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How a Virus Changes Business Operations

I attended an “Advisor Village” call with the Advisory Board Centre during the week – thank you Louise and Jan for creating this – on how a virus changes business operations. It was a great way for the authorised Advisors to connect in these unusual times to discuss issues that are affecting everyone now – considering the restrictions placed on businesses and normal life to try and control the spread of COVID-19. We used Zoom as the connection media and had break-out rooms to discuss two important topics:

  1. The impact on business and our lives today.
  2. The future positive impact on how we as a working society will change.

Both of these topics really reflect on Corporate Governance because as practitioners, we have to show leadership in culture, problem solving and importantly employee health.

Impact on business today

Many Governments have applied restrictions to our lives to help prevent the spread of the virus which impacts the way we live and work.

For many workers it is unusual for them to work at home – often with children and pets and maybe a partner also trying to do the same thing. That leads to challenges in balancing the work space in the home – I actually did the call and several others in a corner of the main room as my wife was using our home office as her work requires hands-free calls and a larger screen. It would be much harder with other family members in the mix for sure.

One area of concern is the availability of reliable bandwidth as more people jump on video calls or use streaming services to entertain the family. Over the last week I have used four different types of video call or webinar technologies: Zoom, ClickMeeting, Zoho and GotoMeeting. By far the worst for quality was actually Zoom. Interestingly all the calls were around the same time of day with a similar number of people attending. Zoom was patchy with video in constant catchup and audio therefore out of sync. The other technologies had crystal clear audio and video.

I did read an article that Zoom has had to remove the “Login with Facebook” function on iOS because the software was actually sending metadata to Facebook which was not in compliance with Zoom’s privacy policies.

This leads to an interesting issue with remote working: privacy. Many communications methods capture chat messages or other recordings and so it is important that as a Governance specialist, we help our customers to understand the balance of good communication and the sharing of confidential corporate data. Cloud systems certainly help with keeping corporate data in a secure environment, however insecure communications could negate that security!

The biggest impact on many workers is the change in working environment and the lack of social interaction – by that I don’t mean the coffee chats, rather the ad-hoc over the desk questions/comments that people are used to. With workers being distanced means that chat systems are often used to facilitate this connectivity and this then leads to more interruptions in a worker’s day.

This is where good management governance can help – encouraging workers in teams to time box their days allows for fewer interruptions during the day and time for teams to catch up at regular times. For example, 30 minute slots could be created at the start of the day, just prior to lunch and end of day to review and plan the work schedules.

One of the more interesting comments raised on the Advisory Board Centre call was that laptops were becoming scarce in some areas simply because so many companies were buying them because many of their employees used a desktop and therefore couldn’t pack it up and go home. Maybe that was why Gerry Harvey was so arrogant on 60 Minutes recently – and he now regrets his attitude!

Future positive impact

The second question posed was quite thought provoking. How will this heath related economic crisis change the future?

Company culture will certainly change and I hope that this removes the micro-management seen in many organisations. Some managers will feel that they will lose control of their staff because they are used to telling their teams exactly how to perform a function – even if the employee has performed that function for years! Prior to COVID-19 many companies wouldn’t allow working from home and now they will find that this isn’t an issue at all.

Some employees will enjoy the new found freedom from highly toxic office environments and will likely perform far better and learn new tasks and functions. This could put pressure on poor managers who will feel threatened – despite that fact that the organisation as a whole will benefit from having employees who can think and act responsibly.

There will be reworked products and services suitable for new and different markets or uses. Innovation will grow and technologies will improve through different use cases. Back in the mid 1980s my father went through a similar issue. He was an agricultural engineer building farm systems for water supply in an area where dairy farms were common. The European Union brought in milk quotas that forced the local farmers to reduce the size of their herds. My father’s business stopped overnight and he figured out that he could redesign the water systems to suit “dirty water” and as such became a supplier of equipment to clean up the environment around the farms.

Business Advisors can step up and challenge the status quo and provide ideas in an environment that doesn’t damage the organisation. We will see more testing of strategies and new products to ensure that they are fit for purpose and therefore should be more reliable when launched! Problem solvers should also be encouraged – especially in those companies that prior to this crisis kept their cards close to management chests and refused to allow employees to provide input to the business.

Governance will change as well. From a Board perspective there will be more policies to test and more compliance to deal with. Boards will also have to spend more time ensuring that the management are looking after their employees health, both physically and mentally and must show that the culture considers employees as humans rather than a “resource”. Boards will hopefully become more balanced with a wider range of skills being utilised – not just the core finance and legal representation that so many Boards clutch to.

COVID-19 may well change the world for the better in many more ways than just finding new vaccines.

Image by Gerd Altmann from Pixabay