The world today is in a global economic paralysis — thanks to the novel coronavirus that began to spread around the world from late 2019 that’s now a full-blown pandemic.
If we are unable to arrest the spread of the virus soon, it’s estimated that this sudden economic stop could plunge us into the deepest global economic contraction since the Great Depression of the 1930s.
One can only imagine the tragic loss of life we must all contend with if this happens to be the case.
Same goes for businesses all over the world. With the global economy on life support, survival instinct is the driving force behind everything that’s being done by the companies.
But when a company is on survival mode, often, it is the only thing they seem to care about. In their myopia, they forget about their ‘why’ — their reason for being — and make decisions based on short-term goals that destroy value for them in the longer-term.
Why? Because however bleak the situation may seem right now, this much is certain: the pandemic will blow over.
And the best news about it is that companies can begin preparing for it right now by weaving one simple question into their decision-making process: “Will this survival decision we are about to make today help us thrive in a post-coronavirus future?”
Asking this question could help companies avoid finding themselves on the wrong side of the following predictions as well as of history itself.
1) There Will Be A Significant Talent Exodus From Those Who Treated Employees As An Afterthought To Those Who Put Them First
The supply and demand shocks created by this pandemic along with the heightened and radical uncertainty that’s synonymous with it is forcing companies of all shapes and sizes to make tough decisions about their future.
Without taking some urgent, drastic — and often unpleasant — measures, there’s a legitimate possibility that some companies might get reeled under the onslaught brought on by this pandemic.
To prevent that from happening, all major capital expenditure projects are being put on hold; cost restructuring programs are getting activated; backlogs are being put on the backburner; company-wide hiring freezes are being declared, and budgets are being examined and re-examined over and over again to see where the company can trim any and all fat that’s weighing them down.
For some, those fats will manifest in the form of its headcounts.
Suddenly, the employees go from being an asset to a liability. A deadweight on their balance sheets, ready to be sent away to face the chopping board.
So, with the first whiff of there being a hard road ahead, some of those companies will execute rounds after rounds of layoffs until it satisfies the numbers. Others will give a damn about their employees and try to survive it together without letting their employees go by instituting furloughs or some special paid leaves.
Most of the companies that go into a deep restructuring by executing layoffs might survive. Some of the companies that try to do right by their employees might not and go under.
What happens as the dust settles?
As the situation improves and the pandemic eases, the economic landscape will gear towards a reset. And with it, the overall economic activity will slowly start to hum to life again. Companies will come out of hibernation and begin to retool and gain an edge (at least some semblance of it) in the new economy.
Hiring freezes will be lifted and companies will begin to look for top talent to gain that edge. Those companies who had the courage and the decency to treat right by their employees (and are still standing) will see a significant increase in interest for their vacancies and job postings, with the bulk of it coming from those companies who treated their employees poorly during the pandemic.
As opportunities arise, those companies will see their star talents leaving them for those who gave a damn about the welfare of their employees.
Talent retention will become hard. Employee morale will take a hit. Productivity will be at an all-time low. And with a tarnished reputation, talent acquisition will only grow that much harder.
These companies may survive the pandemic. But they also may very well flounder in the decade to come
2) There Will Be A Noticeable Uptick In The Public Perception Quotient For Those Companies Who Actively Participated Or Contributed Their Wealth, Equipment, Or Expertise To Fighting This Pandemic Without Also Excessively Profiting From It In The Process
This might sound a little paradoxical, but most of the companies who actively participate or contribute their wealth, equipment, or expertise to fighting this pandemic will see (or are already seeing) an adverse reaction on their public perception report cards.
Why? Because most companies will not do it without also exorbitantly profiting from it in the process. And the fact that they do it under the guise of an act of Corporate Social Responsibility (CSR) will only enflame the ill-feelings the public harbors towards them.
Public v. Companies with for-profit savior complexes
Therefore, no matter how much wealth or resources they commit or deploy, it’ll be met with distaste and disgust towards such companies in the court of public opinion.
Here’s one example.
Access to the internet and digital technologies has become essential for us during this pandemic. It’s how we consume the news about what’s unfolding, stay connected with our friends and family, go to work, socialize, and keep ourselves entertained — even if that means wasting most of our waking hours aimlessly scrolling through Facebook or watching cat videos and coffin memes on YouTube.
No judgment here.
And yet, some Telecommunication and Internet Service Providers (Telco’s and ISPs) are busy trying to squeeze everything they can out of this ripe opportunity in front of them by lining up all sorts of promotions imaginable.
And the worst part? They are doing it under the guise of helping people stay connected with some scientifically seductive percentage of extra data sprinkled on top to avoid giving the same packages as pre-coronavirus times for a lower price point.
