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What is the real cost to businesses during a pandemic? Steps to take to aid business recovery

The COVID-19 pandemic is making the business community re-plan, re-assess and revise notions of business continuity protocol. As the virus endures and our socio-economic response to it evolves, a new way of working is emerging, from individual team members reconsidering how to fulfil their day-to-day duties, through to boards re-strategising their business plans.

The startling thing about this pandemic is the number of sectors that have seen winners and losers emerge already. As some companies announce closures and others share the hope of new wins and bold plans, the key theme running throughout the good and bad news is one of agile business planning. Whilst many businesses may have had a crisis plan in place, the extent of the impact of COVID-19 has taken many by surprise: the businesses who have adapted quickly are surviving and some are even thriving.

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Business recovery involves planning, review and planning again

Businesses that have an agile mindset will find that their recovery is fluid. You may not experience “getting back to normal” in a perfectly upwards trajectory, but very much as a series of small, incremental wins, with some learnings along the way. It is best to get into the mindset that change will be continuous and long lasting.

Protocols, standard operating procedures, and best practices still have their place, particularly with larger workforces now potentially spread out from remote locations mixed with partial time spent in the office. However, it is important to balance this approach with a mindset that is open to change, receptive to suggestions from team members and ultimately comfortable in tearing up the rule book where necessary.

Customer communications should be prioritised

When the going gets tough, it can be all too easy to convince yourself that your customers will look after themselves. There are many examples of good and bad customer relationship management that continue to come out of COVID-19. In the current climate, every new customer is hard to win, so it makes no sense to assume that they will be retained once that initial conversion has been made.

Customers are generally very sympathetic to tougher trading conditions, so keep them on-side by being fair and transparent in your communications. If lead times or delivery times are delayed, tell them straight away and keep in touch if things change. Processing may take longer with smaller teams, who are having to work harder to complete a workload: again, all of that is OK, provided you forewarn your customers.

How honest should you be in your external communications? This is down to your business preference. One thing to consider is the universal nature of the COVID-19 pandemic. It has affected almost everyone, either directly or indirectly, so being candid in your communications will more than likely set you apart as an honest and relatable business. As a starter for 10, eConsultancy has provided some dos and don’ts on email communications to customers around COVID-19.

Your team is your biggest asset to quicker business recovery

Taking care of your workforce is crucial as part of your business recovery plan. Your team will make or break the business in how they deliver work and interact with customers, suppliers or partners. With some time well spent in engaging your team, you will have an army of ambassadors, prepared to dig deep in helping return the business to a more stable position.

Keeping employees in the loop with your business continuity planning will also help them roll with the punches when approaches change and responsibilities and working patterns fluctuate. As with your customers, communication is king when it comes to your staff. There will be some nuances in how you approach certain scenarios:

1. Furloughed team members

Your team on furlough may well be battling with worries about if and when they will return to work – and just how different the environment, pace and outlook will be. It can be all too easy to leave furloughed team members out of sight and out of mind, but to do so will be to the business’ detriment upon their return.

Instead, keeping in touch regularly will help them to still feel part of an overall plan, before returning to work feeling engaged and ready to take some of the heat off their non-furloughed counterparts

Better still, if you can help identify training needs for team members on furlough, you could be in the great position of having a more accomplished workforce on their return.

2. Employed team members

Those who have not been furloughed will need flexibility, compassion and understanding if facing heavier workloads and potentially less pay. Previously, with many businesses adopting a fully remote working policy, keeping in touch with your team posed similar challenges (and had similar solutions) to keeping in touch with those on furlough.

Now, with many companies phasing returns to the office in split teams or on partial shifts, the need to communicate is even more complex. Whilst being mindful of checking in with individuals, it is now necessary to ensure that teams are kept joined up and collaborative, particularly if you have decided to keep certain teams together in a “work bubble,” to minimise the overall number of people in the office at any given time.

Allowing a meeting of physical and virtual minds is a great idea, deploying the likes of Zoom, Microsoft Teams or Google Hangouts to have a weekly catch-up between the team in the office and anyone else working remotely. It can be tempting to just talk work on these calls, but do find a good portion of time to socialise and keep the camaraderie going.

3. Feedback

It is crucial to be receptive to employee feedback, particularly since the COVID-19 pandemic has proven that flexible working is entirely possible for so many different businesses. Requests for continued flexibility are likely, including (but not limited to) working from home days, different working hours and the increased use of technology for collaboration.

To ignore these requests and simply go back to the previous status quo is a recipe for a disengaged workforce, staff attrition and a way of working that is counterintuitive to getting your business back on its feet. The benefits of flexible working pre-date the coronavirus: prior to the pandemic, major office provider Regus identified the need for flexible working as part of any business recovery plan.

4. Looking after everyone

All members of the team, from front of house to the board, will have job security, financial and emotional concerns around the pandemic. There is a collective responsibility to look after your own wellbeing as an individual, along with that of others. Using your business’ infrastructure can go a very long way to being the best employer that you can be on this score: if you have yet to review your health and wellbeing provision, now is the right time to do so. Ask your team to complete a short and anonymous survey around what they need from you on this. Anonymity will encourage honesty from those who respond.

Do consider health and wellbeing provisions that are available for employees: depending on your need, there are solutions available that provide support for both physical and mental wellbeing. The upshot of the time, resource and planning that you invest into your team’s wellbeing is that they will be able to do their jobs to the best of their ability.

Collaborations are clever

As a business, you are not an island. The COVID-19 pandemic may have seen you decide to pare down your offering due to a revised team structure, a clear area of business competency that you wish to focus on, or the need to be realistic about margins. In this case, consider collaborations with partners and suppliers to continue offering certain services or products. Provided it works out financially, the aim here is to retain customer confidence whilst you continue to plan your way through and past the COVID-19 pandemic.

Similarly, your continuity planning may unearth a need to diversify, which is where third parties can come in (at least initially), to help you test and learn with the input of someone who has trodden this particular path before.

Communication is king

Each facet of business recovery revolves around clear, transparent and effective communication, whether that is internal or external. Bring your peers, your employees and your customers on this journey with you and you will find that they are receptive to the change that you – as a business – are adapting to.

Benenden Health has produced a coronavirus hub, with more tips and information about how to stay healthy as a business and individuals during the COVID-19 outbreak. It also outlines any changes or enhancements to our services in response to the global pandemic.

Visit the COVID-19 hub for more information.

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