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The COVID-19 pandemic has presented businesses with an unprecedented set of challenges. The crisis is dealing a devastating blow on many fronts – from shrinking market demand to complexity in manpower management – that is widespread and lasting, with variable impacts to regions across the globe.
While the impact has been detrimental, the pandemic of the century has also provided us with valuable opportunities to reflect on our approach and strategies, try out new ways of working and make some choices about what to carry with us into the future.
In other words, to learn, adapt and innovate.
The fact is, there is no more “business as usual”. Businesses will need to adapt to the changes implemented as a result of the disruption and weave them into their new reality strategies. While change remains the only constant in the months ahead, businesses can rise to the occasion and create new and better ways of supporting their customers and partners.
Innovating to meet evolving needs
Early this year when markets went into lockdown, small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) had little choice but to innovate or in some cases, reinvent their business models altogether. Many had had to find creative and cost-effective ways to cater to customers as demand and consumption patterns changed almost overnight.
For instance, many businesses turned to the cloud as business continuity plans kicked in. IDC recently reported that widespread remote working triggered great demand for consumer and enterprise cloud-based services in the first quarter of 2020.
With the utilisation of cloud and remote access technologies, businesses have been able to innovate to meet changing customer needs. Take for example the usage of digital solutions by mom-and-pop restaurants to accommodate online deliveries. Fitness trainers have also shifted to recorded videos and online video calls to continue training sessions with their clients.
Besides refreshing product and service offerings, businesses can also innovate by providing different customer experiences. For instance, at Sage, we built an online resource hub offering a repository of readily accessible information including advice and insights on how best businesses can mitigate the impact of the pandemic. Mainly, we want SMEs to have access to useful information to help their business to continue and thrive.
Customers appreciate suppliers and partners going the extra mile and thinking outside the box to match their new realities. Businesses that take the effort to remodel operations to meet the needs of customers will not go unnoticed and are likely to leave a lasting and positive impact on customers.
Adapting with a new productive culture
When businesses are adjusting to or planning for disruption, they should also take their people into consideration as the greatest driver of value.
According to Deloitte, up to 47.8 million people in ASEAN could shift to working remotely over a multi-year time horizon. To meet the needs of a changing workforce, businesses should continue to engage with and offer support to employees as they work from home in the long term.
This is not just to ensure that productivity is maintained but also to identify hidden challenges or issues, especially those that may not surface as readily as when workers were office based.
Here is where a dual strategy focusing on both processes and people can help build a productive culture. First, look for inefficiencies or bottlenecks. Unpack the processes and roles and source for ways in which they can be improved. For instance, automating manual processes such as the issuing of invoices or providing payslips.
Second, foster a sense of collaboration and flexibility, especially during these uncertain times. In a Forrester survey, only 49 per cent of workers in Singapore reported having flexibility in their work schedule to tend to family responsibilities, if need be.
Businesses need to encourage adaptability by building a culture whereby team members look for ways to support colleagues in their work. Create opportunities to better understand each other within the team and to know about the varying hurdles that each individual faces in working effectively at home.
For instance, I have encouraged my team to switch on their cameras during video conferences to support improved communications and bridge the physical gap. This also enables us to learn more about one another and the environments we live in, such as those with big families or pets who drop in during calls.
Instead of viewing it as an inconvenience, it fosters a greater understanding and empathy for each other.
As the lines between work and home are blurred even further, SMEs need to support productivity in ways that reflect each employee’s unique personal circumstances.
Business Lessons Learned From Covid-19: Learning from the experience
The best business leaders I know are constantly learning to better themselves and their organisations. It is important that businesses reflect on the approaches and strategies that they have adopted during the current crisis and apply these lessons to the future.
At Sage, we do so through our “Live It. Learn It” programme that encourages lifelong learning. The process allows employees to experiment, innovate, change and grow by having the experience, thinking about it, seeing what they have learned and then adapting to the situation.
While we all want to have this crisis in the rear-view mirror, it is an opportunistic time for us to consider what we can change in our teams and our organisations for the better. I believe that when this crisis is finally behind us, we will have a deeper appreciation for the resilience of the people and the businesses they run, the power of innovation and the ability to adapt and thrive.
This article originally appeared in the Entrepreneur's Digest print edition #93 and has been edited for clarity, brevity and for the relevance of this website.
About the Author
Arlene Wherrett | Vice President & Managing Director | Sage Asia
In her role at Sage Asia, Arlene Wherrett is responsible for accelerating the growth of Sage’s business in the region. Working closely with Sage’s loyal business partners, Arlene builds on the successful business established in Asia over the last two decades.
Arlene has over 20 years of experience in managing businesses within the IT and Services industries across the Asia Pacific region. She is also a certified Gallup Strengths coach and has led leadership development workshops for numerous organisations.