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Covid has caused chaos: here’s some practical advice

We watched what was happening in Wuhan with the luxury of distance. But now Covid is something that affects us all, and we don’t know what will happen next. It’s difficult to make decisions in such uncertain times, but there are some things we can do.

All businesses should be focusing on how sales teams are operating. We can learn a lot from how they’ve had to adapt when they haven’t been able to visit clients in person. How have they been leveraging relationship-building without the travel they normally do? What ideas do they have for building strong CRM? How have they adapted to market conditions and what does this mean for the future of the business? What are clients asking for?

Businesses and organisations are understandably doing a lot of internal reviews and that’s completely necessary. But a global tech client of mine has had a lot of very unexpected intelligence back from a consumer survey. They’ve set up a new consumer insights centre to investigate what people are looking for and how operations can adapt to ensure they’re offered what they want and need.

That applies to businesses of all sizes – there have been a lot of job losses, but there can be a lot of reorganization and redistribution of roles. My local deli and card shops are delivering flat-out – they’ve drastically reduced the hours the shops are physically open, but they’ve diverted all their capacity to deliveries. What they need to be doing now is getting customer feedback so they can work out whether they need to continue with this business model in the future. Is it going to change customer habits long term?

There are naturally going to be a lot of changes in staffing levels and ways of working, so this is the time that employers need to use to plan for those changes. The number of people allowed in a shop, showroom or office at any one time will be limited in order to socially distance, so there will need to be operational changes. In retail, the more staff there are the fewer customers will be allowed in, so although they’re closed now, they will need trained staff on the floor when they’re back up and running. The planning needs to focus on what that will look like and, while it may seem cost-effective to let the entire workforce go now, what impact will that have on recruitment and training costs further down the line?

Office-based workplaces that previously couldn’t or wouldn’t allow home working will now have seen that it’s possible and effective – but it’s not for everyone. So in this new socially-distant environment, it will be possible to bring back the people who want to come in, relax the rules for people who want or need to stay at home and still operate effectively and even cut costs.

All employers should be focusing on relationships, communicating effectively, accepting that some people want to go, making sure others are able to stay and having a structure and strategy in place to gradually implement their return.

Another thing that’s interesting – and challenging – for global businesses is that there are different scenarios and rules in place in different countries. This is a whole area of financial modeling needed to improve resilience and ensure stability and survival that didn’t exist two months ago. For global businesses, it’s not simply a case of diverting staff to deliveries instead of in-store sales, it could be the case that whole sections of operations are moved from one country to another because some countries don’t allow staff to be furloughed.

Mental health needs to come much higher up the agenda across the board, and the allowances that are being made for people who are working from home in difficult circumstances shouldn’t disappear as things start to get back to normal. With everyone forced to work from home, there’s been a certain amount of equality introduced to the workplace that didn’t exist before.

Those on low incomes with no childcare are now working in the same circumstances as their managers, and people at all levels are realising how hard things can be when you can’t just throw money at a solution. I’ve seen an operations director lead an international online meeting with a toddler on her lap – the old adage that you shouldn’t bring your personal life to work has been blown out of the water, and it isn’t necessarily a bad thing – it’s just life.

People will also be dealing with grief, and new kinds of grief. Employers of all kinds have a duty of care to their workforces and there are so many more factors to consider, now and for a long time to come. I’ve always advocated for honesty and transparency in business, and this is a time when employers need to be totally transparent with their teams about what their plans are, so people can make educated decisions about their futures.

Mental health and grief must be prioritised by employers; these will be issues that have an impact on all employees in some way. The crisis has introduced an equality into the workplace that didn’t exist previously, with people at all levels experiencing the same issues. That level of understanding and personal insight shouldn’t disappear as things slowly get back to normal.