The world is going through a massive disruption. A disruption that deeply affects several aspects of our modern society. Businesses are amongst the worst hit in this disruption as production, supply, and distribution channels are affected. Most businesses weren’t prepared for a pandemic, and whatever crisis management strategy they had, most probably didn’t anticipate this.

Businesses are forced to reorganize and adapt to the new normal. The coronavirus is one that affects people and without people, there is no business. Both big and small businesses have to protect members of various teams, adhere to new standards, and still meet new goals.

Big businesses are fighting hard to keep teams together. Some of their core aspects have been badly affected and the others struggle to find balance. Many employees are scared that employers may find this as the perfect excuse to shed staff or reduce pay. Thus, there is panic in the air. This inevitably affects employee productivity.

More, no business is self-sufficient. The business world is a world of interdependency as outsourcing has proven to be a more efficient and cost-effective model.

Here are five business operational strategies for big businesses to thrive during the coronavirus.

Support and Protect Your People

Safety first. Without the people you have invested in over the years, there is no thriving. You need them. This is why you need to ensure that they have all the support they need during this period. Regularly provide credible information about the pandemic and how they can stay safe.

It is hard, and may cripple businesses, to make every employee work from home. A small business may be able to do that, but a big business may have front-line staff who have to fulfill orders or get things done physically.

As a big business, you need a crisis management team. This team works to:

  • Develop succession contingency plans for all major executives
  • Restrict travel
  • Move critical operations to unaffected regions
  • Cross-train team members to perform critical functions in the event of an unexpected absence or quarantine of a team member.
  • Require employees to report confirmed cases, of self or family members, to the HR department. The affected are required to stay at home for 14 days until the doctor confirms negative diagnosis.
  • Isolate employees diagnosed at work. Immediately disinfect surfaces they have touched, and contact those who they may have been in contact with.
  • To protect employees’ wellbeing, you may need to:
  • Institute mandatory remote work policies where possible
  • Close on-sight facilities such as gyms, cafeteria, and common areas
  • Adjust employee compensation and benefit policies
  • Reconfigure meeting rooms, break rooms, and other common areas to promote social distancing.
  • Grant paid time off for diagnosed employees, symptomatic employees, and/or those with family members diagnosed with COVID-19

Provide Needed Resources to Allow Decentralized Decision-Making

This is a time where bureaucracy will not work. This is a big business and decision-making has to be done fast enough to meet rising challenges. Executives at the lower level must be given enough resources and information to be able to act in moments of emergency.

Since this disruption is unprecedented, it is hard to fully anticipate what can happen. A trusted supplier might disappoint due to any reason. A quick decision-switch to another supplier must be made so as not to affect output. This can only be possible when decentralized initiative- taking is allowed.

China has shown signs of gradual recovery. We can pick one or two pointers from the way some of its big businesses handled the situation.

Huazhu, a large hotel chain that operates 6000 hotels in 400 cities across China, set up a crisis task force that met daily to review procedures and issued top-down guidance for the whole chain. The company leveraged its internal information platform, an app called Huatong, to make sure employees and franchises were armed with timely information. This allowed franchisees to adapt central guidance to their own local circumstances, in terms of disease conditions and local public health measures.

Go Digital

This goes beyond instituting work-from-home policies. It affects the way you get your product to the final consumer. A third of the world’s population is on lockdown, yet they need essential commodities.

If your business was relying majorly on physical sales, you need to adopt ecommerce. People may not be able to visit your stores, but they can make orders that can be delivered at their doorsteps.

The world is on the internet. Deploy your resources there. Get your employees online to push your products.

The success of Chinese cosmetics company, Lin Qingxuan, is one to consider. The company was forced to close 40% of its stores during the crisis, including all the locations in Wuhan. Instead of laying off staff, the company redeployed its 100+ beauty advisors from those stores to become online influencers who leveraged digital tools, such as WeChat, to engage customers virtually and drive online sales. Compared to last year, sales achieved 200% growth as a result.

Redefine Your Products

As some businesses have been badly hit, this is the time to redefine products. Products that are not in demand have to be set aside for those needed at the moment. For instance, a cloth manufacturing company would not be producing prom dresses at the moment, even though this is the season. Lounge and indoor wears are in greater demand and these should be on production.

This is a top-level decision, but it has to be made. This is the time where teams have to be engaged innovatively. The idea may not come from you, but you need to create an environment where ideas are valued.

A major restaurant chain in China took the downtime to redefine its offerings. It realized that demand has dropped due to the increase of home-cooked meals. What it did was to plan a new offering of semi-finished meals to meet the new demand. This is an innovative move that saved the jobs of thousands of people.

If, at the moment, your offerings are hard to adjust to present circumstances, take time to re- strategize. The pandemic will come to an end. China has started to recover, soon post- COVID-19 will be here. You want to be prepared.

A premium Chinese travel agency, terribly affected by the outbreak, went against reducing its headcount. It encouraged employees to upgrade internal systems, improve skills, develop new products and services to be better prepared for eventual recovery.

Constantly Evaluate Your Supply Chain

You may have things working well on your end, but that may not be the case with others in your supply chain. You have to be prepared for eventualities. A key member in your supply chain may be forced out of business because of health complications. The disease may not show symptoms for about 14 days. Thus, it can travel far before it is noticed.

Have several contingency plans for every player in your supply chain. Total reliance on one key player may have damning effects.

Your evaluation does not end at the first or second tier of the supply chain, it goes to the source of your raw materials. When the outbreak happened in China, a lot of suppliers turned to South Korea, only to see the country become quickly infected, too.

To get this right, you need to constantly discuss with members of various teams who are working directly with members of the supply chain. The constant evaluation will reveal possible vulnerabilities early enough for you to take action.

Final words…

Although many businesses have been badly hit, the world still needs its operational efficiencies to survive the outbreak. This means that businesses have to adapt to new circumstances to meet new demands. Employees have to be protected and product offerings may have to be modified. The world will get through this, but it needs big businesses to not only adapt, but to be ready to meet present and future needs.