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Leading for sustainable impact in a post-COVID world

There is hardly any corner of the world untouched by the deadly coronavirus, a global pandemic many have labelled as the worst-case scenario. The virus which began in the industrial city of Wuhan in China has spread all over the globe, leaving a staggering number of deaths, infections and crushed economies in its wake. Thankfully, progressive strides have been achieved alongside, as we attempt to beat the common enemy, such as the invention of vaccines, preventive practices, remote work adaptation, amongst others, geared towards overall improvement in the management and control of the virus and its impact. Nevertheless, the devastation the virus has wrought has certainly birthed a consciousness of a world after a pandemic. The pandemic exposed the vulnerabilities of our world and it is apparent that we cannot return to the world as it was before.

The June 2020, Global Economic Prospects described both the immediate and near-term outlook for the impact of the pandemic and the long-term damage it had dealt to prospects for growth. The baseline forecast envisioned a 5.2 per cent contraction in global GDP in 2020, using market exchange rate weights—the deepest global recession in decades, despite the extraordinary efforts of governments to counter the downturn with fiscal and monetary policy support. Over the longer horizon, the deep recessions triggered by the pandemic are expected to leave lasting scars through lower investment, an erosion of human capital through lost work and schooling, and fragmentation of global trade and supply linkages. Thus, the crisis highlights the need for urgent action to cushion the pandemic’s health and economic consequences, protect vulnerable populations, and set the stage for a lasting recovery.

Read Also: Remote work holds promise for Nigerian businesses – Experts

Inasmuch as we understand that the virus has the potential to even more radically reshape our world as we have seen so far, the primal urge of humans to survive prompts us to discover ways to not only overcome these challenges but to surmount them. Leaders everywhere, from family heads to global organizations, have responded through the development of structures, processes and systems that can accommodate a coronavirus-ridden world with minimal crunch.

The business environment has become more volatile than ever, thus adaptability and flexibility have turned out to be more in demand from leaders

It is without any gainsaying that the workplace, the business environment has become more volatile than ever, thus adaptability and flexibility have turned out to be more in demand from leaders. Yes, change is constant. It is evident that the world now operates fundamentally differently from two years ago, and it is positive that the changes would be even more drastic going forward. This shift provokes rethinking and reworking of strategies, customer relationships, and what leaders need to do to thrive.

McKinsey described five qualities that will be critical for business leaders to find their way to the next normal: resolve, resilience, return, re-imagination, and reform. But note that there would likely be overlap among these stages, and the order might differ, depending on the business, the sector, and the country.

Already, many organizations have begun to adapt work model innovations that accommodate the changes that the pandemic has heralded. Some examples of such innovations are:

Remote work

In the past remote work was not considered as a sound option for many organizations, however, as people were forced to stay at home for weeks on end, working from home was embraced as the most viable option. Now the remote work culture has metamorphosed into standard practice and is projected to be a common feature in the workplace of the future. In October 2020, tech giant Microsoft announced that it would offer staff the option to work from home permanently, just as other Silicon Valley mainstays Facebook and Twitter, as well as Japan’s Fujitsu, did earlier that year.

Beyond 9-5

Flexibility in work hours have emerged as part of the new normal. The world of business has evolved to stretch beyond the traditional 9am to 5pm shift. This is of course a direct consequence of the remote work culture. Furthermore, it has been shown to encourage focus while keeping stress at bay as people get to turn up for work in their most comfortable attires, in a physical space that suits and soothes them.

Following the foregoing, here are several suggestions to help companies sustainably improve on their existing models while at the same time rebuilding revenue and a healthy workplace post-covid.

1. Embrace technology

“Technology now allows people to connect anytime, anywhere, to anyone in the world, from almost any device. This is dramatically changing the way people work, facilitating 24/7 collaboration with colleagues who are dispersed across time zones, countries, and continents.”

– Michael Dell, CEO Dell Technologies

The COVID-19 crisis has accelerated the shift to digital technology; however, the best companies are going further by enhancing and expanding their digital channels. They are successfully using advanced analytics to combine new sources of data, such as satellite imaging, with their own insights to make better and faster decisions and strengthen their links to customers. Companies will also need to greatly improve their IT productivity to lower their cost base and fund rapid, flexible digital-solution development. This will involve defining a future IT solution platform, establishing the skills and roles needed to sustain it, and developing leaders who can train people to fill the new or adapted roles.

2. Workforce

We need to build systems in the workplace that encourage welfare, empathy, as well as how to support remote work at scale. In the words of billionaire entrepreneur Mark Cuban, “The CEO is of no more importance than somebody cleaning the floors or that takes a bucket and mops the floors. I think that this is a time as a reset where we really have to re-evaluate how we treat workers,… All these things I think are important as we go through this reset in business.” In operations, changes will go further, with an accelerated decline in manual and repetitive tasks and a rise in the need for analytical and technical support. This shift will call for substantial investment in workforce engagement and training in new skills, much of it delivered using digital tools.

3. Develop an agile operations culture

Agile in this sense means developing an operations model centred around the customer and supported by the right processes and administration. Leaders everywhere are moved by a sense of urgency of the defining times that we are in to embrace agile and quick methods to solve problems, address customer needs, and delegate responsibilities. Of course, it is important to not lose one’s head in panic-driven decisions, but this is an era of quick thinking and implementation, so a structure that allows for that is one that should be constructed. Successful companies will redesign their operations and supply chains to protect against a wider and more acute range of potential shocks.

This is a critical moment; it should not be lost. We need to educate and re-educate ourselves as we march on the long road to recovery. The World Bank explains that global coordination and cooperation of the measures needed to slow the spread of the pandemic and of the economic actions needed to alleviate the economic damage, including international support, provide the greatest chance of achieving public health goals and enabling a robust global economic recovery.

A post-covid world is one with increased digital behaviour, culture and trends; where the workplace is outside the traditional office space, work hours extend beyond 5.00 p.m., and your co-worker is a continent away. Public health will be given priority, humanity and virtues such as empathy will be regarded as high-value skills.

In conclusion, the IMF asked six prominent thinkers to share their expectations of a post-covid world; some of their thoughts included: Virus screening likely becoming part of our lives, the likelihood of acceleration in structural changes, including regionalization of supply chains and a further explosion of cross-border data flows. James Mayinka, Chairman of McKinsey Institute opines that “The future of work has arrived faster, along with its challenges—many of them potentially multiplied—such as income polarization, worker vulnerability, more gig work, and the need for workers to adapt to occupational transitions.”

Nonetheless, some of these changes are still a little away in this part of the world, but intensive study of local and global trends will guide leaders as they chart a course for sustainable impact in their various niches.

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