Covid-19: What To Do Now And Planning For 2021

I received a message today from a European CEO that I work with and he just said: “…it’s crazy here!” That sums up life for many of us right now. Everyone I know is in quarantine or social-distancing. We are all trying to fight this Covid-19 novel coronavirus pandemic, but at some point life (and business) will go on.

It’s crazy here…

I’m not as optimistic as some. President Trump believes that the US can return to normal by Easter. I don’t really want to make a political statement about the president’s strategy, but I do believe that he should be listening to his own medical advisers, rather than trying to get business up and running overnight – Easter is just a couple of weeks away. If the US population gets back to a normal level of activity before the virus is under control then this will get a lot worse. All politicians need to respect the scientists right now and it would help us all to see some cross-party coordination – a virus isn’t partisan.

I think we are going to see several months of disruption ahead. We already know that it is likely to be 2021 before a vaccine is available for Covid-19 so how can we stop social-distancing any earlier? It looks like most of 2020 is going to be disrupted and we need to adapt to this new reality.

Business leaders need to quickly address three key questions:

  1. What do I need to do right now to manage the crisis and ensure my business does not collapse? Can I immediately pivot to any new customer channels or types of business?
  2. What do I need to do to manage the period between now and the normality of knowing there is a vaccine for Covid-19 – basically how do I get through 2020?
  3. What will change in 2021 and how will consumer and employee behavioural changes affect the way my business needs to operate in future?

Bain recently published an excellent CEO-checklist for the pandemic. Most of this plan focuses on what you need to do right now to protect employees and customers and how to create and manage a ‘war room.’ However, the Bain advice does also mention that you need to start thinking about organic growth opportunities that may arise from this new business environment. McKinsey also has some excellent free resource for executives trying to determine where they need to focus today and how to plan their path out of this crisis.

Examples of an immediate pivot may be bars that quickly start promoting a beer delivery service or banks that use idle branch employees as resource for their contact centre. Real estate agents managing rental contracts may be issuing very few new contracts, but seeing a spike in the need for collections, so reallocate your team – ask them to be flexible so you can get through the immediate crisis. Be creative – your survival may depend on being able to use your skills in a different way and the ship is burning so your team has to be flexible.

…the ship is burning so your team has to be flexible.

The next step is how to survive 2020. Assuming the immediate question of survival is over, the focus will be on social distancing for several months. A large number of your employees may need to work from home for several months – even for the next year – so you need to think about questions such as:

  • Tech: does your team need kit at home or are you using a bring-your-own-device policy and how are you locking down the equipment so they can’t download or print data at home?
  • Security: do you have good enough security in place? Are your comms all encrypted and remote users all using 2-factor authentication etc?
  • Culture: is the team used to working remotely? Can they do this once the crisis has passed? Can you get coaching for the team and managers so they build and develop a new online community – an entirely new culture? Listen to my recent podcast with Netherlands-based 5CA for ideas on why this is so important.

When you are just trying to save the company you might have skipped some of the security checks, but when this becomes part of your ongoing operation you need to sit down and plan how this is going to work for at least the next year.

How are you going to have to restructure your business so you can thrive in the new reality of the world post Covid-19?

Then as we move into, what we expect will be, the relative normality of 2021 what will have changed? How are you going to have to restructure your business so you can thrive in the new reality of the world post Covid-19? There will be many changes – here are a few that I think will be significant:

  1. Lower levels of business travel: everyone has proved they can keep all the balls in the air without attending a conference or sales junket every month. Even if business travel drops by 50% then that is still an enormous change. Monthly trips could become quarterly and this is closely linked to point 3. The Swedish idea of ‘flight shame’ may go mainstream – great for the environment.
  2. Fewer meetings: the bar has been raised by the crisis. When we operate in crisis-mode we don’t want endless one-hour meetings, we need sharp and direct communication and decisions. We cannot operate forever in crisis mode, but I think that the wastefulness of “meeting culture” has been starkly exposed and meetings will need more justification.
  3. Better communication: Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and WhatsApp are all the tools of the hour. I have spoken to several companies now that actively discourage email and phone use and insist on using productivity tools that support video. It’s so much easier to work as a team scattered in several locations if these tools are creating a virtual network – not just for work, but also the community that comes from sharing memes and jokes inside your team. Companies that do this successfully consider it normal to even have a virtual beer with colleagues.
  4. More flexibility: all those workers who kept on delivering from home and found that the boss is judging them on what they deliver, rather than how many hours they sit in an office cubicle, are not going to want to ever return to the old days. You need to focus on performance, delivery, teamwork and communication – no matter where the team member is located. If they want to spend every Friday and Monday working from home then why not – providing they keep on delivering.
  5. B2B sales focused on content: I have been writing for years about how B2B sales is undergoing a transition, but now it has happened overnight, rather than evolving over years. Your sales team generally can’t go to as many conferences or sales meetings as they used to – it may even be impossible for a year. Your B2B sales has to focus on content and what prospective clients find when they search Google and LinkedIn. This is going to be critical for all B2B brands in the near future – and as we move into 2021 – because sales behaviour and culture will have changed by then. Going backwards to 2019 will be like continuing to ride a horse after everyone else has a Ford Model T. I don’t just mean blogs – podcasts, video, social media… anything that shows clients your expertise will be critical in the years ahead. B2B sales and marketing budget needs to be reallocated to content – FAST – you don’t have anything else right now!

…B2B sales is undergoing a transition, but now it has happened overnight, rather than evolving over years.

We all have a lot to get done, but there is a visible path to the future. There are steps you can take today to keep your business going. We have an idea of what is needed over the next year and then there will be an uncertain future from 2021 onwards. The future may be uncertain, but it will be filled with new opportunities for those who are ready to embrace 2021 rather than hoping we can just return to a life before Covid-19. That’s never going to happen and your survival today depends on understanding that the business world has changed forever.

To Top