Coping with Coronavirus – Agility And Crisis Management

by Daniel Hannig - March 20, 2020

While some countries are already recovering from COVID-19, the spreading of the virus is far from being contained in Europe. What can businesses do to help contain the spread of coronavirus? The methods of precaution range from avoiding handshakes and face-to-face meetings to the implementation of remote working strategies. The increased use of technology enabled tools
and digital communication methods
are a big help in this regard. On top of that, there have been great examples of how agile crisis management has kept some stores in business and employees engaged even in turbulent times such as these. We would like to share some of these examples with you.

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A crisis, be it in the form of industrial accidents, natural disasters or a global epidemic, pushes businesses to their limits and tests the resolve of management and employees alike. Naturally, there are steps that one can take beforehand to prepare oneself for these types of situations and reduce how heavily a crisis will affect the company. To name a few examples; some businesses may have a designated group of people in place that takes ownership of the operational details in emergency situations, others have a contingency plan with clear cut objectives that is rolled out when needed, and some companies may have an effective and transparent communication channel that informs employees and customers about the next steps in the event of a crisis. However, there are just some situations where even the best crisis management cannot prepare you for what will happen. Back in 2008, the financial crisis had the biggest banks of the world reeling and fighting for survival, some not having fully recovered until now, more than a decade later. It is too early to assume whether the coronavirus will have the same implications, but it is certainly possible. Markets that were seen as stable and reliable only a few months ago, are now facing an uncertain future, aviation as the most prominent example. Much like the airline companies, many SMEs also face an uncertain future, maybe even more so. While many companies are still trying to figure out how to handle the situation, others have adapted almost instantly and proven that an agile mindset and thinking on one’s feet is more than helpful if you want to stay in business and keep your employees engaged in times of crisis.

Revamp Your Sales Strategy

Since the outbreak of the coronavirus, the retail business is facing difficult times. Stores in a ‘classical’ sense, meaning the ones with physical buildings and walk-in customers, have been more affected than their online counterparts. An immense drop in customers and/or government orders have forced many business owners to close their stores temporarily, leading to a loss in revenue and idle workers. In cases like this, some stores may be able to benefit from a switch in their sales approach. Leveraging digital tools or increasing your social media presence to push sales can be a way to overcome this dip in revenue and keep your employees busy, maybe even familiarize them with a new way of handling customers. We are not saying that this is an option for every business, since many products are difficult to to sell over social media and not every company’s social media presence is large enough to be used as a sales channel. Areas where this has worked well, however, are fashion and cosmetics. As an example, a Chinese cosmetics company which was forced to close almost half of its stores because of COVID-19, redirected their sales approach and trained their beauty advisors from the physical stores to use digital tools such as WeChat (the Chinese counterpart to WhatsApp) to engage customers virtually and drive online sales. The company saw a 200% increase in sales in Wuhan.

Look For Opportunities

Taking into account the widespread quarantines, extended school closures, and added travel restrictions, many businesses are looking for ways to either “stay afloat” or actually make more revenue. Examples of such businesses range from gin distilleries that now produce disinfectant spray and hand sanitizers
and pubs that were forced to close and are now making a pretty penny with a a door-to-door (but not face-to-face) delivery service. Other businesses, such as yoga or meditation studios, have expanded their business model to include digital classes in order to continue with their work as usual.
In times where most people are forcing themselves to stay indoors as much as possible, it is not surprising that social video platform companies are more in demand than ever. Some have responded to this new development in a very wholesome manner, by either extending their service packages free of charge, or providing free service packages altogether. Zoom has already removed the time limit from video chats using its free service and also provided free videoconferencing tools for K-12 schools affected in Japan, Italy and the United States.

Work From Home

If working from home is a possibility at your company and you are still not making use of it, you should seriously consider doing so very soon. Anything else will give your employees the impression that their health is not important to you or that you are not taking the situation as serious as you should be. Here is an example of a company that handled the situation rather unwisely; Charter, the largest phone and internet provider in the United States, has found itself in a rather uncomfortable situation because they fired an employee who wrote an email to his employer, asking why “Charter employees are still coming into the office as the COVID-19 pandemic surges around them”. Read the full article on TechCrunch here. If you are currently working from home and looking for inspiration on the topic of remote working, be sure to visit our blog and check out this article.

Reallocate Your Employees If Necessary

Much like offline retail, businesses in hospitality, travel industries and restaurants are among those that are most affected by the coronavirus outbreak. With many of these business temporarily or permanently shutting down, layoffs or furloughs seem inevitable. However, an alternative that is being used more and more by business owners is the reallocation of their workforce to another sector that is now in dire need of reinforcement, delivery services being one of them. Amazon has announced that they want to hire an additional 100’000 warehouse and delivery workers and encouraged employees in other industries whose jobs were lost or furloughed as a result of the coronavirus to apply, including employees in the above-mentioned fields. They added that they want those people to know they are welcome at Amazon until things return to normal and their past employer is able to bring them back.

Show Support And Stay Positive

Crisis management is one thing, offering support and showing appreciation another. Communicating to your employees that you value them is now more important than ever. Do this by telling them directly, or by organizing remote get-togethers with food & drinks (optionally in crocodile costumes). Also be sure to show support and appreciation to the people who are still working on-site to maintain our basic needs, especially health care workers and grocery store employees. If you have the possibility, think about helping out in your community. In Germany, sites such as nebenan.de offer neighborhood help and are also happy about any help they can get in times like these. We wish you all the best, stay healthy and stay engaged!

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