Five things industrial businesses should be doing right now to improve COVID-19 viability

17th August 2020

What is "COVID-19 viability", and what can businesses do to ensure that they continue to be safe and successful during a hugely disruptive global pandemic?

As you’ll know if you’ve watched any television advertisement over the last three months, these are unprecedented times—and during times like these, adaptability is the key to business success.

With adaptability and success in mind, a new term has been coined to describe the specific kind of adaptability that businesses need to adopt in response to the global pandemic: “COVID-19 viability”.

What is COVID-19 viability?

COVID-19 viability is defined as the ability to work successfully in the face of the personal and professional restrictions and limitations that the coronavirus situation has placed on businesses and societies around the world.

In terms of working practices, operations and strategic planning, this loosely entails:

  • Implementing social distancing regulations, adjusting staff working schedules and working from home where possible

  • Undertaking contingency planning for the future—identifying ways in which the business can continue to operate successfully in local lockdowns, manage second waves, etc.

  • Monitoring long- and short-term market changes in order to assess the impact of COVID-19 on customers, and thereby effectively balance demand with supply and investments with requirements

  • Taking action on costs—being proactive and saving money in order to deal with the current economic climate as well as to improve efficiency for long-term savings (as my colleague Anthony Kolanko has previously noted, one way for industrial businesses can save money is to address water costs)

Five things that you should be doing right now to improve your COVID-19 viability

1. Stay up to date

Businesses are equipped to make better decisions when in possession of appropriate information, so it’s important to remain up to date. Unfortunately, with a novel virus information and guidance can change quickly, so businesses—especially smaller ones—would do well to set aside time each week to review the situation and adjust course accordingly.

A good resource for this is the UK government’s Working Safely During Coronavirus (COVID-19) information page, which has a set of 14 guides that cover a range of types of work.

Also keep in mind that other changes, like Brexit, are occurring simultaneously and may also affect how your business operates, either in conjunction with COVID-19 or independently of it.

2. Focus on your bottom line

Look for new ways to improve your bottom line. During times of market uncertainty, cash is a critical safety net for businesses, and taking a proactive approach to this aspect of the business can make the difference between success and failure—helping your company to prepare for further future disruption, and reducing costs to protect your workforce and retain key jobs.

Look for new technologies, systems and processes that can cut costs, increase efficiency or remove waste. These might be new or alternative office software packages, project management tools, a new way of ordering or holding inventory, or even a new way of reusing your waste water.

Be prepared to be flexible, and to approach challenges like these in new or unexpected ways.

On a personal level, taking this kind of approach can also help you to stand out within your organisation as being one step ahead with your strategic thinking…

3. Make safety your number one priority

Employee health should be a priority at the best of times, but during a global pandemic it becomes even more important. By protecting your staff not only are you acting as a responsible employer, but you’re also protecting your business—after all, an unwell employee cannot work effectively at their job, on their family and friends or on themselves. In that situation, everyone loses.

We’re all aware by now of the need for social distancing and masks, but is there more that you can do? Continued office working clearly makes social distancing harder, so responsive businesses have developed health and safety checklists for those who are unable to work from home. Adopting new technologies that reduce manual intervention is also a way to help people maintain that social distance and prevent prolonged exposure to others.

We are being told to adjust to a “new normal”, and businesses have a difficult task in making this adjustment. Employee safety, however, should be paramount. 

4. Share and learn from others within your sector

Many businesses and professionals are guilty of being insular and protective of their information, but in times like these we should set aside some of our competitive nature and collaborate for the mutual benefit of people, society and the economy.

Using social media and other online platforms you can easily share advice, tips and strategies for navigating this challenging period, and who knows—you might even make some profitable new connections as a result (for example: feel free to connect with me on LinkedIn!).

Though you may have competition, we’re all stronger if we work together during challenging times.

5. Update your business plan

Last but not least: planning. It is often an annual process, and one that takes weeks or even months to develop, review and agree. As such it may have been a while since your business has updated its objectives, forecasts and plans.

It’s very likely that your conventional annual plan is not fit for purpose during a global pandemic, however, and you can’t afford to wait until the end of the year to review it.  

The world does not wait: at times like these you need to be agile. When the future is uncertain, make sure that your long-term strategy is solid and then set shorter-term objectives to deliver on that strategy—and be sure to review and correct course more regularly than you are accustomed to. Perhaps right now three months is the furthest ahead that you can afford to be thinking.

Plans may be disrupted by events, but strategies are much more resilient. Nonetheless, now is the time to check that strategy to make sure that the business is still heading in the right direction. For example, as markets stall or contract, organic growth might be difficult or impossible, and winning market share might need to be the new focus. If your strategy needs to change then your plans will certainly need to follow suit.