Like many people, I was chugging along aware of the Coronavirus, yet organising an event for the end of March, and arranging meetings in London. Then suddenly on 12th March, the news got through to me. I could see the writing on the wall that the UK could be in lockdown like Italy by the end of March. So, I canceled the event, and everything else too, including my birthday celebrations.
Will everything be back to normal by June 2020? I doubt it, judging by a leaked document referenced in the Guardian, which says the coronavirus epidemic will last until next spring
If a coronavirus mobile app for instant contact tracing that Oxford disease experts have developed is adopted then we may be able to operate more normally while waiting for a vaccination to become ready by next Spring. A similar app was used in China which has been instrumental in enabling China to get back to more normal operations. However, even if we do adopt such an app, it seems unlikely that we will be managing the situation effectively enough to see its benefits by June. In the meantime, it’s best to assume we will be set for a long period of home working and reduced social interactions.
Impact on the High Street
Many businesses will suffer deeply during this period. The high street was already under severe pressure from online sales, so it isn’t surprising to hear that Carphone Warehouse will close all its standalone stores and shed 2,900 jobs
Even if businesses dependent on physical locations step up their online activities, it’s difficult to see how shops and department stores will be able to weather the storm for a year of no tourism, and reduced footfall. The reduction in international travel is bound to impact the high street and have a domino effect on many other businesses too, not just on those most obviously reliant on tourism like shops, hotels and airlines.
Although the Government has said that loans on favourable terms would be made available for business, this only delays rather than solves their problems. While there may be an upside for some businesses by moving online, this won’t be a solution for everyone. As was said in this BBC report, people don’t buy a new outfit to stay at home. The reality is that there will be reduced demand for many businesses.
My guess is that it’s unlikely society as we know it will emerge looking the way it now looks in a year’s time. The landscape will be very different from what it’s been before, unless the use of an app can enable a semblance of normal life to resume.
What should we do?
The bigger a business is, the less easy it will find it to change direction quickly and reinvent its entire business model. Smaller, well-managed businesses can be more nimble and able to adapt to the new environment.
I am fortunate in having spent the last 5 or 6 years turning the Azrights business into a virtual one. For example, see this blog where I discussed the business case for remote working.
Using remote working employees wasn’t plain sailing for Azrights partly due to the difficulty of finding team members who were suited to remote working and could manage themselves without being partially office based. It was also partly because remote working didn’t appeal to the younger team members we were employing at the time when we decided to go virtual. Being young they valued the social nature of work and many of them chose to leave rather than work remotely.
Managing a remote team now in the way most employers are having to do, when people had previously worked together in an office, will doubtless bring up its own challenges. One key issue is to make sure you provide plenty of opportunities for everyone to connect as a group regularly online and talk about what’s on their mind. You need to devote time to managing and motivating them.
I much prefer the arrangement we have put in place now whereby we don’t use employees, and instead rely on business owners or self-employed freelancers for our requirements. Their mindset and attitude is entrepreneurial so that avoids the need to spend time managing them.
And to crown it all, we moved into a spacious house in Hastings ten months ago, so the place is ideally suited to a home run business. My husband whose past career and business involved web development, office 365 and software development projects is a useful IT resource.
As with most negatives in life, there is a silver lining – some upsides to all this.
We have been conducting meetings online via Zoom for some time now, so haven’t been reliant on physical meetings that much anyway. Now we intend to use online events more because the capabilities of the technology developed by Zoom. It offers interesting solutions that make it possible to recreate live events. Who knows, we may see live events as almost archaic in a year’s time when life gets back to normal.
Zoom provides “break out rooms” so that if there are a hundred people in the meeting, you can transport groups of 5 of them to a separate area to discuss something. At the end of the allotted time, they are automatically taken back into the main meeting. When I’ve experienced this type of event it was much more efficient than break out rooms at real events. In real life, it takes up so much time for people to move from room A to room B. They need to find the right room some go off to a different room and so on. Using the Zoom technology makes it easy to put people into groups to have discussions on what they just learnt.
It’s possible to recreate what happens at live events in terms of replacing the networking benefits too. For example, you could pair people off in twos to network for 5-10 minutes at regular intervals during your event so people meet the others. They can exchange contact details just like they do now when they exchange business cards at events. After the event they could follow up for a deeper one to one conversation.
Networking is, after all, one of the true benefits of live events, the connections you make. Potentially you could meet even more people than you could meet at a real live event due to the efficiencies of technology.
Now that everything is slowing down, we can focus on community building both within society and also in our businesses to help address our consumers’ changing needs and concerns.
The space opened up in our diaries due to the enforced isolation and cancellation of events and trips provides time to think about the important stuff that is so often squeezed out by day-to-day demands.
While not every business is able to adapt in a short amount of time it’s worth focusing on the adjustments you can make to create a better business and brand longer term. This might be a good time to take care of the things you have not had time for in the last few years.
I would recommend doubling down to work on your business and brand.
Perhaps you didn’t give your brand the depth of thought it needed when you went through a branding exercise, or maybe you just need to fine tune it, and rethink your vision, mission and values. Now is the time to do it. Be the business and brand that handles this crisis the right way. Be the leader in your industry. People will remember how you handled your brand communication and marketing at this time. So, focus on the long-term future of your business now.
Let me know what we at Azrights can do to better support your business and brand in this challenging climate. Just send an email to [email protected] referencing this blog.