Simply resuming operations, however, will not be enough for most of these businesses to survive, considering the major and long-lasting impact that the COVID-19 crisis has had on society and the economy.
This is according to Jeremy Lang, Regional General Manager at Business Partners Limited (BUSINESS/PARTNERS), who believes that while swift adaptation is essential for commercial survival during this time; to thrive in a post-COVID-19 world, many companies will need to reimagine many parts of their business models.
“The reality is that the COVID-19 pandemic will permanently reshape many aspects of the world as we know it, so many business models that worked well in the past may not work at all today. Business owners need to not only adapt to the new normal, but use this as an opportunity to future-proof their operations.”
Lang cites a recent McKinsey feature that suggests four strategic areas for businesses to focus on during this critical period of transition. “In order to not only survive, but come back stronger than before, businesses should focus on rapidly recovering revenue; rebuilding operations; rethinking their organisation; and accelerating the adoption of digital solutions,” Lang says, before unpacking each suggested focus area in more detail, and adding one more of his own.
Spending hasn’t necessarily stopped, it’s just changed direction, notes Lang. “First and foremost, returning small and medium businesses therefore need to quickly review and identify their primary sources of revenue and pivot operations accordingly.
“Over the past couple of months, people have gradually found new ways to navigate life in lockdown, so it’s important that businesses take a future-focused approach when making changes, taking into consideration how this day-to-day life will continue to evolve under level three lockdown regulations,” says Lang, adding that some local businesses have been exceptionally quick in doing this.
“A great example is how local alcohol delivery brand, Bottles reengineered their business and partnered with Pick 'n Pay to deliver essentials to customers during lockdown. We’ve also seen impressive case studies of other South African supermarkets upping the ante where delivery services are concerned – almost overnight – as well as local small and medium businesses, like clothing retailer Plus-Fab, swiftly diversifying their offering to include the sale of fabric face masks online for delivery.”
With the radical change in demand patterns across various sectors – resulting from the COVID-19 crisis and national lockdown – Lang says that certain weak spots in global supply chains and operations are being exposed. “This is an opportunity to rebuild business operations in a way that guards against these risks in the future. For example, an interesting consideration here is that interrupted global supply chains might mean more emphasis on locally-produced goods.”
Rethink the organisation
The way of working is no-doubt changing, and with this, Lang believes that small and medium businesses should be rethinking both their internal structure and external orientation. “This applies to the way leadership teams and employees are structured, but also where they operate from. If the business ever considered trialling remote working, now is the time.
“Remote working has been seen to increase staff loyalty, enhance worker productivity and lower operational costs. Due to no travel required, virtual meetings could also help you be more productive and cut down costs. As you adapt to a COVID-19 world, it could be an opportunity to set up more permanent remote working infrastructures and shift processes for good.”
Accelerate the adoption of digital solutions
Digital is key to business recovery in the COVID-19 era, says Lang, urging business owners to take their operations online and work towards digital solutions if they don’t yet exist. “Whether it’s a fitness class, staff training, business consulting or hosting a conference, we now have the tools to take it online – like Skype, Google Hangouts or Zoom.
“Of course, the emphasis will be different for each sector, but if there’s one thing this crisis is teaching us all, it’s that practically many businesses can be successfully taken online with enough perseverance and innovative thinking.”
Remain agile and future-facing
Although taking note of global COVID-19 pandemic learnings is key for local businesses, South Africa is faced with a unique set of challenges that need to be tackled in a uniquely South African manner. “We entered the lockdown with a struggling economy and experienced some of the strictest lockdown conditions in the world, so our economy will likely emerge from this period very differently to others.
“It’s also still very unclear as to when South Africa will experience its COVID-19 infection peak, with many predicting this to occur as late as September 2020. With that said, businesses will need to plan as best possible for the months ahead but remember to remain agile and adapt as the situation shifts,” concludes Lang.