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Is business open for reinvention?

Simon Le Tocq, Chief Executive of the GTA University Centre looks at the impact of COVID-19 on business, discusses how it has affected his own organisation and examines potential longer-term effects.

There is no denying we are living in unprecedented times. We find ourselves in the midst of an event you might have thought was the preserve of the big-budget Hollywood disaster film. COVID-19 is a human disaster first and foremost which has touched almost every aspect of our lives. As well as creating serious implications for people’s health, it has created serious implications for businesses and economies alike. COVID-19 is the perfect storm for business, causing workforce disruption on an unprecedented scale, with business leaders traversing some extremely choppy and uncharted waters as they attempt to navigate the impacts of the pandemic. Many leaders will have had to plot a radical change of course in tackling problems such as keeping employees safe, ensuring liquidity, reorienting operations and implementing the latest government advice.

All industries have been impacted by the COVID-19 crisis with varying degrees of severity. Some will have stronger defences but all will have had to consider business ‘now’ (how to continue operating under lockdown) as well as looking forward to how they emerge from the current situation and what their business will look like in a post-COVID-19 landscape. Out of necessity, leaders will have prioritised the ‘now’ and in many cases will have been forced into making changes that they might not have made but may continue to embrace post-COVID-19.

Take remote working (or as we are now calling it working from home) for example. Yes, many people have been working remotely for many years already; the infrastructure to do this has been in place for some time now and the tools to connect digitally have become quite sophisticated. And yet remote working has always seemed a second-best choice to many organisations where work is centred around the office and the 9-5 day. COVID-19 has forced businesses into rethinking where and when work takes place. Further to the necessity for remote working created by social distancing rules, the demands of home-schooling imposed on many employees have forced organisations to also consider flexible working arrangements. And yes, there were teething troubles with the IT, a change of mindset needed and some readjustment to convert the dining room table into an office desk, but the work has continued.

Indeed, I suspect many leaders (and employees) may have been surprised by just how well things have gone and, in my view, there is a strong likelihood that beyond the COVID-19 pandemic more and more organisations will begin to convert to a distributed workforce model, saving capital on expensive physical office space, as well as increasing the quality of life for employees through offering them flexibility which will lead to discretionary effort and increased productivity. We need to be mindful of the importance of human connection but there is no reason why the technology cannot help bring us closer together creating online communities for support and advice. Habits are being formed in lockdown e.g. using Zoom or Microsoft Teams for internal meetings or working for an hour before breakfast and taking a walk mid-morning, that we might not want to break post-COVID-19.

At the GTA we were also forced into another change which is likely to remain with us and which undoubtedly will see increasing acceptance post COVID-19. Social distancing meant the cessation of all face to face to training, the core business of our organisation, and the need to move to virtual training. In order to continue to meet the learning and development needs of the Bailiwick in lockdown we moved quickly to convert many of our popular courses to a virtual learning format. This is not as easy as might first be thought. Virtual training is not face-to-face training delivered over the internet; it requires the training to be reimagined. For example, a one-day face-to-face course with group work and plenty of interaction will look quite different in a virtual format. The nature of the learning and the tasks used to deliver it; the length of session; the way in which participants and trainer interact are all factors that need careful consideration, not to mention the new skill set that a trainer will be required to acquire in handling digital delivery. However, in the same way that the leader might have been surprised by the success of remote working, we have been encouraged by the feedback to date. Some participants have been a little nervous about the technology at first, but it is very intuitive and requires no more than a laptop or computer and an internet connection.

In a relatively short time, we have managed to repurpose 50 of our most popular courses and are working with local trainers to adapt more of our portfolio to a virtual classroom format. We will return to face-to-face training when social distancing allows but virtual training, like remote working, is here to stay. Once working from home becomes mainstream, won’t it become just as natural to learn from home? Although this is a change that will likely take longer than some others, I think the demand for change will become overwhelming.

Leaders have been focussed on the ‘now’; changes have been driven out of necessity, but leaders must now be considering the ‘what next’ in a post-COVID-19 landscape and I would suggest we cannot to return to ‘work’ exactly as we knew it before the pandemic. Lockdown has been tough, but it has shown us that things can be done differently, more efficiently in many cases; work does not have to be an activity undertaken in an office between the hours of 9-5. Indeed, it would be learning lost for companies to put on the shelf newly acquired skills and competencies which have proved effective during lockdown. What will follow will be a new era defined by fast changing shifts in cultural norms, societal values and behaviours all of which will impact on how we do business. As the pandemic is slowly brought under control businesses are understandably keen to reopen; to be successful post COVID-19, they will also need to be open for reinvention.

Simon Le Tocq
Chief Executive & Executive Director of The Guernsey Institute

To read the Bailiwick Express CONNECT Publication you can visit here.

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