How businesses operate during a global pandemic


The last four months have provided an opportunity to observe how businesses operate during an unprecedented global pandemic, with an accelerated shift to digital operations. An article from the Harvard Business Review(*).

China has been weeks ahead of the rest of the world fighting against the pandemic and its consequences, so its experience is of interest. Twenty in-depth personal interviews were conducted, as well as a large-scale survey of over 350 senior executives to determine how the Chinese corporate world has adapted, innovated, survived, and even prospered through this uncertain time. Companies had to:

WHAT NEW CHALLENGES DID BUSINESSES HAVE TO TAKE UP IN THE FACE OF COVID-19?

  • Leverage digital technologies to adapt and innovate.
  • Test new business models.
  • Bring together solutions to address emerging and previously unrecognised customer needs.
  • Develop new business processes and practices.
  • Redefine collaboration and teamwork models.

These have been some of the lessons learned during the pandemic:

1. TRANSPARENCY

Leaders interviewed indicated that they kept their teams up to date on the organisation’s state, as well as on the priorities and principles that would guide decisions at all levels.

2. COMMUNICATION

Virtual video conferencing has remained the norm since the return of employees to the workplace, sometimes even when all the assistants are physically present in the same office. On many occasions, they have proved to be more efficient, direct and goal-oriented than face-to-face meetings.

3. DIGITAL TRANSFORMATION

The sudden and unforeseen blockage throughout the economy forced companies to switch to fully digital models overnight.

4.  REORGANIZE FOR BETTER DECISION MAKING

Accelerating the digital transformation led to the automation of some routine activities across a wide range of business sectors.

5. NEW WAYS TO COLLABORATE

Achieving the desired changes often requires collaborating in new ways with external partners: customers, suppliers, regulators and even competitors.

6. FORMALISING AND ENABLING REMOTE WORKING

Distance work was rarely practised or supported in China before the pandemic. The new situation has emphasized a results-based approach over the outdated presence-based model.

7. LIFELONG LEARNING

Most of the leaders we interviewed believe that lifelong learning and a growth mentality will be crucial for the employees of the future.

8. RETHINKING EMPLOYEE PERFORMANCE EVALUATION

According to most of the leaders in our study, the pandemic presented a unique opportunity to observe how senior and middle managers responded to the new challenges and allowed them to make preliminary judgements about the future leadership potential of managers.

9. VOLUNTEER OPTIONS

Yum China, a fast-food chain that closed most of its outlets in Wuhan, decided to keep some open to serve medical staff. Aware that some employees and their families would be concerned about the high risk of working in these outlets, the company decided to ask for volunteers, not knowing if they would get the necessary numbers. To their surprise, within two hours of the word being spread, they had 900 volunteers, far exceeding the needs.

10. HELPING EMPLOYEES TO INCREASE RESILIENCE

Many of the leaders surveyed reported that many employees were experiencing high levels of anxiety and lack of motivation. On the other hand, they also expressed almost universal agreement that dealing with the pandemic had engendered higher levels of tolerance, patience and empathy within their organisations: seeing colleagues on video calls at home, dressed informally, with family members and pets making appearances, for example, making interactions more personal.

COVID sector construcción

CONCLUSIONS

Many of the challenges faced by Chinese companies in the face of Covid-19 are here to stay. We found that the market leaders in our study – who had substantial reserves to weather the storm – actively invested in the short term to extend their long-term advantage over less prepared competitors.

These companies accelerated and aggressively expanded their digitisation strategies to ensure that new skills, practices and behaviours were integrated into their organisation’s muscle memory.

(*) Das Narayandas and Edsel Bryant Ford are professors of Business Administration at Harvard Business School.

 

 

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