The world feels as if it’s slowly finding a new normal following the global lockdowns the coronavirus pandemic has caused, but what can you do to prepare your business for a second peak?  As I write, the UK is taking tentative steps to reopen businesses.  With many taking actions to integrate social distancing and enhanced hygiene into their operations.  It almost seems too early and too defeatist to consider if there will be a second peak and how this will impact your business.

Transform your Business Model before a second peak

The businesses that many of us have witnessed do well in recent weeks are the ones that have made transitions to online offerings.  I have had some disastrous experiences with Deliveroo, to the point where I deleted my account following a ruined lockdown special occasion.  We actually ended up speaking to the Operations Director of the restaurant and found that the drivers were gaming the system, taking on multiple deliveries and ultimately delivering to us an hour late with our food being cold and rubbery.  Deliveroocoli!

Interestingly, I’ve been watching other restaurants begin their own direct delivery services – one of my favourite Italian chains Piccolino’s has launched a new website and sports a fleet of branded smart cars for its piccolino2go service.  I’m yet to try, but this type of transformation is likely to last for quite some time.  They’ve been early to adopt this type of Digital Transformation – launching the website, realising the existing delivery services were not as good as they could be and taking charge of the end-to-end process.

In the new world of potentially reduced capacity inside restaurants due to social distancing, this business model seems to me as if it will catch on.  I also believe it is here to stay – if the customer can experience the same great service with delivery as they do in the restaurant.  Certainly useful for those with young kids and those who may need to shield due to other health concerns.

My example may be as far removed from your line of work as it could possibly be.  However, there are two points to consider here:

What do you want to be famous for?

  • Picconlino’s have a great authentic experience in their restaurants, lots of Italian staff (or actors with good accents!), the genuine service you get in Italy and quality food.  They want to be noticed for their authenticity, service and quality.  By taking that as a start point they have taken control of that and produced an online system that bypasses third parties where they can’t control the end-to-end process to deliver those promises to their customers.   So I’d always start with what your business wants to lead with, what it wants to be identified with to set itself apart from other businesses.

Use the tech you’ve got and experiment

  • I’m not sure what the Piccolino’s experience was – hopefully not insulting them here, but e-commerce website looks as if it was put together quickly and possibly built on standard off-the-shelf tools.  That’s what my recommendation is too.  As a technology expert, I wouldn’t at this stage recommend reinventing things, embarking on expensive projects.  Ultimately, as I advocate a lot on my blogs – technology should be cheap enough for you to experiment, change and optimise what you do based on the data and feedback from your customers.  As long as you start with the first point above, this one is where your trusted advisors can help point you what tools are available.

I can also appreciate that you may be a manufacturing firm who is factory based.  You may be sceptical about technology and what it can do in those circumstances.  Believe me, there is something that you could be doing better to help your customers and giving you an edge.  Even if it’s just your company adopting tools such as Microsoft Teams so that you can communicate with your customers who are currently home-based.  If you are doing site installations you could be sharing videos rather than photos.  For quality inspections, you could also provide evidence electronically to the quality inspectors to prevent them from coming on site.   It’s simply a case of engaging your trusted advisors and having a conversation about what technology can do for you and how you can transform your business.

Using technology to change your business model, needs some thought into what you want to be famous for and how you can keep those values and use technology to make it happen even in a world where coronavirus may yet wreak further havoc.

The companies that have flexible business models and can carry out more processes and activities online will be less impacted should the second peak of coronavirus happen.

Working from Home in a second peak

I mean, really working from home.  A lot of businesses hadn’t adopted the flexible working mantra before the pandemic.  A lot of managers treated working from home with a great deal of scepticism.  If they can’t see you then you’re not working.  Companies had policies saying you could work flexibly, from home, the coffee shop or even in at a client site.  However, whilst corporate leaders wanted this to happen, the unwritten rule in most teams is that this was a faux-pas with your actual line manager.

The pandemic has changed that, perhaps for good.  Although perhaps most people can’t wait until they can get out of their homes and back into the office.  Personally, this feels a lot like being under house arrest!  Although acceptance of home working, remote working tools like Teams and Zoom will undoubtedly be here to stay.  This won’t be the new normal, but there will be a new balance to work and you may end up using the same tools to avoid long business trips.

If your business has rushed to take up some of the free versions of these remote working tools in a rather rushed fashion, then it wise to formalise what tools are here to stay and the ones to go.  It’s unlikely that the technology vendors will be still offering free tools should a second peak of the virus occur.  After all, they intended to get you hooked so you kept using their platforms and become paying customers!

