At the turn of the year no one could have predicted what lay ahead for us all in 2020. If someone had said that we would be in the middle of a worldwide pandemic and would have to pretty much close down the planet for a period of time to deal with an unseen threat, we probably wouldn’t have taken much notice and carried on as usual dismissing the entire thing – yet here we are!
It’s fair to say that we were taken by surprise and were completely unprepared. It shows the weakness in the system and how most governments and businesses just did not prepare or factor in a scenario where they would have to navigate a pandemic. On a government level it is quite frankly a disaster that there was no real playbook and no one really gave it a serious thought, after all governments are supposed to be prepared for even the most unlikeliest of scenarios and have a plan of action for their nation, so they can enact a disaster recovery model. Businesses on a small scale would normally not have the ability, resources and time to think about events any bigger than a recession however, larger businesses should be prepared as their shareholders expect good governance which includes threats and worst-case scenarios.
We have seen many businesses fail around the world in the last few months due to the knock-on effects of the lockdowns and the huge loss of revenue as a result. Some would have ultimately failed in a recession and were just exposed sooner speeding up the process, but this was illustrative of the fact that they just did not think about the possible factors that could affect their business and how to prepare for them. Most businesses just run on a day to day basis and if things are going well, they just turn a blind eye to the future and any external threats that could arise in the future. It works well in a perfect world where you are doing well, and nothing will ever change around you. However, in the real world there are always threats waiting at every corner. This doesn’t mean that it is the end of the world, it simply means that you must be able to recognise the threats as best as possible and have a disaster recovery in place for the possible scenarios. This is also a great way to look at how you can improve your business and strengthen it ahead of time so that it is more resilient and able to weather all kinds of headwinds.
As a business owner, I know how difficult it is right now and how difficult it has been throughout this entire pandemic. I also completely empathise with all the people who have been affected adversely in so many ways through no fault of anyone. I also know that as a business owner, I don’t have the luxury to give up and stop as I have employees, their families, suppliers, stakeholders and customers who are all looking up to us for a solution as we are the ones that are in the driving seat to make things happen. This is the time where we show what we are worth and why we took on the challenge of running a business.
There is an opportunity in every disaster and all you have to do is find the opportunity for your business. Think of it as a game of chess, you just have to be prepared for every move and still have an answer so you’re not out of the game. If you are lucky enough to have made it out to this side of the pandemic with your business, then you seriously need to start thinking about how you are going to navigate your business over the next two to five years. Anyone who thinks that the pandemic is under control and that we will get back to how things were previously is just kidding themselves.
You need to think about how we got here, where we are and all the possible outcomes that may come about as a result of this pandemic. For starters, it’s not over. The virus is still alive and kicking, so whilst it is out there the issues surrounding it will remain. I would start with thinking about the possible outcomes like this;
1. The first wave has not got rid of the virus. We have flattened the curve, but it still exists.
2. People are sick of being indoors and want to get out. Some people are going to ignore the social distancing advice and they are likely to be the super spreaders especially if they have no visible symptoms.
3. Others are going to be very cautious as they are still too nervous about the virus and don’t want to take any risks.
4. The summer will present lower levels of transmission due to the way the virus behaves, but it will still be transmitting.
5. The virus is evolving, and it is developing different strains that will come more resistant over time.
6. A vaccine could be as early as the end of this year, but more likely to emerge sometime during next year.
7. Once there is a vaccine it is not a quick fix as it must be mass produced and we are talking about 7 Billion vaccinations around the world.
8. There will be people who will not want the vaccine as they will develop counter theories and cause panic.
9. The vaccines will take time to produce, but who will get them first? They will not be available to everyone on the day they are launched, and it will take a very long time to administer. Even if we are talking about the UK, that’s 70 million people that have to be given a vaccine. It’s just going to take time.
10. What about the second wave? It’s inevitable, as history has taught us about human nature and how we behave. There are already flare ups around the world where the second wave is emerging Beijing, USA, Hong Kong and many more countries.
11. The mass protests are a hot pot for transmission as they involve thousands of people in close contact and this is a disaster waiting to happen.
12. The Autumn/Winter dilemma. As soon as the Autumn hits the UK and other countries it’s going springboard the virus back into action. It’s already a high point for the seasonal flu and this will be another part of that process.
13. We won’t know who has a seasonal flu or COVID-19 unless they’re tested, and the results come back. This means that people will be panicking themselves and others around them or they will just assume that they are ok and it’s just a flu, either way it is an issue.
14. Anyone who is displaying symptoms will have to self-isolate and tell others through the contact tracing system to isolate. This will mean that people will miss work, school, and day to day activities as they will have to comply with the isolation guidelines.
15. There may well be more lockdowns, either national or regional.
16. The government may just not be able to provide any future support whether it is furlough, CBILS, Tax deferment or any other type of benefit as the economy may not be in a position to keep borrowing more money and the strategy may be to let certain businesses fail.
17. Changing consumer habits of how they shop, interact, communicate and live.
All of the above need to be taken into consideration if you are to really have a candid and thought out conversation about your business and how you intend to plan for the possible outcomes of the scenarios above. Even if or when it all works out and we get the virus under control and are over the worst of it, we will still have a situation where the habits of society will have changed and be very different to how they were before we went into this whole thing. We may not shake hands anymore, we may be extra cautious and walk one or two metres away from everyone we see, we won’t want to touch things others have touched. Everything is possible as this is a world changing event and it will take time to get over, and there is always the possibility it could and will happen again with another pandemic.
As a business owner what you need to do is to think about how you can make your business work with all of these obstacles in the way. After all if none of the scenarios above come to fruition then you are well equipped to do what you normally do however, if any of the scenarios come too light then you need to be in a position where you have already thought through how you will respond. Maybe that is something you can do in the event of the outcome taking place or even something you can do in advance to better adapt and change your business so that you are resilient enough to whether all the headwinds coming your way.
Technology has clearly shown that it is a winner and has helped many businesses adapt to the changing way consumers are behaving as well as giving them solutions to the problems they are faced with. The companies that have done really well during this pandemic have been names like Amazon with selling everything you could need, Netflix with giving you entertainment whilst you stay at home, Slack and Microsoft with giving you communication and productivity tools to work from home. Coming out of this we are seeing retailers adopt a technology led approach as they tackle many of the issues they are faced with and are giving their customers the tools to make their lives easier. Retail is going to be one of the hardest hit sectors and we are likely to see many more casualties over the next few quarters as rents go unpaid, footfall weakens, and social distancing guidelines make the high street unattractive.
My advice is to adapt and change rather than fight it. Change is always a constant and is part of evolutionary progress as a species, this is no different. When we are faced with challenges and disasters, we are also given the gift of invention and new ways to solve problems. This time round will be no different and we will see many fantastic solutions to the issues we are facing. If you run a business, now is the time to get creative and think about how you can tear up the playbook and reinvent your business for the new world we live in. Not only will you be future proofing your business, but you will also be part of the change that will lead you to find new ideas and opportunities for the next chapter in what you are doing. There is no failure in change, the only failure is not to change.