Hindsight might be 20/20, but looking back on what they would have done differently in the past with today’s knowledge can help business leaders to avoid mistakes and maximise opportunities in the future. With that in mind, the lessons of COVID-19—one of the biggest stress tests most companies have experienced in recent years—can help businesses prepare for the next crisis.

Perhaps the most important message? Businesses can be faster, more flexible and more ready to change than their leaders, shareholders or employees ever imagined.

Here are some ways businesses might have done things differently over the past 12 to 18 months if they had foresight into what was coming:

  1. Ran leaner and meaner

Though some businesses in e-commerce and technology grew exponentially under lockdown, the lost revenues under Levels 4 and 5, and slower revenues throughout the pandemic, have been devastating for some companies. Many businesses would’ve been better placed to weather the storm if they had lower cost bases and a buffer of cash in reserve. The key takeaway here is that many businesses could’ve run leaner than they did before the pandemic—some have learnt that many of their overheads, such as expensive office space, are superfluous to their mission.

  1. Spread their bets

The various levels of lockdown were particularly hard on many companies that provided non-essential products and services via only one channel or to a small segment of customers. Whereas their focus was a strength before COVID, those that suddenly had their sole income stream strangled under lockdown needed to close down or rapidly pivot to a new business model. For those that transitioned to a new business model – for example, liquor delivery services turned grocery delivery services – the lesson was that there was a huge market they weren’t exploiting. Had they known, they may have done it sooner.

  1. Gone deeper into the cloud

No organisation that had successfully moved a large part of its IT infrastructure and applications to the cloud would’ve regretted it when the crisis hit. Cloud laggards, however, had to scramble to put in place the necessary solutions to enable digital commerce and remote working. This highlights how companies that make strategic investments in technology can unlock significant value from it—provided it’s built on a sound business case. It also shows that technology is often more mature than people and companies expect.

  1. Integrated new ways of working

Employees and employers alike have reassessed many old ways of working in light of the pandemic. Hopefully, when we go back to ‘normal’, some of the new ways of working that we’ve embraced over the past year will stick. Leaving aside the debate about remote work, which we discuss in a number of our blog posts, there have been some positive changes in workplaces. There is more awareness about mental health, a more relaxed perspective on pets and kids making guest appearances in Microsoft Teams calls, and a great focus on empathy for employees.

  1. Kept ahead of the digital customer

Companies that had not yet provided digital sales and support options for their customers came to a near standstill in the worst of the lockdown, and needed to move fast to offer e-commerce websites, home delivery and other options. Yet the reality is that e-commerce was accelerating before the pandemic. Many companies were not keeping their eye on where their customers’ preferences were going—and this would’ve eventually caught up with them, pandemic or not.

  1. Embraced change as a way of life

All too many businesses speak the language of change, but the reality is that change is hard. Many companies may have talked up new business models, new technology investments, new ways of working before the pandemic, but implementation was often slow. There are many obstacles to organisational change—fears of cannibalising revenues, internal cultural resistance, budget prioritisation. The harsh lesson from the pandemic, however, is that if an organisation doesn’t change, it could be changed from the outside. Getting ahead of change—be it regulatory, market, customer, technology—is the best way to stay in control in a volatile world.

Taking lessons to heart

Businesses that take the lessons of the pandemic to heart will be well prepared for the next crisis their organisation faces, be that a technology-driven disruption to the business model, a global financial crisis, another pandemic, extreme weather or localised political stability. In asking what they might have done differently before COVID, businesses are answering the question of what they should do to prepare for the next external shock their business might face in the years to come.

References:

https://www.tarsus.co.za/what-to-consider-when-deciding-who-gets-to-work-from-home-for-good/

https://www.tarsus.co.za/employers-and-employees-are-not-in-agreement-about-new-ways-of-working/

https://www.tarsus.co.za/rethinking-performance-measurement-in-a-world-of-remote-work/

[Photo by Leon on Unsplash]