Perhaps it has become an over-used phrase, but these are ‘unprecedented times’. The speed of lockdown and rapid rate of changes in guidance and support during the early weeks caught many businesses unprepared. This could provide lengthy discussion, and probably will in the months and years to come: whether warnings and decisions should have been made more quickly, clearly and earlier so that everyone was better prepared. Rather than dwelling on the past, it may prove wise to look at the opportunities and move forward more positively.
We have the benefit of seeing the full spectrum of how businesses are being impacted. From a complete and immediate shut down due to the lack of ability to continue trading, to demand for products and services multiplying several-fold. Wherever you are on that spectrum, you will have had, and will continue to have your own challenges.
Eight weeks into lockdown and things are calming down as new routines, new ways of working and indeed new ways of doing business start to become the ‘new normal’. That is not to say that they are any easier, just that the initial shock has passed, and businesses are starting to feel more comfortable that it can and does work.
Businesses could be forgiven for taking a survivalist attitude in the earlier part of lockdown, but as time has moved on, people have become more socially orientated and many business’ attitudes have aligned to match the mood of the nation. Indeed, one strategy that has been successful through this difficult time is where the business can demonstrate its usefulness or that it has a social purpose.
Most businesses have had to adapt during lockdown, that may be:
- putting the infrastructure in place to enable remote working or social distancing measures;
- changing working hours to accommodate employees’ additional personal commitments such as home schooling;
- providing new products or services such as PPE;
- servicing new customers or having to use alternative suppliers;
- including delivery services in addition to supply; or
- changes in internal processes and procedures to accommodate the above.
Much of this is carried out while utilising the Government support, or that from other parties, without any clear indication of how long the crisis will last. At the moment, business advisers’ time is heavily focused toward advising clients on the wide-ranging support that is available. All businesses should be making as much use of that support as possible.
Businesses now need to start to think about ‘what next’. Guidance on returning to work is starting to be released by the Government and there are as many challenges and complications around how that will happen as there were trying to ensure that business could continue during lockdown. The one thing that is available this time, however, is time to think about how and what that will look like.
Now, possibly more than ever, the reputation and brand of a business will influence its future. How they have portrayed themselves and navigated through this lockdown period may determine their legacy as they come out the other side. There have been examples, thankfully relatively few, where businesses have ‘abused’ their position by profiteering at the expense of less fortunate businesses, their staff or consumers generally – actions that are unlikely to be forgotten. On a positive note, there have been many more businesses looking to support their local communities which can build a reputation and a loyalty base that is very difficult to attain under more ‘normal’ circumstances.
So, what is next? For many, the changes will be permanent. If remote/agile working and video conferencing were not the norm before, they certainly are now.
Will businesses continue to operate in their new markets with their new processes or will they revert to their old ones?
Is there further evolution set to come?
Each business will have to devise their own path; we will continue to provide help and support, of course, but their success or failure will be influenced by the legacy they are building now.