COVID-19: 5 priorities to help reopen and reinvent your business

Reopen AND reinvent

Just weeks after winding down their operations, companies are being asked to restart their engines at an unprecedented rate as lockdown rules are gradually relaxed. The challenge is complicated by uncertainties about the progression of COVID-19 and the social, political, and fiscal actions that it will drive.

Reopening requires more than a return to normal, however, because the unpredictable and long-lasting period that follows this pandemic will feature fundamental changes to economic activity, fast-changing cultural norms, societal values, and behaviours. To reopen and to outmanoeuvre uncertainty also requires a program of reinvention.

This presents an opportunity—and a need—for many companies to build the competences they wish they’d invested in before: to be more digital, data-driven, and in the cloud; to have more variable cost structures, agile operations and automation; to create stronger capabilities in e-commerce and security. This agility will be core to the long-term capabilities they build. Leaders should consider the steps they take to reopen as the first in a long journey of wider transformation.

Preparing against scenarios

CEOs must reopen without knowing how the pandemic will play out. There are a range of potential scenarios based on the evolution of the virus itself and the nature of the social response.

  1. Cyclical outbreaks: Infections are controlled in past locations but spread to new hot spots and rebound in old. Patience wears thin with social distancing, opening societal fissures.
  2. Rapid remission: The disease is contained, and life returns to normal swiftly. Government measures work quickly to stabilize the economy.
  3. Prolonged chaos: Effects to control the virus seem useless. Governments and societies are strained to the point of breaking. The economy is limited to necessities only and inflation soars.
  4. Flattened curve: The rate of infections is slowed but does not go into remission. The economy shrinks in near-permanent ways. Society bends but does not break, pulling together to sustain government measures.

Not just a (Re)Opening: A New Beginning

Given the circumstances, business leaders have three priorities:

  1. Navigate uncertainties: Given the range of potential scenarios, companies will need to be prepared to change course on a dime. Any steps that are taken to reopen should, therefore, be easily reversible and scalable.
  2. Mitigate immediate challenges: Companies will have to provide a safe and secure work environment, communicating with their workforce transparently to build trust.
  3. Build a better future: Companies should not reopen by reverting to old ways. The reopening is an opportunity to create a better future for employees and customers.

Commit to active reinvention

A program of active reinvention that outmanoeuvres uncertainty starts with these five areas:

  1. Put People First: Today, we see that shared humanity at work can make all the difference in this crisis. Companies need to go beyond the transactional to truly understand their employees if they want to create productive, inclusive and rewarding working environments for the long haul. ​
  2. Design Spaces That Work: Create a safe working environment that gives people the confidence to return to work premises and to adjust to the new virtual/physical hybrid way of working.
  3. Solve in Phases: Plan for a phased return that responds to unforeseen events, slippage, and reversals. Take this opportunity to reengineer processes and to establish an agile operating model that provides flexibility to rapidly pivot to a remote workforce in response to dynamic market conditions.
  4. Commit to an Elastic Cost Structure: Shift from rapid cost reductions to building a resilient cost management mindset, and from balance sheet protection to long-term investment.
  5. Get Future-Ready: Long-term success of reopening lies in building new capabilities. This is the time to begin wider business transformation by leveraging new technologies at scale.

Goodbye reopening, hello reinvention​

Reopening will be more than a restart. It will be the beginning of a new era of business. The rules have changed. Employee and customer behaviours have changed. ​​

But this creates new opportunities for organizations with the courage and foresight to change more than immediate needs demand. For example, many companies have moved partly to the cloud. But, having reduced costs in some parts of the business, now is the time to reinvent and scale cloud adoption across the enterprise, creating variable costs and increasing resilience. Those that can reinvent themselves—their processes, customer experiences, employee and social contracts, and do so in ways that further their purpose—will win.

Outmaneuvering uncertainty—by mitigating immediate challenges and building a better future—will create organizations that one day look back on the crisis as truly the darkness before the dawn.

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Disclaimer: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Economic Times – ET Edge Insights, its management, or its members

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