Most companies will have been taken by complete surprise at the speed of the global spread of the Coronavirus outbreak. From the point where China experienced its first death on 11th January 2020, to a reported number of global deaths due to the virus of over 70,000. That equates to a staggering average of 814 deaths per day.
It is no wonder that commerce and governments alike are reeling from having to deal with this pandemic. So, what can we do as business owners, directors and managers? Well it may seem like a doomsday scenario, but actually there are actions that can be taken now to lessen the impact. There are also some distinct advantages of viewing this shutdown of commerce as an opportunity to see things differently. Let's face it, this situation would never have materialised had the Pandemic not occurred, so let's see if we can make it work for us.
Employees across the world are being asked to work from home as never before. Whilst homeworking had been taken up in a few areas over recent years, businesses are now forced to have large sections of the workforce working remotely. In the past, there would have been many excuses for this not being able to work. As an Accountant that formerly ran accounting departments, I would have said that accounting functions could never work from home due to the paperwork involved and the controls needed.
This is no longer true, and we can now see that because of the new technology that has been introduced over the years such as electronic scanning, Skype and improved connectivity, it is now possible to see how this could work after the Pandemic has subsided. This could revolutionise not only the employee work/life balance but could free up huge amounts of office space for communities and housing project developments in the near future.
Employees do need interaction though to function as human beings. We need social interaction and to know the actions we take are for the common good in general. Technology may provide some of the answers here. We have seen how effective the new technologies are at hosting virtual meetings. From keeping in touch via Skype, Zoom, chat rooms and software such as WhatsApp, this has enabled companies to continue linking people who were sitting next to each other no more than four weeks ago. But the companies still continue, and the business can still be completed, even though our organisations are unrecognisable at their physical locations.
Keeping the Supply Chain operational and effective is probably one of the most important actions that a business needs to undertake in these uncertain times. Let's face it, an FMCG business with no products is not going to thrive without a supply chain that responds to difficult market conditions. Businesses should take this opportunity to assess their disaster recovery and contingency plans and see if they really are as robust as directors and business owners thought they were.
Having key suppliers set up in different regions and countries, so that continuity of supply can be maintained is critical. Checking lead times is also crucial right now to know when orders will be fulfilled and working as business partners is a must, rather than having just a transaction-based relationship that could break down at any moment. The important point here is that whatever you are selling, you need to keep your customers informed about your short-term planning, and when and how they can get hold of your products.
At a time when income is uncertain and fixed costs are difficult to shed or cut altogether, it is vital to know what cash is available as backup should the business need it. As long as I can remember, we have lived in a world where cash or cash equivalents would be managed and invested within an inch of the Company's life, thereby maximising returns in stock, assets or investments.
This pandemic has caused massive short term cash issues by curtailing, and in some instances completely removing, the earning potential of not just companies, but whole sectors. In these times it is more important than ever to ensure that capital investments are managed in line with the Company's disaster recovery and contingency planning goals and objectives.
So, What Now?
It is important to remember that amidst all of this mayhem and upheaval, companies are emerging with strategies to try and counteract the collapse of traditional markets. Local butchers are taking orders online and over the phone and delivering directly to houses, start-up tech companies are now worth more than large traditional retailers and weaker and less capital-rich companies are running out of cash and time and may close for good.
There will be a re-balancing of the marketplace that no one could have foreseen this time last year, but the strongest companies will come through this period and there will still be massive opportunities to provide quality goods and services to markets that may have changed not just temporarily, but forever.
Companies will have learned how to maximise the potential of remote working. Capital assets may well be able to be sold off by businesses where office space is no longer required. This, in turn, may benefit the housing market and younger generations as developers have the opportunity to turn offices into housing and no longer will the supply chain be taken for granted as something that “just works".
It is impossible to see where this Pandemic is going to finish up, but it is possible to imagine where it could lead us to.