Business COVID-19 Opinion

Your Business Survived COVID-19. Now What?

business

We’re finally at the point in the pandemic crisis where many regions of the world can see some light on the horizon. With case counts dropping and some public health officials cautiously optimistic that the worst may be behind us, we’re hearing more about opening the economy and putting people back to work.

But the reality is that “reopening” the economy doesn’t mean it will look anything like what we had before. With different regions opening at different rates, supply chains will remain unpredictable and purchasing power will remain suppressed for months, if not years. It’s a bitter pill to swallow, but not everyone who has been laid off during this crisis will be going back to work. Those that do may find their jobs and workplaces dramatically different.

Planning for the “new normal” of a post-COVID world will require business leaders to be prepared for more volatility ahead and “business as usual” may mean making the most with reduced resources.

Critically, this means making decisions based on evidence, rather than instinct and intuition. As a newly appointed CEO of a company dedicated to data and business analytics, this is exactly the approach I’ve been charting for our clients and our own business. For other leaders looking at how to plan a workforce for the Post-Covid world, here are several priorities to consider:

Double down on your core competencies … and forget the rest

Even before COVID hit, unfocused goals, redundant divisions and ballooning staff devoted to non-core functions were proving unsustainable for many organizations. From Deutsche Bank to Uber to game maker Activision Blizzard, 2019 saw many large corporations slashing divisions that didn’t relate to their core services. The pandemic crisis will only accelerate that trend — just look at the massive “refocusing” at Airbnb.

The lesson here is simple: if you don’t do something better than anyone else, you have no business doing it in the first place. As someone with a background in IT, it always surprises me how many organizations choose to build software in house, when it’s not their core competency, rather than work with a specialized software vendor that can do the job better and more efficiently. Pulling back to core functions — and outsourcing the rest — will be a key survival strategy in navigating the rough waters ahead. The pandemic presents an opportunity to look at your organization with clear eyes and ask: what should we be building and what should we be buying?

The answer depends on where you excel. If you have sought-after IP, a specialized creative service or an innovative product that’s top of its class, now is the time to build that out by concentrating your talent and resources in that area. For everything else, be it marketing, administration or IT, ask whether you can buy, rent or even “bot” non-core functions to support your core competencies. For my own organization, we’ve focused on what we do best: helping organizations see the truth in their people data. This supports our clients struggling to understand how COVID has impacted their workforce, while keeping our product and employees focused on a singular objective.

This approach is not as ruthless or callous as it might seem. Doubling down on one or two strengths not only serves to shore up your position in the market, it opens opportunities for new businesses to emerge to fill the needs and services your company does not. Specialization is key to strong businesses, and I believe that will become even more evident in the months, and possibly years, to come.

Adjust For a Permanently Decentralized Workforce

Of course, after you’ve clarified your core competencies, some pressing questions remain: Do you have the expertise and talent within your organization to deliver on the vision? If not, can you obtain the right talent in a timely and cost-effective manner?

While the fallout from COVID-19 has caused a wave of unemployment, those with in-demand skills remain employed and competition for high-end talent is fierce. Assembling teams with the right skill sets for a post-COVID economy will likely mean drawing from a globalized workforce and making permanent use of the remote work technologies that have been normalized in the course of the pandemic.

I know many leaders, as well as employees, are looking forward to being back in the office and physically connected. Personally, I prefer to work in the office as much as possible, but we can’t afford to ignore the lessons learned through this period of remote work. COVID has shown us how far technology has come to solve problems around communication and productivity in a decentralized team. In many industries, remote work works.

In times of crisis or tight competition for talent — or both — embracing remote work for at least part of your team will likely become a necessity. Leaders looking to recruit specialized talent will need to look outside their immediate region to hire from a global talent base, with the understanding that these employees may never join you in person at HQ. Meanwhile existing employees facing a phased re-entry to the workplace will likely require, or even request, some capacity to work from home.

Root Your Culture In Resilience and Adaptability

Just how these shifts will affect company culture, however, remains unknown. Already, we have seen the way we work upended. The mass layoffs, economic uncertainty and health threats from COVID-19 have created a collective trauma we are all living through. Post-pandemic, team members will still be under an immense amount of emotional stress as they adjust to a reduced workforce, shifting priorities and permanently remote colleagues.

In this context, rebuilding culture — or building it anew — may be the biggest test of leaders, requiring a great degree of sensitivity. The old trappings of culture, the easy go-tos of ping pong and snacks, happy hours and holiday parties, may prove increasingly irrelevant. The collective challenges and traumas we’ve been through call for something deeper and more substantial, a culture built around resilience, ownership and mutual commitment.

We still don’t know how a return to work will function, but we do know work is likely to look and feel a lot different than what we left behind. How you handle that, and navigate the new economic reality of a post-COVID world, will be the biggest test many leaders today have ever faced.

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Ryan Wong (@ryanhywong) is an engineer turned CEO of Visier, a business intelligence platform.