Looking through 'Covid-eyes' to support and reimagine the workplace

redPanda Software CEO Gareth Hawkey: We can't apply old ways of doing things to new problems.

With business and finance leaders scrambling to adjust in what has become a highly volatile and unpredictable operational environment, one thing needs to be very clear: we cannot simply apply old ways of doing things to new problems. Instead, leaders now need to look at every aspect through the lens of ‘Covid-eyes’. 

Practically speaking, looking through Covid-eyes means viewing almost every aspect of business, finance and leadership as an opportunity to re-imagine – and to rebuild in a way that reflects the vastly different environment which the pandemic is currently shaping. Arguably, the ability to re-imagine rests upon how open-minded we can be, and how inclusive leaders can become in involving many stakeholders (employees, suppliers, customers, board members) in the creation of new operational and cultural structures. 

Given the economic challenges that lie ahead, and the need for a dynamic and rapid recovery, there are three ways in which business and finance leaders can approach the task of re-invention with new, Covid-eyes. 

1. Support other businesses (this is an ecosystem!)

As individuals, households and businesses, we rely on the communities around us to flourish and grow. If we allow other businesses to sink in the aftermath of the lockdown, this will quickly impact our own growth prospects and sustainability. 

In looking with Covid-eyes, we need to retrain ourselves to view every business contractor, customer, etc, as part of a fragile yet dynamic ecosystem – and an ecosystem which requires the strong or stable to support the weak or unstable in difficult times. From a practical perspective, this means that finance teams need to relook at existing contracts, agreements and engagement models, and really question if these are still relevant and if they are nurturing the wider ecosystem. Are these agreements putting any businesses or stakeholders at a disadvantage? Could a few small, contractual changes help a struggling supplier or customer? 

Today, those who try to hold on to the past will be judged accordingly, such as a resistant commercial landlord who is still forcing struggling businesses to pay rent they can no longer afford. Now is the time to devise and innovate around solutions that will enable the greater ecosystem to survive – even if this means less profit for the bigger players for some time.  
 
2. Begin to plan for many different and wide-ranging scenarios 

While finance teams may be used to planning and forecasting along very specific sets of parameters and possibilities, now is the time to widen this range and work with leadership teams to develop many more scenarios – and proactive responses to each scenario. Without doubt, the pandemic has revealed gaping weaknesses within business continuity planning, and the inability to adjust to different outcomes. 

Finance and business leaders should be revamping these models and placing emphasis on more proactive and thorough scenario planning and strategy. Key strategic questions should include, for example, ‘what happens if we have another peak?’ and ‘what happens if this peak leads to a large number of deaths, or civil unrest?’ Do your teams have a detailed understanding of how these scenarios would affect the business, and what steps could be undertaken in response? Businesses should be laying the groundwork now, and upskilling around strategy and business continuity to cope with more global volatility. 

3. Drive new ways of communicating (Zoom is not a strategy!) 

With the shift to remote working, which for many businesses and teams will be permanent, CFOs are highlighting a major business risk: the loss of a cohesive organisational culture, which for finance teams can inhibit their ability to support the business. Yet leaders can mitigate this risk by being more deliberate and proactive around communication, asking questions such as: ‘how can we translate the physical meetings/conversations/brainstorming sessions into something that is social, engaging and meaningful online’? And, ‘how can we overcome the hesitancy or inertia that many team members experience when required to videoconference or ‘meet’ online? How can we break down those barriers? 

Admittedly, it may take some time to find the answers, but it’s important to ask questions and to start making many small, experimental changes. Ensuring that teams can communicate effectively and work together in a collaborative way online, will quickly translate into products and services that engage and fulfil customer needs.