Lessons from operating a business during the pandemic
Support your team
Your people are your most important assets. They are your business, without their knowledge, passion and skills, there would be no company. Regardless of your size, it’s important to support your team in any way you can.
How to support your team during lockdown differs depending on the situation but as a bare minimum, be sure to listen to them. In fact, we’d go a step further and say, be sure to give every member of your company a chance to be heard. I spoke with a friend recently who manages 3 teams spread across 3 different time zones. She makes it part of her weekly tasks to speak with each member, not about targets or anything else work related, but about how each of them are feeling and coping. It’s meant she’s been able to find out about each member’s individual challenges and support them in ways that wouldn’t have been possible if not for those one to one phone conversations.
Signpost them to any work benefits (health insurance, bereavement counselling, hardship loans etc) that may be useful to members of your organisation. Look at what you offer and assess if it meets the needs of your team.
Members of your organisation may have experienced illness, loss of family members or mental health problems brought on by the current pandemic. They may be fearful of losing their jobs due to the economic downturn or simply burned out from home schooling their children and trying to show up fully to work at the same time. Being aware of your teams’ challenges and supporting them through it now and going forward will be essential to their happiness and your organisation’s success.
Explore new avenues
There is certainly a sense of there being ‘winners and losers’ of the pandemic. Whilst most businesses will have found themselves affected by COVID-19, the way those businesses were able to adapt and explore new avenues greatly affected whether they were able to get through the past year. Take Brewdog for example, at the start of the pandemic, they along with other brewers around the world, turned their hands to the production of antibacterial gels. This allowed them to keep their production lines open, their employees on payroll and also provide a public service that was greatly in demand. Brewdog explored new avenues of business rather than simply shutting their doors and it paid off.
Now, it may not need to be as drastic a change as beer to anti-bac, but if you have found your main product offerings affected by the current global pandemic, 2020 has taught us that the ability to take a step to the side and develop new products can be the way to go.
Take Leadership Trust as an example. Unable to run our flagship residential Leadership in Management programmes since March 2020 (due to the first UK lockdown), we explored new avenues and introduced online learning programmes for the first time in the company’s 45+ year history. Online learning isn’t what Leadership Trust is known around the world for. We were able to find a way to adapt our experiential learning style that has made us a popular choice with executives and bring it online, directly into people’s homes. Furthermore, it allowed us to reflect on what issues managers and CEOs are facing at the moment and bring relevant courses to them. An example of such a course is our Leadership Fundamentals programme.
Organisations need clear rules and processes in order to operate effectively and efficiently. Organisations also need to know when to break away from a rule or process in order to meet ever changing environments. If operating a business during COVID has taught us anything, it’s the importance of being flexible. So many organisations who didn’t believe in offering remote working for their employees found themselves left with no other option than to send their entire staff home. Their rules may have prohibited such working environments but for many, this new remote way of working has proven to have so many benefits that it will be a long term option going forward, even after the pandemic.
The ability to be flexible will be key in 2021. It could look like adding flexibility with working hours to allow your team to work to their best potential whilst embracing their new home schooling responsibilities. As an organisation you can change your contract terms to be more attractive to your client base. Knowing when and how to change your processes will allow you the agility required to excel.
Embrace new technology
Who had heard of Zoom before 2020? Who used Microsoft Teams? Video conferencing platforms and online collaboration tools had existed long before this (hello Skype and Slack!) but it took 2020 to really bring their usefulness into the limelight. Now, instant messaging a teammate seems just as natural as walking over to their desk used to be.
The rollout of a new platform and the work required to have your team adopt the new tech can seem time consuming and cumbersome but the payoff is worth it. Becoming a more flexible, tech friendly workforce will save you time and money in the long run. You are never the ‘wrong size’ company or ‘too old’ an organisation to adapt to new technology. As an organisation used to working together in an office, Leadership Trust had to embrace new technology due to the pandemic and subsequent lockdowns.
Although it took members of the team differing amounts of time to adapt, it’s been a brilliant additional resource. We might miss each other’s ‘in real life’ company, but it’s been brilliant not only getting to grips with new tech but exploring how further new products can enhance the way we work with clients in the future.
The global pandemic isn’t over. Your organisation is still here and can continue to operate if not thrive going forward. Now is a time to continue to learn and grow. If you haven’t already taken stock of what worked and what perhaps didn’t work in the last year, now’s a good a time as any to do just that. If you have any of your own key learnings from 2020 that you would like to share, do feel free to leave them in the comments so we can learn from each other.