Over the last month our lives and business outlook have changed dramatically.  It is hard to believe that 4 weeks can make such a huge difference to our corporate landscape.  The time is here however to look towards the “end”, analyse how our businesses are run, how they are structured and how we can manage our teams in a post-COVID-19 world.  Unfortunately it will not be as simple as waking up from the “hibernation” which our political elite are trying to achieve and carrying on as if nothing happened.  It is going to take months, possibly years to return to the levels of production which our economy was enjoying pre-pandemic shutdown.  However, now is the ideal time to review our businesses in order to ensure we capitalise on the opportunity to return leaner and stronger.

This is a unique environment and requires a unique management approach.  Managing a team remotely can be challenging, with concerns about productivity, morale and anxiety being amongst the biggest.  This article does not not focus on the many much lauded techniques available to try and prevent drops in these key areas.  Instead, the opportunity and long-term benefits of managing a team remotely.  Whilst techniques such as daily “calls” with the entire team together are a simple and effective way of keeping them connected they also allow you to maintain your control and focus of the business.  In addition, they are an opportunity to learn the strengths of your team and their ability to work without supervision.  After-all, you run a business, not a primary school.  This type of management also allows you to focus on performance like you never have before:  good and bad.  Whilst not necessarily palatable, the situation does present an opportunity to cut the “dead-wood” from the organisation.  Poor performance will not be disguised by other distractions, the “politics” of the office will not obstruct your view and will allow you to cut through the noise and see clearly where the performance issues lie.

The shutdown also gives many businesses a unique opportunity to take a step back and look at how they are structured.  With many office-based employees being forced to work from home, and the apparent ease of which they have taken to the use of new technology, there presents an opportunity.  For the business itself, investments in bricks and mortar premises may now be reviewed.  Is it really necessary to have large, expensive office-space in big cities anymore?  Employees have for the most part, demonstrated their ability to successfully and (hopefully) productively work from home, so is this a major expense you really need?  The need for an office area will not completely go away, after-all, physical meetings with clients and larger internal meetings will always be the cornerstone of any service-based business, but where hot-desking has been the stalwart of the last ten years, is perhaps working remotely the next big thing for business?  The cost advantages cannot be disputed, which for a recovering business, is not something to be quickly overlooked.  Rental expenses and outgoings make up one of the largest numbers on a business’ profit and loss, so the ability to lessen this burden whilst still maintaining productivity is likely to be highly attractive.

For a manufacturing business this approach may not be possible.  Here the problem may be entirely different.  With a vast majority of manufacturing located in other countries, for example China, the ability for these businesses to function effectively has been in most cases impossible.  For these businesses this type of pandemic (which as history tells us, won’t be the last) provides an opportunity to re-think the strategy of off-shoring.  Had the manufacturing arm of the business been located in Australia it is possible the business could have continued to function (albeit in a vastly reduced capacity) during this crisis.  The main attraction driving businesses to off-shore their production has been cost.  Quite simply the cost to manufacture in Australia has been too high.  It is likely, one of the results coming out of this pandemic will be a public desire to return manufacturing to “trusted” and “reliable” sources, like Australia.  Will this drive down cost?  In and of itself, it is unlikely however, it may make the higher cost of doing the business (and thus the cost of the product) more palatable.

We have a long way to go, and the further down this path we travel the greater clarity we achieve.  Our opportunity, as a business at this point in time is to make the strategic decisions necessary to “return” stronger and leaner than before.

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