Pandemic Forces Companies to Change Priorities and Operations
Companies are responding to the COVID-19 pandemic in a wide variety of ways. The pandemic has forced a change in priorities in which many businesses have essentially shut down, while others continue operations as if all is normal. Most businesses are probably somewhere in the middle.
Those operations distinguished by many people who work in close proximity may have shut down, while other enterprise operations are able to continue by utilizing mobile technology and working from home.
How Companies are Responding to the Pandemic Crisis
I ran across an interesting brief from McKinsey & Company that goes into great detail describing how companies are responding to this unprecedented pandemic crisis.
McKinsey cites five specific priority areas where companies are concentrating their efforts:
- Workforce protection
- Supply-chain stabilization
- Customer engagement
- Financials stress testing
- Nerve-center integration
It’s a great article, but it may not scale well to the realities of small or medium-size businesses (SMBs). Nonetheless, the piece does offer a valuable framework for a business response or action plan to deal with COVID-19.
Tips for Small- and Medium-Sized Businesses to Survive a Pandemic Crisis
Let’s take a look at what this might mean for your SMB enterprise.
Priority One – Protection of Your Greatest Asset: Your Workforce
This can be challenging for all companies, but I think in many cases, SMBs are better suited than the big guys to address this effectively.
Start by establishing a routine reporting structure to let employees know what is happening, what is expected of them and how they are being protected. This is essential to maintaining the trust of your workforce.
Next, implement the basic protections that we’ve all learned over the past several weeks, mainly, distancing.
Move employees apart, better yet, allow them to work from home.
Shared facilities within a workplace such as conference rooms, kitchenettes and water coolers are all high-risk areas. If you are working with an open-plan office, you may be able to get away with some presence onsite, but the use of shared facilities is out. These areas should be taped off or covered.
Careful attention should be paid to copiers, fax machines and shared printers. In most cases, these should be shut down or staffed by a single individual. That person can sort output and deliver it to mailboxes or a temporary pick-up point.
All employees should be gloved and masked if they are visiting the office. Recurring visits should be scheduled and spread across the entire 24-hour day to minimize the number of people in the office at the same time.
Online teleconferencing technology is cheap, easy to obtain and quite effective. Use it for meetings, sales calls and even product demos.
Priority Two – Taking Care of Suppliers and Business Partners
Contact your suppliers, and develop a plan of operation that suits your needs and accommodates your supplier’s abilities in the context of times.
This might be a good time to drop production of low-demand products and stick to high-turnover models. This keeps people working and product moving without straining the system to build every model every month. This decision may also be affected by what is available from your suppliers.
Bring your channel partners and distribution team into the plan. In all probability, this is not going to be a record sales quarter. But that does not mean that sales cycles have to stop, new sales can’t be completed or proposals can’t be delivered (virtually). Closing and ordering processes should be able to continue as well.
Delivery and logistics systems will have their own challenges, so it is to be expected that delays or slower delivery times will become the norm.
Priority Three – Taking Care of Your Customers and Prospects
Your prospects and customers may have special demands during this time. Be proactive about seeking them out and identifying what you can help with today.
Establishing contact will necessarily be via email or mobile phone. In many cases, their personnel will be working from home just like your team is. Initial contact might be established as part of your team’s COVID-19 plan with the goal of sharing how your operation will be available during the duration of this event.
Hopefully your marketing efforts have developed an online inbound capability. Highly effective, context-driven websites that offer product and solution information should be maintained and monitored throughout this crisis. Make sure your sales and marketing teams are connected and tied into your online marketing systems with the ability to select qualified leads or at least interpret online visitor behavior.
This is likely to be a time when new relationships are formed as companies encounter needs that they have previously been able to ignore or have not previously experienced.
Priority Four – Check Your Financial Reserves
Your income will likely take a plunge until our economy is re-stabilized following the mitigation of the COVID-19 crisis.
What reserves do you have access to? What assets can be leveraged into cash for ongoing operating funds if necessary?
What sources of cash are available through other financing mechanisms?
Do you have committed revenue streams that can be restructured into cash-now deals? Some of your customers may be interested in converting lease or rental payment streams into discounted cash pre-payment plans. In some cases, third parties will offer cash for similar payment streams.
These alternatives may be easier to arrange and cost less than commercial credit alternatives.
Priority Five – Name a “Truth Czar”
In case you haven’t noticed, the rumor mill is doing quite well these days. This must be avoided wherever possible.
As mentioned in priority one, regular reports to your team on how things are going (good news and bad) will ensure that trust is maintained between management and the workforce.
Naming an individual who is responsible for killing rumors, fielding questions from all employees and providing honest answers will minimize the rumors, enhance the level of trust and keep people focused on getting the job done.
The most effective single mechanism to defuse the transmission of this virus is to keep people away from each other. For years, we have all been seeking the lights-out manufacturing facility and even the lights-out sales cycle. Now is when we can put those concepts to the test.
Adjusting your operations to function with an at-home workforce will serve the dual purposes of inhibiting the spread of COVID-19 and also preserve some level of business activity. This will protect your employees from the standpoint of their health as well as help them preserve their own financial stability and position your enterprise for the recovery that is on the way.