Optimizing the “Pause” and Preparing for Life After the COVID-19 Crisis

While most of the world is triaging around stricter COVID-19-related restrictions and lockdowns, some countries are already starting to take steps to return to a new normal – one where business continues even as outbreaks may flare up. With plenty of lessons to learn and a cadre of non-essential personnel looking for productive activity, employers who can do so are advised to take advantage of the “pause” in regular activity to sure up for the “post” COVID-19 realities. Below are some suggested areas of focus:

  • Health & Safety: When the lockdowns have ended and it’s time to report back to work, employers must be ready with health & safety protocols that limit the possibility contracting COVID-19 in the workplace and address the inevitable post-Pause positive cases. Taiwan provides an early example of such a protocol.
    Taiwanese High Schools
    Despite its proximity to China and confirmed exposure to COVID-19 dating back to January 2020, Taiwan has kept the number of cases to ~400 people (most of which were “imported” from other countries). With high confidence in its COVID-19 containment program, Taiwan’s children returned to school at the end of February knowing that the risk of further COVID-19 infections remain. In accordance with guidelines adopted by the Central Epidemic Command Center, the following protocol was adopted to address the contingency.
    Confirmed Positive Action
    If 1 person is infected (teacher or student)

    If 2 people are infected (teacher(s); student(s))

    If 1/3 schools in township suspended

    Their class is suspended

    Class at school are suspended

    All schools in township are suspended


    WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
    :
    Engage with internal health & safety professionals regarding the Company’s preventative and reactive measures. Consider which temporary measures should be memorialized into more enduring benefits and policies (e.g., liberal leaves of absence). Early engagement is especially important in countries where implementation of such measures requires prior engagement with works’ councils, employee staff representatives and/or Company doctors. To facilitate the conversation, we recommend developing a checklist of issues to consider and resolve.

  • Business Continuity: Developing and maintaining business continuity programs often takes a back burner to revenue generating business activities. Recognizing the issue, Singapore included with its COVID-19 communications a Guide on Business Continuity Planning for COVID-19 to provide companies with a starting point for making business decisions. Broader guidance is available online from public and private sources, including the informative Hong Kong Business Continuity Planning website. Both the Singapore and Hong Kong guidance is available in English and Chinese.WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW: Companies with robust business continuity programs schedule periodic tabletop exercises to ferret out blind spots and identify weakness. However, there is no substitute for a real crisis, which is, of course, what we are experiencing now. Take note of the decisions you’ve made; (what’s working and what’s not?) then consider how things might be different the next time when you are bigger (or smaller), more (or less) complex, international, integrated. Use this to update or create (as applicable) your business continuity plans.
  • Strategic Thinking: In an article written in early March (A China-Centric Global Recession?), Yuwa Hedrick-Wong, chief economic commentator for Forbes Asia opined that “recovery from a global recession will come about in stages, largely set by the pace in China because it is ahead of the rest of the world in suppressing COVID-19.” The idea is that China’s economy will begin to rebound when its workers return to work and resume economic activity internally, ramp up as re-started factories increase production and get the world’s supply chain back online, and then benefit again when demand resumes as Europe and the United States begin to recover.

While business recovery may take place as Mr. Hedrick-Wong describes, a company might jumpstart the timeline by thinking more strategically about what it could do in the new post-COVID-19 world. Author and Harvard Business School professor Michael Tushman frequently advises on how companies can innovate in the face of market disruption. (See, e.g., How Rigid Leaders Kill Their Companies; Is Company Failure Inevitable?; The Ambidextrous CEO). According to Mr. Tushman et alia, a key to innovating is the ability to develop an “overarching identity” that transcends a current business model. A representative example cited by Professor Tushman is the 140-year old Ball Corporation. Originally founded as a wooden bucket manufacturer, it has successfully adapted over the years by adopting the broader identity of a container company, which allowed it to pivot from buckets to glass jars, to plastic bottles and metal containers.

WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW: If the COVID-19 crisis represents a potentially existential disruption to your business (or even it does not), consider taking time during this Pause to think about how you could pivot and thrive in the new post-COVID-19 world.

  • Clear the Deck: Consider how to use the Pause to accomplish other valuable and/or mandatory tasks to allow for a more complete focus on productive activities once “normal activities” resume.

    WHAT YOU CAN DO NOW
    :

    • Regular Business Cycle: Identify regular business cycle activities that can be accelerated (e.g., roll out mandatory compliance and sexual harassment training).
    • Training & Other Educational Opportunities: Allow workers to use the time to take advantage of online training and other educational opportunities to upgrade their skillset.
    • Lower Priority Projects: Inventory everyone’s to do list; if the tasks still make sense, resource them and get them done.

    When managing through a crisis, it can be difficult to think of the time beyond the task of the day. To the extent employees are not engaged in the present, we encourage you to optimize the Pause and plan for the post-crisis period.