As much as we might want to return to pre-lockdown familiarity, that is unlikely to be the case for many businesses. For a start, we will all need to adapt to social distancing as restrictions are loosened. Most businesses will want to be much better prepared for possible further outbreaks of the virus. For many businesses, the focus will be embedding the innovations, efficiencies, and cultural changes they have been compelled to learn over the past few months.
While all businesses have been impacted by the pandemic, some have coped better than others. For some, maintaining any level of commerce has proven impossible because business has simply dried up (consider airlines and high street retailers). For others, trade has not so much dried up but has become out of reach. That’s because they were not prepared for remote working, were slow off the mark and were quickly forced into damage limitation, rather than focusing on client needs. Such businesses hadn’t considered their wide-ranging business continuity risks. Not that such rare events as a global pandemic are on many a corporate risk register, but the impact of any event which renders the usual office environment and systems beyond reach should be. That would include fire, flood, storm, riots and terrorism, among others.
Those businesses which responded well to the changing circumstances started their move to flexible and remote working some years ago. At Gemserv, the transformation started with the move from desktops to laptops and hot-desking, then from internal servers to the cloud, and more recently, the difficult bit, cultural change. This has taken time but at the point of the lockdown all staff were regularly taking their laptops home each evening with around a third of our 200 staff working offsite on any one day. As a result, day one of the lockdown seemed very much like any other working day and the focus quickly turned to supporting clients through the challenging days that followed.
But this isn’t just about a switch to laptops, it involves the full digital integration of systems, processes and controls allowing a safe and seamless flow of communications and data to and from wherever employees chose to work. It also involves a great amount of staff and client engagement to get it right. There are a host of other considerations, take for example the increased risk of a cyber-attack or breach of data privacy rules. This is all the more likely as criminals look to exploit staff operating outside the corporate umbrella of firewalls, virus checks, secure networks, private working space, and so on.
When we do return to the office things are unlikely to feel like they were pre-lockdown. It will most likely be phased and involve some form of social distancing protocols and, worryingly, the very real prospect of further cyclical lockdowns as we battle to permanently get rid of the virus, if indeed that is possible.
In anticipation, many organisations are considering how they can be better prepared and not end up going back to where they were before with the same exposure to business continuity. Leadership is key, having the insight and courage to change the status quo and ensure their digital programmes (every business has one, right?) and continuity planning (ditto) is in place and implemented.
So, let me end with this. Do build your business resilience through proper planning and mitigations, but also keep in mind that this isn’t just about risk management, business was already changing to digital long before COVID-19 and will continue to do so afterwards. So whilst perhaps the pandemic is the current driver for many, don’t lose sight of the wider benefits of an effective digital transformation programme: optimisation of business processes and client services, driving efficiencies, increasing competitiveness, inspiring innovations, and lasting change.
Abnormal is the new normal.