With the onset of COVID-19, work life has been stressful for all of us. When it became evident that the COVID-19 pandemic was not something that could be confined to Asia, businesses began adjusting how they operated starting with restricting travel and asking employees that did travelle to self-isolate after returning home. What quickly emerged was a requirement for businesses to prepare for and manage through a crisis that is unprecedented in our lifetime.

While we understand that COVID-19 is a fluid crisis and our collective response must be as well, it is helpful to look at responses to addressing COVID-19 in 3 stages:  Containment, Sustainment, and Post Lockdown.

This second of 3 postings focuses on Sustainment.

Sustainment

Sustainment can range from full business operations to total operational shutdown depending upon the industry. Whatever the case, sustainment requires a continuous cycle of planning, testing and adaptation. Adaptation is a critical success factor providing services while dealing with ever changing conditions on the ground. This can range from sourcing new suppliers, to having a large percentage of the workforce working remotely, to temporarily shutting down parts of the business due to COVID-19.

During the sustainment phase, ongoing cash management will continue to be critical to survival as the duration of the shutdown extends out farther into the future.  As we continue to learn, we will need to adjust our thinking, and therefore planning, and execution of our business plans.

Supporting our people continues to be critical. Maintaining a focus on keeping employees engaged, whether it is on the ongoing business execution or problem solving will allow the business to operate in this rapidly changing environment. Forced isolation creates challenges and growth opportunities for managers and leaders. This is a critical time for managers of managers (Managers one Removed) to provide coaching and support to managers and work with them to strengthen their leadership skills. Regular check-in and coaching sessions will develop stronger leaders through this crisis. Managers in turn need to do the same with the individual contributors they are accountable to lead. Management must keep in mind the health and safety of all employees. While ensuring that front line workers are properly equipped is self evident, the mental health of remote workers may be overlooked. At a time when many people are working longer hours remotely, in less than ideals conditions, it is important to support them as well. Allowing employees to take additional paid personal days during this period is one example on how to address the additional stress. The tone set by senior leaders will be felt at the frontline of the organization.

Self-isolation resulting from COVID-19 has required all of us to adapt how we work is some way or other. While some of these changes are temporary and useful under the current circumstances, others provide new and productive ways to carry out our work. An increase in the use of online tools has accelerated throughout the population. From ordering hardware supplies online to facetiming with our family and friends the lock-down has necessitated changes in how we live our lives. I just signed off from a video Board meeting which was a new way for that group to meet and we accomplished our objectives in the allotted time. During that meeting, management identified changes in how they are interacting with the general public which may be superior than pre-Covid-19 approaches.

Adoption of online tools and e-commerce has potentially accelerated a permanent behaviour change in how consumers go about their lives. The accelerated use of online and telemedicine, touchless pay, and ecommerce are all likely to continue. Out of this disruption comes opportunities in how we work, learn and carry out our daily lives.

The sustainment phase of this crisis provides organizations with opportunities to look at their systems and processes with a critical eye as to how we will manage in the future. During this sustainment phase we should begin planning our return to work.  This analysis should inform the organization on how to approach a return to the “new normal” and apply what we have learned from this crisis locally and including lessons learned from around the world as other countries emerge from their lockdowns.

As we plan for the return to full economic activity, leaders should be focusing on innovation:

  1. Review innovation or transformational projects that were in progress prior to COVID-19. Do they still provide a competitive advantage in the “new normal”?  Can the launch date be accelerated?
  1. What have we learned from the shutdown that can be adapted to how we will work in the future?
    1. What innovations did we make as a result of COVID-19 that make us more productive and effective and that we should continue and expand upon? For example, BMO has indicated that 80% of employees may shift to blended home-office work at the end of the lockdown.
    2. What work was stopped during the crisis that is not required in the future? Airbnb has announced it will shut down a number of noncore initiatives, so that they can double down and focus on their core business.
  1. What learnings from this period create opportunities to reimagine how work could and should be done in the future?
  1. What shifts do we expect in demand for our products and services? Now is the time to open communications with our current and future customers to redefine our offerings, marketing, and distribution channels.

The planning, testing and adapting that has gone on through out the sustainment phase has allowed each organization to adapt to current circumstances and sets the stage for getting back to normal.

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