Consider the extra data a grand gesture of how much they care.
In the meantime, people (also known as their customers) are getting furloughed or laid off or getting sick or worse.
No wonder there’s so much anger and hatred towards companies that are hell-bent on profiting out of the situation we are all faced with today — and one can only imagine how many orders of magnitude more it’ll be towards such companies in a post-coronavirus world.
But it doesn’t have to be that way.
How to win in the court of public opinion
There will be companies who’ll come out of this pandemic commanding stronger and better brand equity and public perception towards them than going in.
Out of them, those who exhibit commendable CSR without being tone-deaf to what’s unfolding in front of them and without doing it to explicitly profit from their involvement in fighting this pandemic will register the biggest gains in brand equity and customer loyalty.
Here are some ways companies can put it into practice during this pandemic:
- Repurposing personnel. Offering paid leave to employees who want to volunteer at the frontlines or any other impactful volunteer programs
- Repurposing resources. Offering food, water, personal protective equipment, or other resources to the key and frontline workers
- Repurposing facilities. Helping relief efforts by repurposing unused buildings and other real estates owned by the company as temporary quarantine facilities
- Organizing blood drives. Holding blood donation campaigns amongst employees to help replenish the quickly depleting blood banks (this could be a great option to explore with the relevant authorities if you are geographically cut-off from virus-hit areas and your employees are working and living on-site, such as the resorts in the Maldives)
As these stories get picked up by the media (and they usually do), the public will be more likely to respond in kind to such acts of civic engagement and social responsibility because it shows a collective spirit of endurance and solidarity instead of a greed for short-term gains and profit.
And in a post-coronavirus world, these are the stories that’ll earn companies lasting reputational benefit for decades to come as they look to gain that edge, regain lost ground and begin to forge ahead in the new economy.
3) There Will Be A Heightened Emphasis On Cleanliness And Hygiene Across The Entire Business Spectrum, And Stakeholders Will Demand That Companies Take Their Hygiene Regimes Seriously
By the time the brunt of this pandemic abates, it’ll have forever changed our attitudes and behaviour towards cleanliness and hygiene.
And along with our behaviours, the structure and layout of our homes, offices, schools, hospitals, airports, government buildings, and other public spaces are also going to change.
What else will change?
Employees will demand better workplace hygiene from employers.
- Can we outfit the building or worksite with more handwashing stations?
- Can we invest in better air filtration and ventilation systems to improve the indoor air quality in our offices?
- Can we have hand sanitizers at our workstations permanently?
And they’ll demand changes or improvements in their standard operating procedures.
- Are we still going to shake hands with our guests and colleagues?
- Or can we practice non-physical greetings such as the hand on heart gesture, for instance?
Customers will demand their health and well-being to be at the center of everything a company does.
In the context of a company in the hospitality industry, such expectations could manifest in the form of:
- Can we have a “contactless” check-in on our arrival?
- Can the lobbies and dining areas be reconfigured to promote better social distancing?
- What are your new cleaning protocols? How are you cleaning and disinfecting the villas and other communal areas? Are you using electrostatic disinfection technology?
Companies who can find innovative ways to keep up with and stay ahead of these demanding shifts in stakeholder behaviour will be the winners. Companies that hurry back to old ways of doing things will perish in their misguided insistence on maintaining the status quo.
In a post-coronavirus business world, there’ll be no room for half solutions — chemically or otherwise.
The coronavirus has done a great deal of damage to businesses already — and the worst is yet to come. And when the future is uncertain, it’s easy to lose focus and to make knee-jerk reactions.
Sure, all businesses must take quick and decisive action in these fast-changing times to stay solvent and to stay afloat, but that’s under no circumstance a valid excuse to compromise the values and guiding principles of the company.
In fact, this is the best time for companies to ask the question ‘Why are we here?’ once again and use that question as a guide to show the world that their values, principles, and culture do actually mean something.
- To show that people come first and that they are at the center of every decision you make
- To show that you make good on your commitments to the communities in which you operate in
- To show that you can stay ahead of the curve in anticipating the changing needs and behaviours of your stakeholders and innovate your way into meeting them
Companies who take heed of what others don’t (or in some cases, won’t) and treat them as opportunities instead of obstacles, innovate, anticipate and continues to deliver value to their key stakeholders even as they are grappling with what’s happening right now are the ones who’ll bounce back the fastest and are better aligned for success in a post-coronavirus business world.
About the Writer: Athif is a Team Leader at One&Only Reethi Rah, Maldives. He is also an ultra-runner and a co-founder and the Managing Director of nextstopmaldives.com. Athif writes about entrepreneurship, leadership, psychology, athletics, and life: athifibrahim.com