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Pushed to the limit

Adam Johnston

The COVID-19 outbreak presents businesses with the ultimate test of operational resilience, worldwide consulting firm Protiviti believes. Adam Johnston, Managing Director and Market Leader at Protiviti Hong Kong, shares some survival tips from a global flash report the firm recently released.

Why produce a report now?
Some have referred to this global pandemic as a black swan. But it really isn’t. The World Economic Forum has included infectious diseases in its annual 10-year-outlook risk assessment for many years. Although this particular strain has only recently emerged as a new human disease, coronaviruses have been known to the medical profession for a very long time. Many of us recall the 2003 SARS (Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome) epidemic and, yes, that was a coronavirus. Even the common cold is caused by a coronavirus strain.

But this time it feels different….
True. The way we live and work is changing right before our eyes as a result of the coronavirus pandemic. Hong Kong has witnessed the cancellation of key events, like the Rugby Sevens (main picture) and Art Basel, and the government has prohibited group gatherings in public areas and ordered the shutdown of entertainment venues and bars. All of these measures are changing the ways in which those living in the territory are functioning day-to-day, and are testing the limits of company policies.

What’s to be done?
Undoubtedly, the COVID-19 outbreak will have a far-reaching impact in both the immediate and long-term for most, if not all businesses as people increasingly self-isolate and travel bans remain in force. While we all know that there will be an inevitable economic impact, businesses need to stay optimistic and focus on their people and customers. They also need to keep planning for the future and flesh out the opportunities that they expect will come once the city returns to normal. Being able to move at speed will be key to grasping post-COVID 19 opportunities.

Any ideas on how?
As companies follow the direction of the authorities, apply pandemic protocols and put their response plans into action, Protiviti offers several suggestions for Hong Kong leaders to consider.

Communication - keep employees informed constantly. Communications are vital during any crisis and managers should help to convey empathy to employees and be forward-looking to give everyone an idea as to what to expect in terms of the duration of the crisis, and what’s happening around the company. They should support employee social interactions and be comfortable expressing the needs of the company.

Nurturing - watch for and encourage new leaders. As employees are battle-tested in this unique environment, some will flourish and provide leadership as everyone strives to adapt and support one another using the collaboration tools that companies have available. These individuals are the ones to keep an eye on when the sun finally rises.

Home office - learn about working remotely. Whether deployed selectively or mandated outright, this is nonetheless an opportunity to make this model work effectively and efficiently. Engage everyone and ask for feedback.

Engage - connect with customers. It is time to differentiate by demonstrating the kind of flexibility and agility with customers that they will appreciate and admire. There is a big opportunity here to deepen relationships.

Agility - have the right tools. For highly mobile organisations, this transition is relatively seamless as they already have in place proven platforms which can support communications, project management, document sharing and workflow. For others more anchored to offices, shifting to remote working can be a big change and a lesson about overlooking the importance of digital transformation.

Collaborate - regroup periodically. The importance of virtual touchpoints cannot be overemphasised. This is where collaboration tools and consistent catch-ups become key, enabling everyone to meet at least weekly to stay in touch and ensure everyone is on the same page for project deliverables and timelines.

Any other advice?
COVID-19 presents a test of leadership and resiliency. Prioritising and reprioritising tasks and activities is going to be a necessary focus for most organisations over the coming weeks and months. Keeping teams focused on the greatest issues and risks when so many things present an opportunity for distraction is the name of the game.

And finally?
We need to turn our attention away from getting things back to normal but instead embrace and adjust for the new reality and how it will impact the workforce and the way we work. Now is the time to keep everyone safe so companies can emerge from this period as strong as possible and be prepared to utilise the lessons learned through this kind of event to know what can be done better at both a macro and micro level in the future.

Related link
Protiviti

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