Covid-19 response requires empathy and foresight

02 April 2020
The winning formula for business continuity plans during a crisis tend to avoid knee-jerk reactions and instead favour maintaining relationships

The global Covid-19 outbreak has impacted every aspect of our lives. From the way we work to where we buy our food and how we greet each other, our lives have changed drastically over the past couple of months.

By mid-March, most GCC governments had put stringent measures in place to contain the spread of Covid-19, ranging from shutting schools and gyms to restricting group gatherings and activities.

As business models and consumer behaviours evolve in light of these guidelines, businesses across almost every sector are facing unprecedented pressure to adapt to a new way of operating.

As a result, the outbreak has laid bare the lack of basic business continuity planning in many organisations.

More than one in two organisations are unprepared for such an occurrence, leaving millions of employees without an adequate action plan

In Mercer’s global survey of company responses, 45 per cent of organisations in the Middle East and Africa region reported that their business continuity plan was currently under development, while another 10 per cent admitted to not having one at all.

This means more than one in every two organisations are unprepared for such an occurrence, leaving millions of employees without an adequate action plan should they need to take containment and recovery actions, such as remote working or repatriation.

The result of this lack of planning will increase response times during crises, dampen staff morale, and negatively impact customer service.

Responding to Covid-19

In this context, there are a number of actions employers must take to respond to the crisis as well as plan ahead as the situation evolves.

Maintaining active communications across multiple channels in case one channel get disrupted is key in a rapidly evolving crisis situation, as well as having plans in place to swiftly manage employee travel needs if needed.

This requires an integrated communication centre where all information is dispatched from a single source to limit the spread of misinformation.

Necessary steps might strain margins during the short term, but, in the longer term, could build a stronger brand with high bottom lines

The overall business strategy should be driven by empathy at the core, with both customers and clients being the beneficiaries. This could include steps that strain margins during the short term, but, in the longer term, it could build a stronger brand with high bottom lines.

Organisations must be prepared to implement alternative work arrangements should offices and operations need to close with the right policies and technologies in place to facilitate a smooth transition.

Moreover, organisations must provide broader support to employees and their families, ensuring that they have adequate access to medical care, if needed, and the emotional and professional support needed to fulfil their responsibilities effectively.

Core business activities such as supply chain management should also be stabilised with active supplier engagement and managed to support fluctuating demand levels, while customer engagement, outreach and protection should be a priority.

Preparing for the rebound

One thing other recent crisis have taught businesses is that there will be a rebound whenever the worst is over.

No matter the downturn companies had to face in the past, there has always been a resurgence towards the end, and while many failed under pressure, others re-emerged to become even more powerful and successful, as they adjusted and learned to live with a new reality.

Companies ahead of the curve will be those that place empathy at the heart of their mandate

When rebounds take place, organisations with resilient long-term plans and strong customer centricity will find themselves as winners.

Knee jerk reactions to crises, such as cutting costs, laying-off staff, and not supporting employees in times of need or not investing in growth opportunities, will not position any organisation for success once the crisis dissolves.

On the other hand, the empathy demonstrated during hard times will surely reap its financial benefits in the immediate aftermath.

The main challenge, however, remains the uncertainty in the time horizon for the rebound – for how long can a company sustain financial losses? When is the right time to ramp up again? When will it be too late to catch up with others?

These are the questions that management teams need to answer, placing their faith in the long-term perspective in responding to the Covid-19 crisis.

Leading the way

These leaders are provided with a unique opportunity to redefine leadership in a workforce already suffering from lack of employee engagement.

It reemphasises the role of corporations and their leaders as beacons of social norms and social responsibility. Their actions today will define an organisation’s brand reputation that becomes an important consideration for brand equity, shareholder value, market capitalisation, and so on.

The world of work is being forced into the largest experiment ever of remote working

Covid-19 also presents an opportunity to test alternative ways of doing business. The world of work is being forced into the largest experiment ever of remote working.

Although the most effective way to work may not be totally remotely, at least not for the entire world’s workforce, many barriers will be broken in the next few months and more effective ways of collaboration will be tested, some successfully, and others not so much.

What won’t happen for sure is everything going back to the way it used to – there will be lessons learned and adoption of new adaptive working methods.

For instance, companies may realise that their workforce is more productive when working from home or hundreds of flights every month can be slashed with the use of video conferencing.

Overall, the nature of work will evolve, for the better, and companies with a long-term optimistic perspective will survive to reap the benefits of the inevitable rebound.

About the author

Nuno Gomes is the head of careers for the MENAT region at Mercer

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