How businesses can navigate their way out of the pandemic’s impact

So that was the straightforward bit – now it’s time to address the Covid challenges, recover business and get back to the office (as long as it’s safe). Simon Whitehead, CEO at Hill+Knowlton, has a strategy…

by Management Today Staff
Last Updated: 18 Jun 2020

Is it right to say that for the services sector, even in the face of adversity and tragedy, the easy stretch of the pandemic is done? 

Well, you might say the easier stretch is done – the time when people are new to remote working, adapting to the technology and making sense day-to-day of the chaos and how to manoeuvre around what clients now need. 

Many things have accelerated and while that requires focus, businesses have at least been able to adapt to warp speed and to make the necessary decisions about resource and people allocation, finance, forecasts and the changing and new services that need delivering. 

Sunshine blues

In the UK, a summer of reflection and realisation lies ahead – opportunities but also risks and challenges as we understand the enormity of the economic impact and the changes that lie ahead for work and society. 

Cost cutting continues for many and this saps morale. Remote working does not allow for quick team recovery in this environment, as we remain apart and less able to instil safety and trust across our organisations. 

Good weather in the UK may have been a blessing so far, but teams need to keep moving rather than lapse gradually into a summer malaise after over 80 days of lockdown and a rocky path ahead. It’s difficult to remain fresh; particularly when it’s impossible to know what we are really aiming at. Progress is slow. 

Stop, look, listen – act

But there are positive things to do to manage our businesses through this moment. Communicate often and well. Be proactive and energetic. Suspend your agenda and listen to what key stakeholders are asking for – listen to clients with new and interesting problems to solve, listen to staff who need an authentic and empathetic voice and listen to those other key stakeholders who will remember what you did during this time and whether you made a positive impact. 

It’s not always important to have the answers but it is important to strike the right tone and to deliver on what you say you will do. Focusing on what you achieve in the short to medium term gives an organisation focus and reward, rather than trying to solve long-term issues that are bigger than anything we’ve seen before.

I do subscribe to the parallel activities of getting short-term actions done, but also bringing the senior team together by imagining a medium-term vision for the company and what it will need to do to achieve that vision. 

Debating that, assessing the landscape we can see and then agreeing where we need to go provides a route map for us to coalesce around. It won’t be completely right, but it gives that sense of direction amid the chaos, shows people the building blocks required today for success tomorrow, then allows the broader organisation to align around what’s needed. 

Dislocation, dislocation, dislocation

There is a lot of talk right now about getting back to the physical office and how to do that safely and at the right time, second wave or not. Some planning is crucial and consulting your teams is vital to instil trust and confidence in the plan. 

Without doubt, flexible working has changed completely and there will be new ways for people to balance home and work life. Commuting is an issue into big cities and I am sure we will see radical changes across the next few years about how we work and where. But right now, I believe that we need to try and get back to the office, to have a sense of progress and to work together again face-to-face as humans tend to prefer. 

It won’t be for all, and it needn’t be, but for many the release from lockdown will be an enormous move forward and will relieve the pressure on issues such as mental health and career progress. 

Overall, if your organisation is going to succeed through the uncertainty, your people need to feel safe in their environment so that they have the confidence and trust to work together, to collaborate and to go the extra mile. 

Of course, it’s not a safe time, and the fear of the virus, the dread of cost-cutting and redundancies, and a sense of disorientation have undermined the normal tempo. So it’s imperative for the senior team to provide reassurance, to calm fears and to begin to talk the language of momentum and success. Be transparent, be authentic and give people the news straight. 

And overall, be positive and give people hope for the future.     

Image credit: Mick Haupt/Unsplash

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