Wednesday, 16 June 2021
With 21 June, the date for exiting the UK’s lockdown, small business owners will be gearing up to resume something resembling BAU after a year and a half. But in truth it won’t be BAU — so much has changed in the pandemic, and many businesses will be unrecognisable in their post-lockdown forms, perhaps having pivoted to digital-first or digital enabled, adapted to challenges such as social distancing or having had to restructure or streamline supplier services.
What your version of ‘staying agile’ or ‘keeping afloat’ looks like, the next transition phase is here. So we look at the questions you can ask yourself in order to be able to move into that phase as effectively as possible.
What will we do if there is another lockdown?
Boris Johnson has called the exit ‘cautious but irreversible’, but it might be prudent to ‘never say never’, in this unprecedented situation. And even with a June exit, the pandemic has now shown us that global and seemingly unimaginable events can happen and will most likely happen again in some form. Research in 2020 found that more than half of companies worldwide did not have a business continuity plan1 in place to offset the impact of a large-scale event such as the pandemic outbreak. So, a key question is whether you have a robust contingency plan for any future disruptions to everyday business? Futureproofing products, services and staff should be at the top of your list and developing a more resilient world of work will involve an increasing emphasis on agility, adaptation and collaboration. Consider elements such as cash reserves, digital capabilities and supply chain risks, asking yourself where you can build in safeguards or innovate to provide flex. And importantly, a year into this ‘new normal’ you should no longer just be concentrating on fighting fires — ask yourself how you’re going to move your business forward this year is an important prompt to keep looking in the right direction.
What are we taking with us as a business, and what are we leaving behind?
For many businesses, necessity has been the mother of invention — the word ‘pivot’ has been a mainstay of everyone’s conversation over the past 15 months, either to survive or to adapt a business or product for an audience stuck at home. For businesses that were already digital, disruption was often minimal, while those with a digital component will likely have ramped up that offering and moved it to front and centre of the business model. However, if you are one of the companies that had to rethink your entire premise then now will be a crunch time to assess what the permanent changes are and which were a response in time that can now be adapted or left behind. These can include the practicalities of your business — while modern business now means digital business, other changes such as special offers, pandemic-inspired products and services, alternative delivery options and a lack of physical events or IRL interactions can all be reassessed, seeing what has worked and what needs to now evolve. In the ’office’ too, you’ll need to audit the changes of the past year and consider what the next stage looks like; this can involve looking at working schedules and locations, use of tech for meetings or brainstorming, wellbeing strategies, staffing and people’s roles and relationships with suppliers.
Where and how will my staff work?
Pandemic-reactive home working has remade the world of work in a way that would have been previously unthinkable, slaying myths about remote working productivity (or lack of) and opening up new possibilities for people and businesses. A recent survey2 by the University of Strathclyde showed that fewer than one in ten people wants to return to the office full time when COVID-19 restrictions are eased, while 78 per cent of respondents said they would prefer to work in the office for only two days or less. New ways and expectations of working raise questions for businesses, particularly around workspace planning if staff are now not in the office full-time, as well as around issues such as remote team motivation. Now is the time to review what you’ve learned from emergency adaptations and consider what works and any points where next iteration solutions for BAU can be employed. Alongside that, many employees will have experienced greater autonomy in their roles through pandemic working, something that will need to be acknowledged — and capitalised on going forward. Job crafting could be an effective way to empower employees here, as well as reenergise their roles in the company. As the Harvard Business Review notes: ‘Leaders now have an unprecedented opportunity to re-imagine jobs by rearranging work and having employees take on different responsibilities to better respond to the evolving needs of their organisations, customers and employees.’3
What do my customers now expect?
The pandemic has not only changed the world of work but consumer behaviour too, and it’s vital to keep checking in with what your customers need and expect to be able to provide it. For many people, digitalised services rather than face-to-face interaction will be the preference for some time to come, even as shops and physical services open up. This trend may well dictate the future shape and direction of your business — and, crucially, within this new digital-first landscape it is not enough to just try to replicate a physical business online; any virtual offering must be customer-centric and offer a rich customer experience — whether that’s an online streamed workshop from your physical office, personalised offers or a live Q&A with an expert. Seamless experiences between online and offline interactions with a brand will also become non-negotiable, such as a quick delivery option, a click-and-collect system or above-and-beyond customer service that reassures customers and makes it easy for them to get in touch with you, and for you to communicate with them in turn.
Is my technology fit for purpose — and for growth?
The pandemic has shown the primacy of digital capability for future business. From enabling remote working to customer interfaces, organising supply chain and delivery and relationship and community building through social media, every business of the future is arguably a ‘digital’ one. And as well as being essential to contingency planning, having the right technology will allow you to leverage innovation to expand or fine-tune your brand offering. Customers also now expect well-designed, secure websites — according to research, 88 per cent of consumers now say they’re less likely to return to a website after a bad user experience,4 so if your website needs work then that should be a priority. Remote work is another area in which to do a transition ‘audit’, seeing whether the platforms and workflow tools you are using still suit your company style and employee needs. Automation is another digital trend to consider when futureproofing with tech — in EY’s survey of 2,900 global businesses5 41 per cent said they were investing in accelerating automation in preparation for a post-crisis world. For small businesses, automating tasks that don’t require creative thought, such as meeting scheduling, generic email replies, sales leads, social media posting and invoicing, allows you to free up valuable headspace and talent to tackle the adaptations and inspirations that will ultimately move the business forward.