2020 will forever be known as the year that the novel coronavirus (COVID) took the world in its grip. Since China first reported a cluster of severe pneumonia cases emerging in Wuhan at the end of 2019, the world has since seen more than 100 million COVID cases and more than two million deaths1. To date, Singapore has recorded almost 60,000 cases2.
To put these figures into perspective, the Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS) pandemic in 2003 saw 8,000 cases and 774 deaths worldwide (Singapore alone saw 238 cases and 38 deaths)3. Furthermore, the SARS pandemic was largely contained within Asia and barely registered in the global economy4. In contrast, COVID has spread to 219 countries and territories around the world5.
Beyond COVID’s transmission to all corners of the planet and its consequent toll on human lives, industries and businesses the world over have been severely impacted. Not only have government manadates for social distancing and stay-home measures resulted in a severe decline in demand for goods and services, these mandates and measures have also affected the way businesses operate in a physical space – consequently affecting consumer behaviour.
Now that the world is one long year into the pandemic, what are some of the lessons that businesses can distil from these unprecedented times in modern history?
1. A New Culture of Productivity
Research has found that up to 47.8 million people in ASEAN could shift to remote working over a multi-year time horizon6.
In the absence of physical touchpoints, businesses have had to implement digital touchpoints instead. Beyond email, these digital touchpoints include applications such as Slack, Google Chat and others. Furthermore, most of these applications usually include a video chat function – helping to bridge the physical divide, and allowing users to foster empathy for those having to overcome the obstacles faced when working from home (e.g. the curious pet cat that always manages to seat itself directly in front of the video conferencing camera).
However, technology isn’t the only factor when it comes to remote working.
In order to adapt to the needs of a remote workforce – that now has to keep an eye on children undergoing home-based learning – it has become necessary for businesses to reassess their approach towards engaging and supporting their employees, as well as fostering teamwork and collaboration.
Despite this, only half (49%) of workers surveyed7 say they have the flexibility in their work schedule to balance work with related family obligations that arise due to work-from-home (WFH) measures. Clearly, more can be done by businesses with respect to implementing WFH-friendly policies. Such policies could include allowing time-off to tend to family needs – so long as productivity is not affected.
2. “Digital” Isn’t an Option; it’s a Necessity
Whilst digital applications are key to maintaining productivity at work, “digital” is also crucial when it comes to reaching customers during a pandemic.
With customers now being online nearly 100% of the time8, businesses have found it necessary to establish their online presence and lines of communications with customers. This is especially true of businesses that would previously have had to interact with their customers in-person or on-site.
Hence, businesses have not only had to ensure that they have a digital presence such as a search engine-optimised website, they’ve also had to move their sales processes online. Such businesses include F&B establishments which have had to utilise food delivery apps, and retail businesses which have had to establish e-commerce capabilities.
3. The Importance of Digital Efficiency
WFH measures have necessitated the use of digital tools to facilitate peer interaction as well as other processes such as hiring and training. However, this necessity has also shone a spotlight on the existing suite of tools – or technology stack – that organisations employ. And this spotlight has surfaced incompatibilities between tools as well as overlaps in functionality. In turn, this has brought about a realisation that the evaluation of specific digital tools based on their individual benefits alone is insufficient.
Simply put, organisations have realised the need for digital optimisation. This involves evaluating their digital requirements, taking stock of all digital tools that the organisation currently uses, identifying overlaps and conflicts, and finally determining potential opportunities for the consolidation of data, systems and processes.
For a deeper insight into how businesses can successfully incorporate digital technologies into their workflows or customer flows, download Golden Equator Consulting’s whitepaper “Understanding Digital Transformation and Managing Change – A Guide to Navigating Your Business Through a Complex Digital Landscape”.
4. A Holistic Approach to Work Performance: the Inclusion of Mental Health
Employers are realising that work performance doesn’t begin and end in the workplace.
Although COVID is a physical malady, the resultant lockdown/stay-home measures, economic downturn and job security issues have taken a tremendous toll on the mental wellbeing of employees. This – in turn – can affect work performance.
As such, organisations have realised the need to acknowledge that mental health is indeed a factor that affects work performance and consequently, the importance of supporting their staff through these trying times.
One example of how organisations can support their people is through the use of therapy services such as Talkcircle – an online therapy platform that Golden Equator has partnered with in order to give its staff access to qualified therapists via video conferencing or text messaging.
5. Brand Reputation, Staff Retention, and Recruitment are Inextricably Linked
As mentioned in our previous blog post (Preserving Brand Reputation amidst a Pandemic: Utilising Digital Channels & Platforms), 69% of respondents in a Porter Novelli survey felt better about companies that publicly announced what they were doing to provide support for both employees and the community during the COVID pandemic.
Conversely, with the prevalence of job review sites and professional social platforms such as LinkedIn, companies that indiscriminately terminate their employees during these challenging times could very well see the erosion of their ability to retain and recruit talent once business picks up after the pandemic.
As such, whilst there is no doubt that the COVID pandemic has severely impacted economies all over the world, businesses should be wary of adopting knee-jerk responses – such as staff layoffs – in order to preserve their bottom lines. Instead, organisations should explore and implement initiatives that show support for their staff.
Besides providing access to therapy services (as mentioned above), these initiatives could also include regular check-ins from managers and leaders to see if their team members are doing ‘OK’.
Implementing such initiatives during times of adversity enables organisations to show that they have the wellbeing of their people at heart, and will also go a long way towards preserving what is arguably an organisation’s most valuable intangible asset: its reputation.
Last But Not Least…
As the world gathers its strength and stands up to COVID, it is crucial that businesses learn from current circumstances, recognise the “new normal”, and be agile enough to implement solutions that will stand them in good stead for the future.
6Deloitte, Remote Work – A Temporary ‘Bug’ Becomes a Permanent ‘Feature’, pg.5