It’s all very well academics and management consultants telling us now that companies should have had contingency plans in place in anticipation of a possible pandemic. Who can honestly claim they saw this one coming before it struck in March? Not very many of us, I suspect.
Without the luxury of hindsight – and depending on your particular line of work – what most of us operating in the real world have to decide now is which of changes forced upon us by COVID-19 should be temporary and which should become more lasting or possibly even permanent.
Some businesses have been more directly hit by the virus than others, but all of us have been affected by the disruption it has caused. Supply chains, for example, have been knocked sideways and are undergoing widespread restructuring to ensure that businesses are not caught out again in the future. That might take the form of spreading the risk geographically or by increasing the number of suppliers; individual companies need to develop their own strategies.
Operating structures in general are being put under the microscope, typically to instill more resilience into the business and to take a long, hard look at the cost base. We have all seen how digital communications and cloud-computing tools have helped people work more remotely and, although it is not possible for all businesses to work in this way, there are applications that can be used for automation in factories, stores and other commercial environments. It is perfectly possible for cost savings to go hand-in-hand with social distancing.
Meanwhile, most managements have been forced to learn and adapt, too. Zoom and Microsoft Teams have been invaluable tools in helping to stay in touch from a safe distance – whether communicating with clients, suppliers or other members of the team. But it is a new way of working, requiring slightly different leadership skills in order to engage effectively. Failure to do so can lead to loss of staff, often of the most talented.
Conversely, remote contact enables management to cross all boundaries; there are no constraining geographical limitations or national borders. The world has effectively shrunk. It means that top talent can be identified and recruited from unlikely sources that could have been restricted before are now a positive option. There are boundless possibilities if you expand your horizons.