘renting’ their under-utilised staff to companies such as Alibaba and Meituan to be re-deployed as delivery personnel, so as to reduce the burden of overheads. What are the uneven talent needs among other businesses that your company’s skillsets can support?
  2. Accelerate product diversification. Factories are revamping production lines to manufacture goods that are experiencing spikes in demand due to the pandemic, such as masks, sanitizers, ventilators, and wellness products. Manufacturers are looking into smart factory technologies such as production line automation, machine vision, and factory robots, to reduce dependence on a human workforce that cannot come to work. Companies are making rapid changes to product branding, positioning, and packaging. Opportunities exist to introduce new quality control methodologies, as well as health and safety standards.
  3. Stay operational by being adaptive. Hotels facing a collapse of international tourists stays have pivoted to offer full-service quarantine facilities, with disinfection and isolation protocols. Other hospitality outfits are volunteering their facilities as respite for healthcare professionals. To cope with the collapse in human traffic, restaurants and shops are embracing new business models such as eCommerce, mCommerce, live commerce, social shopping, group buying, Online-to-Offline (O2O) strategies, and outsourced fulfilment. The product range available at vending machines has expanded to include three daily meals as well as groceries.
  4. Explore fresh approaches to protect customers.  The government is allowing gradual resumption of business activities, and businesses need to do their part in stemming infection rates. To support social distancing, gyms are offering staggered hours and visitation limits. Theatres self-limit their capacity to avoid complete closure, while restaurants have reduced their seating capacity and put up barriers between its patrons. Some retail stores have introduced ‘elderly hours’, as well as shopping concierges. To reduce physical contact, drones and autonomous vehicles are complementing human-less drop-in deliveries. Some facilities are experimenting with deep cleansing robots, to take their workers out of harm’s way. Large retailers, food service companies, and banks are innovatively exploring different uses of chatbots, teleconferencing, facial recognition, and paperless transactions to reduce human contact.
  5. Maintain customer intimacy digitally. Service-based firms such as schools, consultancies, or wellness providers are pivoting to become online education providers, and offering business consultation and training via the Internet. Apart from traditional educational content for students, trending online topics include digital marketing, business model innovation, as well as physical and mental wellness. Cosmetics sales persons are re-positioning themselves as online ‘beauty influencers’. Companies are joining membership and peer support organizations, in efforts to widen their networks. Business development and marketing managers are actively driving person-to-person sales through social platforms such as WeChat. Event organizers are scaling their reach and varying online audience sizes for price discrimination, while using high-resolution, low latency channels to pre-empt clients from perceiving loss of customisation or interactivity.

Companies and government offices have triggered business continuity planning protocols, such as split teams and remote working. However, culturally this is affecting customer relationships and team dynamics, and can cause social isolation and loss of productivity. Savvy managers are intentionally investing ‘check in’ time with their teams just to foster goodwill, to avoid having every interaction revolve around business transactions. Still, some work processes still require in-person and paper-based approvals, and there is remains a need to relook at corporate governance approaches and more regulatory innovation.

There also remains a risk that manpower disruption could affect essential public goods such as food, utilities, security, and healthcare. New operating models, rapid training and job onboarding, as well as widespread mindset change will be required to enable a resilient city to ‘triage’ resources to critical services in emergency situations.

Even with all these efforts, many challenges will continue to persist. Some questions that countries will need to unpack include how shared leadership in business, political and civil society can be better exercised; classical monetary and fiscal measures; restoring consumer confidence; instituting safeguards to save businesses from collapse; protecting vulnerable segments of society; and creating new industries and jobs.

We are likely to see the pandemic only very gradually tailing off over an extended timeframe. Organizations will need to embrace new norms for ‘business-as-usual’, even in economic recovery. Companies will continuously be tested, and there will be much to work through. Early planning offers the opportunity to help organizations build resilience to this crisis.