It’s too soon to see what the full economic impact of COVID-19 will be, which effects will be temporary and which will be permanent. Businesses could bounce back almost immediately, take advantage of new opportunities or struggle for years to come
One thing is certain: Life will not be going back to normal, so it’s up to all of us to create a new normal. Businesses that embrace new ways of working, invest in the right tools and find untapped markets are more likely to be part of that future.
Starting today, businesses need to temporarily or permanently alter their offerings and the way they do business in response to changing consumer habits. Some business models may no longer be viable. Others could also launch new products or services in response to the pandemic.
There is no one-size-fits-all guide for navigating the unknowns introduced by the novel coronavirus. Instead of waiting for others to draw the map, it’s time for leaders to chart their own new course.
Based on what we’ve seen so far, here are the types of companies that are most likely to survive and even thrive in a post-coronavirus business climate.
Tech giants Google and Facebook canceled most company events and said most employees could work remotely for the rest of 2020. Jack Dorsey, CEO of Twitter and Square, upped the ante and announced that most employees would permanently have the option to work from home.
A survey from Global Workplace Analytics found that 77% of respondents want to continue working from home at least once a week after the pandemic. Furthermore, 77% of respondents feel fully productive at home because they gain back more than a half-hour of unwanted interruptions.
If your employees need to be present on-site, review your physical space to make sure you can adhere to safety measures. Rearrange your office layout as needed to maintain physical distancing. If that’s not possible, consider a new working arrangement. For example, a professor in Israel developed a model where employees work in groups and spend four days at work, followed by 10 days at home to reduce the risk of infection.
Given the uncertainty surrounding reopening of daycares, schools and universities, businesses that show flexibility are eliminating, or at least reducing, a major stressor for working parents. That’s good for business, too. Multiple studies have found that employers that offer scheduling flexibility have lower employee turnover and less absenteeism. It’s a win-win-win: Employees can work around their family needs, while employers get a dedicated workforce and spend less time recruiting or onboarding.
At the turn of the century, few businesses had websites. Now, many consumers don’t consider businesses legitimate unless they have an active online presence. Now is also the time to focus on your digital marketing strategy.
Post frequent communications on your company blog and social media channels. Share relevant information, and respond to customers’ posts or messages. If you’re not an expert, that’s OK — just be as open and honest as you can.
In addition to maintaining active social media and websites, consider spending to boost your online presence. In a March 24 blog post, Facebook executives shared usage had sharply increased in the past month. Similarly, Instagram and Facebook Live views doubled in a week. Meanwhile, ad prices have fallen, meaning this is a rare opportunity to get a good deal and an even better return on your investment in social media advertising.
Review spending habits to make sure you can continue to pay today’s expenses, but don’t stop investing in tomorrow either. It’s important to keep cash on hand in times of great uncertainty. Businesses in a good financial position can continue to pay bills, suppliers and, most importantly, their employees. Those saddled with debt or without cash reserve or line of credit could have trouble recovering.
It’s important to remember that businesses have been hit hard — and fast — by COVID-19. The struggle affects businesses of all sizes in all industries. For example, shopping mall retail staples Nieman Marcus, J. Crew and J.C. Penney have filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy. Arne Sorenson, CEO of Marriott Hotels, the world’s largest hotel company, estimated at the end of March that overall revenue was down 75%. The Mayo Clinic furloughed or cut hours for about 30,000 staffers, instituting a hiring freeze and halting major construction projects to help offset about $3 billion in COVID-related losses.
As businesses adjust their budgets and projections for the remainder of the year, it’s worth asking yourself some questions: What spending can your business reduce or eliminate without disruption? What changes can you make to improve your business’ finances during the pandemic? What short-term changes can help the business’ long-term success? What can you learn from this experience?
It can feel like your business is in free fall, but you still maintain some control. The most important thing you can do is revisit your business model and reassess your offerings to retain customers. Your customers might continue to need the core products you’ve always offered. They might also need slightly different services. Or there might be new needs that have arisen out of COVID-19. This is your opportunity to serve them.
Consider how Vogue made recommendations for fashionable cloth face masks, recognizing the opportunity for a new retail category. High-end restaurants are selling family-style meals to go, and bakeries are selling raw ingredients like yeast and flour to raise their revenue. Even if you aren’t in the retail or hospitality industry, there are still opportunities to get creative.
Look back at previous plans and brainstorming exercises. Is there a project that was put on the back burner? Did you previously create something that is now timely? Consider hosting a “hack-a-thon” or a company-wide brainstorming session to uncover new ideas from employees.
Better yet, ask your customers. If you don’t have a customer advisory board, consider conducting a survey, an interactive webinar or a series of short interviews. Keep digging until you find something.
In the past, you might have spent months brainstorming an idea. Now, you need to execute it in days. Timing is everything, and the message you need to strike today could be different from tomorrow. It’s time to overhaul your business processes.
Think about what you already have and can quickly offer. Think about changing business and consumer needs. Perhaps you’re seeing increased demand for a particular service, such as remote IT support or HR consulting. Now is the time to promote it with everything you have. Compile valuable information into an eBook, webinar or another resource. Consider revising your sales processes to shorten the sales cycle. Don’t worry about launching something with the usual pomp and circumstance or slick, shiny packaging. Just focus on bringing your new product or service to market as quickly as you can.
Consider offering discounts to reward existing customers, such as exclusive content to download. Attract new customers through special promotions or pricing discounts, such as a trial period. People are more cautious in their spending right now, so give them time to test and assess your product. If you haven’t already, move as much of the sales process online as you can. If you would normally meet with a customer for a consultation, consider creating a chatbot with similar functionality. Instead of hosting several sales meetings, you can give them an estimate based on their answers to a few questions.
If car dealers can sell vehicles online, you can adapt too. If you don’t adapt, you’ll surely lose out.
None of this would have been able to continue working without embracing the technology that makes remote access and connectivity possible. Businesses and schools transitioned to working from home almost overnight. For some, the transition went smoothly, while others really struggled. Success largely depended on where they were in their digital transformation journey.
According to a poll by Gartner, 54% of human research leaders indicated that poor technology and/or infrastructure for remote working is the biggest barrier to effective remote working in their organization. Regardless of what you have done the past few months, look for ways to improve and invest in cloud-based technology that enables your team to collaborate and serve customers more efficiently.
Now might not be the time to make large changes or institutional changes, but it is a time to solicit feedback about what’s working and what isn’t, what employees need to get the job done and where your vulnerabilities lie. Assume that remote work will be part of the future and that your business depends on it.
These are difficult times, but they are also laden with opportunities. Learn from other businesses, review the basics and seek advice from other experts. Rise to the occasion, and inspire your employees to do the same.
As Kenneth Chenault and Rachel Romer Carlson wrote in The New York Times,
“This, put simply, is the moment when American business must step up. Wherever we can, however we can, we must meet this unprecedented challenge as generations of business leaders have before us — with the drive of innovation, the spirit of endeavor and a sense of shared sacrifice.”