Governments and businesses globally are tentatively taking steps to safely return to work in the wake of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Protocols which include; maintaining social distancing, vigorous hygiene standards and the use of personal protection equipment (PPE), especially face masks, are being put in place. Staggered start times and alternating days in the office are also being considered to combat the spread of the virus.
However, the threat of a ‘second wave’ infecting workforces and forcing another round of lockdown measures remains very high. As such, leaders must take this opportunity to review how their business has managed through lockdown and where improvements can be made to thrive in coming months and react should a future crisis arise. Considering strategic changes as a result of the pandemic also provides an opportunity to adopt new ways of working that will ensure preparedness and response times to emerging or fluctuating market trends.
Being better prepared for a number of eventualities will allow leaders to manage workforce demand in order to respond to rapidly shifting priorities. Leaders should be able to analyse and predict how customer demands will evolve according to current and future needs.
In the immediate future this will mean deciding how the existing workforce can be redeployed to meet current demand while taking into account the staggered return-to-work schemes, scaled-down workforces and variability across regions. Long-term forecasting will allow leaders to be smarter about how to make use of existing skill sets and capabilities and how to access specific skills in extraordinary circumstances.
How can organisational structure be reorganised to be able to meet sudden fluctuations in demand and enable the business to scale up or scale down according to the changing needs of customers. Changes to structure such as downsizing teams, allowing them more autonomy and installing new product development teams will foster a culture of agility, reinforce accountability and allow the business to focus on high quality, personal interactions at customer touch points.
Being prepared for a sudden change in the status quo and ready to redeploy workforces as necessary where demand requires is all well and good. But if individuals, teams or the entire workforce are not up to speed with multiple skills redeploying the workforce will be ineffective. Adapting and evolving the professional development workbook to include new skillsets will allow them to react to a sudden change in customer demand. Enabling remote learning may also support the future of the business and in the event of future lockdown scenarios enabling learning to continue.
In light of the recent crisis, for example, teams had to be quickly upskilled to meet demand in a contactless environment. Businesses already operating with employees well-versed in stringent hygiene procedures were able to respond speedily.
Those leaders who are able to galvanise the existing workforce to respond to a sudden change in customer demand will always have a competitive advantage. A multi-skilled, agile workforce that can swiftly turn its attention in line with shifting priorities as well as a readily available delivery capability will enable a business to react at speed; reprioritising workforce availability where appropriate. In order to be able to achieve this, organisational culture and attitude to work will require nurturing outside of emergency situations.
During this time of health and economic crisis we have seen countless examples of how businesses, both large and small have responded to make the best out of very grave circumstances. Workforces have adapted willingly to working from home where the nature of work and access to technology has allowed it, remaining productive while simultaneously providing childcare. Those who have been unable to work from home or who have continued to work in industries providing central services (e.g. hospitals and supermarkets) have adapted to hygiene regimens to keep themselves safe. Where restaurants have closed, take-aways have popped up; gyms and personal trainers have turned to at-home training with online communication software; call centres have extended their remote working capabilities; banks have put social distancing measures and monitoring in place at brick and mortar stores and increased their online banking capabilities — the list goes on.
As businesses slowly return to a new normal, those who have learned, adapted quickly and remain vigilant and prepared will be best positioned for whatever the future brings.