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Practically every business in the world had to adapt over the past year or so to the cataclysmic changes engendered by the COVID-19 pandemic. Those who could not adapt, or even could not adapt fast enough, have not survived. And during this continuously evolving adaptation process, businesses had the opportunity to derive immense learning – learning on how to survive a crisis, work remotely, reduce operating costs, diversify offerings, be it products or services, and not least, learning about what needs to be done to ensure long-term sustainability when the future still remains uncertain.
Businesses developed SOPs and protocols, brought in changes in the way of working and adopted technology like never before. But has all this been enough to ensure future survival and beyond survival, real growth?
A little over a year since COVID-19 changed our lives, it is time for a thorough review, because learning too needs to evolve over time. Some of what we learnt early in the pandemic was good for several months thereafter, but the value began to erode over time.
Take work from home (WFH) for instance, a practice adopted fairly quickly and creditably enough. A time came however when day after day, month after month of back to back video conference calls started to drain both our energy and our enthusiasm. Similarly, the effort of maintaining a conducive work environment at home became a real challenge. We really started missing the good old office and the camaraderie of physical interaction with colleagues. Teamwork especially stood compromised. In conclusion, the work from home practice needed to be reviewed and new learning drawn to introduce modifications to counter the negative fallout of WFH.
An example from our own practice of public relations relates to stakeholder engagement, an area of public relations the vital importance of which we have always emphasized to our clients. The pandemic served to strongly accentuate this, as businesses found that the fear and uncertainty the pandemic unleashed meant that all their stakeholders, from employees to suppliers to customers and others, became deeply disturbed and needed reassurance and support. As a consequence, our learning of stakeholder engagement also evolved to develop a more empathetic strategy to respond to the now more intense needs of stakeholders, and to keep their trust and confidence; a task made even more challenging by lockdowns which largely precluded physical interaction with stakeholders.
Even as we hope now that the vaccines developed will at least majorly limit the further spread of COVID-19, if not eliminate it over time, our learning needs to continue evolving in relation to all aspects of both our work and personal lives. Few solutions are good forever; most will need tweaking and modification to respond to ever changing ground realities. Businesses that foresee the changes required in advance can be expected to do well in the future, uncertain as it may be. Others who are slower and more reactive will find themselves forever running after the bus which has just left the terminal.