The coronavirus outbreak is first and foremost a human tragedy. Hundreds of thousands of people around the world have been affected, both directly and indirectly, with economies across the globe significantly impacted. We are currently working with several FTSE 100 companies and other organisations to help them plan and manage their crisis response and thought it might be beneficial to share some of our perspectives on what the current situation means for businesses and how they might choose to respond. Given the fluidity of events, some of these perspectives may rapidly fall out of date. This article reflects our views as of 19th March 2020.

Where are we now?

Less than three months ago, China reported the emergence of a new virus to the World Health Organisation. Today, we are facing a global pandemic that has already resulted in unprecedented trading and financial pressures.

The pace at which organisations are having to adapt and respond to the impact of the virus has been extraordinary. Many are facing huge challenges across multiple parts of their business, from managing global supply chains, protecting staff and understanding what this means for their customers, to brushing off dated and incomplete business continuity plans and putting them into action.

There is no doubt that we are entering a period of massive disruption. Smaller organisations that run tight margins and the travel and tourism sector, in particular, are being severely impacted. Others however, such as those in the retail space, could flourish. There is clearly no single outcome for all.

Be prepared

In China, the COVID-19 outbreak peaked in late February. New infections continue to drop, with forecasts suggesting that they will level off in late April. The Chinese Government continues to take prevention and control measures, while enacting a series of policies to support the economy.

The experiences of other countries and scientific modelling suggest that the virus will grow exponentially and then fade. The uncertainty is the magnitude and pace of this growth and when it will peak.

As well as the need for us all to understand the true facts about this virus, it is critical for business leaders to be aware of the consequences and potential risks for their organisation, whether this is an existential threat, e.g. imminent bankruptcy; a major performance impact, e.g. a significant dip in sales but with the probability of survival; or, for some, an opportunity to strengthen their business and test new services, e.g. retailers driving more online sales or organisations embedding effective remote working practices within their teams.

Regardless, nothing should be taken for granted and this is the time to adopt a crisis management mindset – act decisively, plan for the worst, streamline decision-making, protect your customers, people and your community – all whilst not losing sight of your core vision and purpose.

Our perspective and some useful tools

At Gate One, what we do and how we operate gives us a relevant perspective on the current situation, in that:

  • rapid problem-solving, mobilisation and implementation of structured interventions are our core skillsets and critical in the current environment
  • working with multiple clients in responding to this allows us to identify and share good practice on how to respond to this crisis
  • remote and virtual working are the norm for us. As companies adapt to what is often a very different way of working, we can share some of the tools and working practices that will allow them to do this effectively.

The response to this crisis is multi-faceted. Below is the response structure we have created and are using to support some of our clients. You may also find this McKinsey model useful.

1. PEOPLE
Developing and adapting HR policies, guidance and supporting advice to protect the welfare of your teams.

2. CUSTOMERS
Anticipating your customers, their changing behaviours and ensuring they are kept well informed.

3. TRADING
Reacting rapidly to changing trading environments, as established norms are challenged by government and consumer-imposed shifts in demand.

4. INTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS
Establishing rhythm and routine to ensure you keep your people informed.

5. EXTERNAL COMMUNICATIONS AND PR
Anticipating scenarios and preparing proactive statements.

6. IT
Ensuring your IT infrastructure is adequately sized to deal with a sudden shift from office based to home/remote working, and that appropriate support arrangements are in place for your people.

7. SUPPLY CHAIN
Understanding your supply chain, securing continuity of products and managing large swings in demand.

8. LEGAL
Keeping an active watching brief on your duty-of-care obligations, terms and conditions in contracts, etc.

Effective crisis management and business continuity planning are critical. The escalation and controls framework below may prove useful to organisations in planning the different responses that may be appropriate as the Government’s risk-level increases.

Click the image below for a larger version.

Remote working has already become a reality for some businesses and will be so for many more over the coming weeks – a form of accelerated/enforced digital transformation. Being effective in this environment is key, bearing in mind that there are a different set of skills and behaviours required to deliver interactions remotely versus face to face.

We are currently developing a playbook and training for ‘How to run fantastic workshops (and meetings) remotely and online’. In the meantime, fullcirc.com has published a suite of useful resources, while companies like mural.co are offering free 90-day trials of their digital workspace during the crisis. Alternatively, try implementing some of our favourite approaches.

  • Best-dressed – offer a voucher for the best-dressed person or the best background to daily video calls. The catch? You have to spend your winnings with a local retailer.
  • Deliver-ottery – a lottery where two lucky winners get takeaway dinner bought for them by their company. The catch? You have to order at the same time and eat together over a video conference call.
  • Expanding minds – now that you don’t have to commute, you’ve saved all that travel time. So, every week, pick three people with whom you can share something amazing that you’ve read or learned during that saved travel time.

What’s really important?

There will inevitably be economic consequences as a result of the virus and while the stock markets should eventually recover, the same cannot be said for every business and every individual. At Gate One, our key priority is the health and wellbeing of our colleagues, our clients and our loved ones. We are taking our own measures to limit the spread of the virus and ensure we can continue to be effective in serving our clients in these testing times.

Let us never forget the human impact of this virus, particularly on those who are most vulnerable in our society. Be kind, think of others, help one another. We will beat this.

JAMES COOPER | CLIENT DIRECTOR

James has designed future state operating models and driven transformative change in a range of public and private sector multinationals and leads Gate One’s TOM capability area. A proven problem solver, James specialises in operating model design, portfolio management, customer strategy and experience, and performance improvement.