Why small steps are the best adjustment to a post-lockdown world

22 Jun 2020

Why small steps are the best adjustment to a post-lockdown world

Everyone is eager to exit this global pandemic, but resetting economies and organisations will need a careful, gradual approach.

Governments are beginning to ease lockdown restrictions, whilst companies are cautiously, but optimistically planning for the future. However, new spikes in COVID-19 cases, like the ones seen in Frankfurt and Göttingen in May, highlight the continued importance of social distancing. For that reason, we are not likely to see an immediate return to daily commutes on public transport and fully-staffed office buildings.

So how are companies navigating through this uncertain time?

Whilst, everyone is eager to put the disruption of this global pandemic behind them, many employees, consumers and other stakeholders continue to face difficult financial and health-related challenges. So, health and safety must be the priority as organisations reopen their operations and supply chains, re-evaluate their workforce models and re-engage with their partners.

Safety first is the first rule

As companies transition out of remote working, they must put appropriate health and safety adjustments in place and communicate these proactively and clearly to their employees, customers and a wider audience as appropriate.

As for what measures to implement, both the German government and the European Agency for Safety and Health at Work have issued occupational safety and health recommendations. These include a range of technical, organisational, and personal measures that organizations can take to minimize the spread of the coronavirus.

Technical measures include placing signs and physical barriers in workspaces and retail outlets to ensure social distancing is adhered to, ensuring surfaces are disinfected regularly, and ensuring ventilation systems are operating effectively.

Operational adjustments include supplying employees with appropriate personal protective equipment and having staff come in on a staggered basis. Personal measures refer to requiring staff to wear face masks in the office, addressing the needs of any employees in high-risk groups, and keeping all employees informed through regular communications.

Jürgen van Zwoll, Partner in the Odgers Berndtson Industrial Practice, comments further, “Some of our customers realise the crisis as being a chance to differentiate themselves from other market players. One of our clients, a renowned real estate group managing a wide complex portfolio of hotels and office buildings, is trying to find a top talent to develop a hygiene concept for a post-Corona-world. They perceive this becoming a key market differentiator in the future to provide extra measures of assurance to ensure safety and comfort for guests, clients and associates”.

Communication is key for employees and customers

Transparently communicating to employees that measures have been taken to protect their health will go a long way to reassuring and motivating them as they transition to a post-lockdown world. Many companies adopted an empathetic and transparent internal communications strategy during the lockdown to stay in touch and monitor the well-being of their employees. That level of communication will need to be maintained into the next phase and beyond.

It’s also important to recognise that not everyone is in a position to work effectively from home.

Team leaders will need to identify and provide assistance to employees who, for example, are juggling caregiving responsibilities with a demanding workload, and those who don’t have access to a fast and stable internet connection.

Employees who have been able to transition more seamlessly to working from home may still need help finding balance and creating boundaries to safeguard their wellbeing.

Online routes to create demand

A McKinsey study found that a dramatic reduction in consumer demand was responsible for 85% of the weekly GDP loss Germany experienced in early April. That indicates companies would benefit from putting resources into reassuring, and reconnecting with, consumers as well as identifying market growth opportunities.

Marketing departments will continue to be challenged to optimise spending to attract customers in a post-lockdown world. This may entail both connecting with new consumers on digital platforms and reaching out to existing customers with special offers to reward their brand loyalty. Listening to consumers, responding quickly to their concerns and adapting to meet their changing needs is a daunting task but won’t go unnoticed.

One important priority should be continued investment in digital transformation.

Consumers have relied heavily on online shopping during the pandemic and that demand is unlikely to completely dissipate when the lockdown ends. ŠKODA’s 360-degree virtual reality automobile showroom and Dutch eyewear start-up Ace & Tate’s virtual try-on service are examples of innovative digital platforms that are creating more engaging online shopping experiences.

But other sectors are experiencing disruption, too, as Dr. Nicola Müllerschön, Principal in the Odgers Berndtson Culture and Education Practice has observed.

 “The cultural sector has experienced a digital boost – partly enthusiastically, partly reluctantly. There will be no way back, but the pandemic has equally shown the value of the physical encounter. The future will be hybrid – no either/or scenario.”

Think small and carry on

Thinking through what health and safety measures need to be implemented will be labor-intensive but perhaps a more difficult challenges is modelling how to resume various business activities in a variety of uncertain scenarios.

Business leaders should approach the operational challenge of emerging from lockdown by thinking small.

The speed of this economic re-opening and recovery will vary by industry, region, segment and even product, making a one-size-fits-all approach impossible. Detailed planning for multiple potential scenarios will help companies assess the viability of business plans and prioritize opportunities for recovery.

The pandemic has been extremely disruptive. It will take economies, businesses and individuals time to rebuild. But it has also presented opportunities for transformation, innovation and increased agility.

Good lessons learned

There is cause for cautious optimism and organisations should recognise and celebrate their resilience. Companies have had to rapidly reskill and redeploy team members and build more flexibility into their business models. Manufacturers have had to reconfigure supply chains and divert production lines. Olaf Szangolies, Partner in the Odgers Berndtson Automotive and Industrial Practice, comments "Maybe one thing we can learn from this crisis might also be that it is not only possible but maybe necessary to abstain from profit to a certain degree and invest in setting up and maintaining more regional and redundant supply chains. Of course, this is no guarantee for being able to keep business alive during a crisis (and a lock-down!) but increases probabilities." And professional services firms have had to deliver value without ever leaving their home offices.

Many of the lessons learned during the lockdown will serve organisations well as we enter this next phase and beyond. The challenge for corporate leaders is to figure out which of the changes forced upon them by the lockdown should be incorporated into their business and workforce planning models going forward.