Go on then, I admit it – I was one of those people facing lock down who thought tackling a jigsaw puzzle sounded a great idea to help pass the time and keep the mind occupied.
Most people, including me, like puzzles; we like to close the gaps in our knowledge especially when we can visualise what we’re aiming for – even when it’s really tricky, we still like to see what we are trying to piece together.
But now, in trying to understand how to deal with Covid-19, there is no picture that we can refer back to, or at best we can only see small parts of the solution. As said ‘umpteen times, we are living in unprecedented times.
As a business advisor and coach, clients seek my experience and guidance. ‘What do you think?, How should I approach this?, Have you seen this before?’ are all common questions. When those questions are asked now, no one, certainly not me, can turn to their old playbook and outline “Course 101 – What to do in the event of a pandemic virus?”
But, our approach at Haines Watts has always been less about telling clients what to do and what to think and much more about guiding what to think about and how you need to think about it.
A simple framework
As our minds move from lockdown to future release, what do business owners need to start thinking about? Although we don’t have all the answers, we can provide a simple framework:
- Pre C19 – the old normal – what we were used to and what we are aiming to get back to – but should we?
- During C19 – going into lockdown – all about stabilising, preserving cash and operating in a locked down market
- During C19 – coming out of lockdown – the head scratching stage where you navigate uncertainty. Expect to start in late May and go into 2021 (or until an effective vaccine is in circulation)
- Post C19 – the new normal – changes retained from phases 2 and 3. It will not look like the old normal
Coming out of COVID19
Let’s explore phase 3, coming out of lockdown. You need to ask yourself questions around three broad themes; People, Customers and Suppliers.
It’s got to be all about safety and not putting your people in harm’s way. They will be looking to you and trusting you to make the right decisions on their behalf. This has to be your primary thought. So what are the considerations:
Can people work from home or do they need to be at a physical location?
This may seem self-explanatory but remember to include those who battle with technology or environmental issues, or mentally struggle with home working
Are people willing to attend work?
Do they feel safe in do so? What is their mind-set? Do personal circumstance allow e.g. child care, vulnerable relatives. Are they more suited and productive whilst working at home?
Can people physically get to their work place and home again safely?
Especially people reliant on public transport. Is there enough capacity especially when other companies ‘go back’ to work too? Think about people who use taxis or car share too.
How are they kept safe at work?
How can you socially distance in the workplace and enforce it? It is likely businesses that do will be allowed to open sooner. What’s the impact on operational capacity? Do you limit days people access work and/or change working hours? Do you need to change your working practices? e.g. limit tasks that need more than 2 people to complete in close proximity. What about PPE and hand hygiene requirements? How regularly should areas been cleaned? And by who? How do people move about a property? How do you limit and monitor this? What about changing rooms, toilets, food/drinks, break times, fire safety? What rules will you apply?
There are so many things to consider with your people but answers must be found through regular and honest consultation and engagement. Talk to staff. They’ll be keen to help work out the right things.
Plan and prioritise who, where and when your staff could return from homeworking. Remember, we are not thinking about the new normal yet but just working through unlocking the current period.
For the foreseeable future, the old mantra of ‘delighting’ customers through a personalised customer experience seems hollow. We are all (supposedly) in this together, so perhaps customers may want a more community response.
Customers will definitely want assurances that products and services are delivered in a way that is safe for them, your staff and the general population.
So, what questions do you need to ask yourself about your customers:
Do customers still want what we do?
It is very likely they will. If a market existed last month, there will still be a need now. But how much of your market has been impacted and when will it return? Does it depend on other sectors? Or will C19 just accelerate a permanent shift to the new normal?
Our clients tell us they are uncertain about when to start talking about new opportunities with customers, to re-build their sales pipeline. It feels crass when the nation’s focus is on saving lives, so when is the right time? No one will tell you it’s now OK and you may lose sales if you don’t do it soon.
Can customers access you (or you them) in the same way?
Having been forced to become more technically savvy, customers are more confident in demanding what they want. Have you, or should you, got the right technology e.g. client portals to make clients lives easier.
You need to continue to think broadly about this. How should you deploy your limited resources in attracting existing and new customers? Should you continue to advertise, market or network yourselves in the same way?
I don’t think you should. Virtual networking will be a new skill for most but think about the reduced traveling time going online, never mind the calorific savings from not attending events!
Similar to your people, there are many moving parts but the best advice is to continue to communicate with your customers, to take their pulse on what they are thinking and doing – that way you’ll be able to react quicker.
Complex supply chains are being impacted by ever changing factors, i.e. infection rates and local lockdown controls.
Consequently, the ripple effects of COVID19 in your supply chain are really difficult to track and assess. So, what do you need to be thinking about with your suppliers:
Do your suppliers give you what you want (and when?)
Check availability across the supply chain and realistically assess your demand. Talk to them regularly and check in with your trade associations too.
Can you identify alternative supply chains?
This is especially important as new cases of the virus emerge in different territories or second waves of infections start to rise in existing locations.
It can be difficult and time consuming to set up new supply chains, to get suppliers to really understand what and how you want things, at the right price. But if the alternative is you are unable to supply your customers, then needs must. Remember to protect yourself in the usual ways.
You also need to think about how this impacts your customers and the agreed pricing strategies, if you need to pay more for your materials.
Can we redesign our products (if we can’t get our materials?)
If ever there was the time to look at these things, it is now. However consider if this means you need to put new checks or certifications in place.
The on-going puzzle
There is a lot to digest above and lots to work through, and more will become clear once the UK Government release more guidance on what the plan for unlocking is.
The need to preserve cash and adapt to daily challenges remains for business owners but we would urge you to start the detailed planning for progressive unlocking from late May.
And if anyone is interested, I never got to finish the jigsaw puzzle – my equally curious family took it upon themselves to get involved and completed it upon my behalf! I’m glad, it looked really dull anyway!