There will be a future. In case you were wondering. It’s not that easy to see it right now, as the last light of ‘normal’ fades over the horizon, and we squint into the descending darkness.
Remember 2009? Probably. If I asked you what you did during that time to help your business in the long term, would you remember? I expect you remember the cost cutting, in all its brutality. I know I do. The lay-offs. Sleepless nights. But I wonder how many of us have a clear idea of what we learned during this period. Because I don’t.
What happens now may bear no resemblance to the economic wasteland we encountered then. It’s not looking great though. I don’t remember us fighting over toilet rolls ten years ago.
Despite all of this fear and doubt, we do know ultimately that human society is not going to fall into the ocean. Business, if not all businesses, will recover.
So step into the time machine, join me on the big hill far away, and let’s look back at our performance during the crisis that just ended. Maybe it’s this summer, maybe it’s the end of May, maybe it’s the year 2035 and you can download toilet roll, it doesn’t matter. The questions we can ask ourselves are still valid.
Did we take advantage of all the time that was created by this bullsh*t?
Most business people’s abiding concern is that they won’t be able to spend as much time delivering their primary services to clients as usual, and that they will take a substantial revenue hit as a result. There’s no ducking this, but it does beg the question for us on our future hill – if your team weren’t doing what they usually did, then what were they doing? What were you doing? Where did the time go that wasn’t being used in the way it was usually used? Was the only winner during this period Netflix?
E.g. “We invested time in training. We realized that there had been a major shortfall in the time available for people to work on themselves, so while client-facing time fell away, we used some of it to complete online courses.”
Did we make plans for this future we’ve now arrived at?
It’s never easy to look past the end of a crisis, when we don’t know where the end is, but we should. When things ramp up, they may ramp up fast. Right now you’re transitioning from attack to defense, but whatever your business, you’ll need a plan for how you transition from defense to attack.
E.g. “We presented our biggest client with a reactivation plan for their dormant project. We showed them how we would work with them to get started and how our own resources would be allocated when they decided it was time to move forward at full pace.”
Did we stop things we didn’t need to stop?
Any project that doesn’t require in-person interaction should be brought front and center. On our bright future hill, wouldn’t it be great to be able to make a list of things we accomplished because we were able to find the time. Thinking about a review of all your software and processes? New website this year? Rebranding project? – now is the time. (Self-interest disclaimer on this one obviously.)
E.g. “Well, we struggled, and our revenue dipped, but we now have a new website, and a new marketing plan that we would never have had time to develop when we were all fully engaged on clients.”
Are there lessons we learned in our everyday business operations?
Like never before, our day to day basics are going to change. Where we usually sit together, we will be apart. Where we usually come to the office, we will stay at home. There will be lots of changes to look back on from the future hill. So I wonder. Did anything get better while our staff were working from home? Did any of the changes we were forced to make to the ways we interact turn out to have a positive impact on the working environment?
For example, have certain kinds of online meetings run shorter than in-person meetings, while accomplishing the same thing? If they have, then you might save time in future with more online meetings. You won’t have a real sense of the picture on things like this unless you’re paying attention while it’s happening. As your business finds itself in this virtual lock down, you should pay very close attention to the actual impact of the changes you’re obliged to make.
You would never have sent your entire staff home to work as part of a test exercise to see the impact of home working on efficiency. It would be insanity. But you’re being given that test exercise right now whether you like it or not, so recognize that, and take full advantage.
E.g. “We didn’t realize how much time we could save using Microsoft Teams until Corona. We learned how to use digital tools very differently, and we’ll never go back to how it was before.”
We’re all worried, no matter what kind of business we’re leading, we have good cause. But we can’t put all our time into this fear and doubt. We have to assume we’re going to get through this, and then look back on it. The decisions we make now will determine what COVID-19 ends up being to us and to our businesses and careers.
Every job interview for the next twenty years will ask the question ‘What did you do during this crisis?’ Start thinking now about how you’ll answer.