INNOVATION IS BEING FORCED UPON US

Here are FIVE ways company leaders can do their best for staff, customers and the bottom line.

The great business savant Richard Branson famously said: “Clients do not come first. Employees come first. If you take care of your employees, they will take care of the clients.”

In our business, we are witnessing the truth of the Virgin Group founder’s pronouncement each day as the national lockdown progresses. 

In our PR and content agencies, serving several dozen clients at once across multiple industries, we have the privilege of working with many leaders and helping them take care of their staff and customers through this rocky patch. 

At a time of national emergency and utter unpredictability for almost every business, the work we do goes far beyond communications and content production – and I daresay it’s the same for many other companies, which will be stepping well outside their comfort zones out of both necessity and empathy.

From our own experience and our observation of theirs, here are our best tips for making the best of the innovation that the Covid-19 lockdown is forcing upon us all.

1. Help staff manage their physical and mental health: We don’t have the luxury of our usual proximity to check in with each other; the daily time spent together in an office is a great way to observe moods and body language and all the little ‘tells’ that reveal how we’re feeling. In the absence of subtlety, we have to be direct. On our Zoom call each morning, we cover off the work priorities for the day but also ask after everyone’s well-being in more than cavalier ‘how are you’ fashion. The Zoom screen has its limitations so you have to take a few further steps to keep a caring company culture alive and ensure everyone is coping in isolation.

2. Find new ways to stimulate staff engagement: With the standard metrics being largely inapplicable at present, we are encouraging team bonding in our business with a friendly competition that invites everyone to log their exercise on the Map My Run app – everything from a walk around the block to a run or streaming workout class. The competition will run until the end of April, with all sorts of prizes at the end. It’s hugely motivating to finish a workout and have your colleagues ‘like’ it, and a great reason to get away from the desk and into some fresh, socially distanced autumn air. 

3. Reach out to your clients / customers: It doesn’t have to be onerous, especially as everyone’s inboxes are being inundated with emails from every company they’ve ever dealt with – but a brief email to say ‘we’re here for you’ does wonders. It’s reassuring and supportive, and communicates that you and your staff will be around to look after your clients no matter what, even if some relationships have to lie fallow for now and be rejuvenated later in 2020. Staying connected is the priority.

4. Be a sounding board: After you’ve reached out, you may find some clients are looking not for the usual service but a shoulder to lean on. Companies and industries are reacting to the lockdown mostly in two ways – they are either paralysed and finding it hard to make decisions, or they’re running towards the fire and adapting quickly to the crisis. This is forced innovation in practice, and you may be able to help in practical ways, but at the very least your team can be a champion and moral supporter when it’s needed most. You are also setting up your own company so those relationships will still be there when the economy rebounds.

5. Maintain as much practical and financial flexibility as possible: We have a lot of sympathy for businesses that have gone into this lockdown with no or minimal cash reserves; sometimes there’s just no wiggle room. For those of us who were running companies through the GFC, some hard lessons learned then are helping us now; we know there’s always a light at the end of the tunnel if you can operate conservatively while maintaining a base of staff and clients, even if the workflow is reduced. More certainty is coming, and it is crucial to protect your capacity to ramp up activity at the end. 

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