So in line with the previous section, you should change how you do things, not necessarily the what.  Even if you’re wedded to premises or a location as part of your business model, you need to think if you can split some functions and keep core functions of your business going.   I believe there are two key areas to this:

Business Continuity Planning

I have to admit, I’ve worked on business continuity plans as part of consultancy work and projects involving ISO 27001 where it plays a big part and ISO 22301 for Business Continuity Management.  It’s with some degree of egg on my face that over the years, we’ve planned for fires, flooding and other extraordinary events.  I don’t believe a global pandemic was ever high on any risk assessment for any client we’ve worked with.  The second peak of an existing one most likely hasn’t been planned for!

That said, the great thing about doing Business Continuity Plans is that they quite often work in many circumstances.  If your facilities burn down, you can’t access your offices.  Similarly, in the Covid-19 pandemic, you haven’t been able to access offices as easy as you could.  I’d expect most businesses with plans have referred to them and enacted them.  These more forward-thinking businesses will undoubtedly do the best in any economic recovery.

The companies that have had business continuity plans undoubtedly could switch more swiftly and effectively to home working.  The act of building a plan means much of the work has already been done in advance.

If your company has never thought about this level of planning to make the switch between being office-based to home-based.  It’s time you start the process before any potential second peak bites.

Changing your software tools

Whilst a lot of companies are using tools like Teams for calling and communications (and possibly far too many morning meetings than is necessary!).  Most aren’t using these tools for their main purposes.  A lot of us use VPN technology to remotely connect to our offices simply to access file servers and pick up files.

Over many years the IT industry has tried to wean us off our addiction to old fashioned fileservers and get us to be more modern.  Microsoft SharePoint was one of the first attempts to get us all saving our files in a web-based collaborative platform.  Where we could store more information and assist with archiving and retrieval and the vast sprawl and increase in storage most corporate IT systems are suffering from.   Think how much time you’ve spent looking for files from a few years ago that you can’t remember the name and where you put it.  You turned to your email to search in case you sent it to anyone – am I right?

It’s safe to say, SharePoint has been a flop.  It’s slow, it’s hard work and needs expert admins to keep information in the right place.  I’m sure I’ll hear a few arguments from some quarters about those statements.  However, after too many years in the industry, I’ve yet to meet any IT professional who’s said they had a successful SharePoint implementation.

Attempts have been made with tools like Yammer and Jive to make business social networks.  Making thing’s social makes them more collaborative and the hope is you’ll use these tools for storage.  Again, this has been met with limited success and I’ve seen these tools being used for wide stakeholder systems and in some respects successful.

Adoption of new software tools is more difficult not because of the technology, but more because it changes the way things are done.  People instantly resist and make the change difficult.

That said, I believe Microsoft has realised that Teams is going to be the ‘window’ (excuse the obvious Microsoft pun) to your working life.  Teams has become the front-end for everything.  If you share a file, you’re using SharePoint behind the scenes.  Which is also integrated with OneDrive for Business.  There’s also a future for Yammer in there too, eventually, corporate social networks will become part of this single tool.

So if you are just using Teams for chat and calls, then you’re missing out on a lot.  It can help you organise things better, show you when other people are working on the same file – and even which cell they’re typing into in Excel!  It makes what you do much easier, more collaborative and you’re not tied to a physical file server.

Microsoft Teams is just a single tool that you may already have in your toolbox, bought and paid for – I’d recommend starting to leverage these to ensure if there’s a second peak then you can switch to home working and be as productive as you were. If not more so.

Thinking about a Second Peak

I’ve attempted to use examples to make a couple of key points that you should consider if you don’t want your business to suffer from a potential second peak.  I also genuinely think that lots of businesses will be updating their risk assessments and if they didn’t have anything in their continuity plans for a global pandemic – they will soon!

As I write, the UK is relaxing some restrictions.  After three months of lockdown, like many, I’m both pleased and pensive.  There is is a necessity to get the economy running again, but a fine balance between commerce and public health.

  • Look at what your company does, what makes it different from its competitors and try to replicate that model online as quickly and as cheaply as possible.  Don’t be afraid of experimentation – embrace it.  The successful companies already have.
  • Consider whether you’re really working from home.  Your staff may be there and web calls and chats are working great, but could you be doing anything better?  Did you have a plan of action that set out how you were going to make the transition and did you follow it?  Are you utilising all the software tools that you have already?  Could you change the way you’re doing things in older technologies for newer ones, to gain better control and increased productivity from your workforce?

Unleashed are an IT Consultancy focussing on issues in this article and assist companies with planning and enacting change projects.  If you’re thinking about a second peak, whether your business is large or small, we’re here for you – so feel free to reach out to us for a socially distant chat!