While we’re definitely not out of lockdown yet here in the UK, it’s important to turn your attention to how you return your company to ‘normal’ after this unprecedented period of change. Just as every good company should have a Crisis Management Plan to govern how they behave during crisis, they should also have a ‘return to normal’ plan.
The simple truth in this instance is that you won’t be able to return to your old ‘normal’. The impact of COVID-19 will be felt for years, if not forever, in the way businesses run. The 6-9 months post-lockdown will see as much, if not more, change than we saw as we entered lockdown. This change will manifest across two key themes: People and Money.
People management will be one of the highest priorities and time drains for businesses over the 6-9 months post-lockdown. It isn’t as simple as opening the offices again and getting everyone back at their desks.
Some staff will have been furloughed, and complex thought will be required about how to bring them out of furlough in a positive way; their employee rights to things like holiday need to be considered, as well as their mental health – furlough can feel much the same as redundancy. For some staff, furlough may indeed turn into redundancy, if the company they work for cannot immediately regain its previous revenue. If redundancy isn’t an issue, rebuilding your team might be – the daily rhythm has been lost and you may find the new rhythm that establishes is not the same as the old one.
More people than ever before have been working from home during lockdown – and many people are finding that they really enjoy it. Companies who previously said working from home was ‘not possible’ have proved it is and every company should expect to see a higher number of requests to work from home some or indeed all of the week.
Those people who were in lockdown with their families may have treasured the extra time with their loved ones and find readjusting to office life hard – how can you support them? Likewise, how you behaved as company leaders during lockdown will dictate your employees actions on their return – did you take account of their need to homeschool or look after elderly/sheltering relatives by finding and delivering food, or did you expect them to perform exactly as they do normally?
Just as the Christmas holidays and New Year always trigger a higher number of resignations and new job applications, so will the return from Lockdown – either because the period out of the office has allowed reflection, or because your company’s actions during lockdown have driven staff to want to leave. This means extra cost for your business in new recruitment, plus the performance drop while new people are found, brought on board and trained.
Many staff will have missed holidays and will be keen to take them as soon as travel bans are lifted – managing holiday requests fairly may seem like a minor thing but done poorly could foster resentment in your workforce.
How did you interact with and support your customers during lockdown? Will they want to come back to you afterwards? Did your customers learn to buy from you in a different way during lockdown and will they want to continue doing that?
How did your business function with some of your people furloughed, or with people not working at full capacity? Did it reveal you don’t need as many people as you thought? As a business, the lockdown will lead many businesses to evaluate their staff needs, especially as it will be key to keep costs low in the months ahead.
What other costs did you cut during lockdown – do you need to reinstate those costs straight away or indeed at all? Revenue will not return to ‘normal’ straight away for many businesses, so keeping costs as low as possible for the next 6-9 months makes sense. You may also have taken on a CBILS loan, so that cost will now need to be factored in.
You may have pivoted quickly to offer alternative services during lockdown – as lockdown ends, you’ll need to decide whether you continue these alternative services: will there still be a market for them and is that market big enough to warrant continuing the product? A ‘pivot product’ could even become your new major product, displacing your previous core products – a decision that could require wholesale transformation of your business.
The shocking thing to me is how many businesses - big or small - were operating with little to no cash buffer to support them through a crisis. If you did have one, that may well be heavily depleted, so the next 6-9 months will be a key time for every company to build up a good cash buffer and find a way to invest it so the money can work for the business – some companies such as Prudential offer up to 5% interest for long-term ‘cash in business’ scenarios.
Just as we’ve found there has been massive ‘noise’ and ‘hustle’ from companies trying to generate revenue during lockdown, the same will be true afterwards. Returning to your planned revenue path will be hard – you’ll need to find a way to stand out from the noise.
There are many things to consider for your business on the way out of lockdown. You could look at them as a series of problems to be overcome or, you could see this as a golden opportunity to reinvent your company into its best form yet – best for you, for your staff and for your customers. What path will you choose?