The Covid-19 pandemic has been a life-changing event for many business owners and startup founders.
It has left businesses scrambling to pivot, while others have been forced to shut down entirely.
If business owners have learnt anything throughout 2020, it is that major changes could happen anytime and being well prepared is a crucial aspect of business survival.
The question that comes to business leaders’ minds quite readily is: how do I keep my business afloat in 2021?
As 2020 comes to a close, here are five ways for businesses to prepare for what lies ahead in 2021:
Embracing Flexible Work
Due to the pandemic, working from home is no longer rare. Instead, it has become the norm for most Singaporeans.
We have long adjusted to working from home, and most Singaporeans actually prefer the arrangement to heading back to the office.
According to a survey commissioned by The Straits Times, eight out of 10 workers in Singapore say they prefer to work from home or have flexible working arrangements.
In contrast, only one in 10 people wanted to return to the office full-time.
However, about half of the respondents felt that they would be penalised by employers if they expressed their preference to work from home.
Besides having to maintain a safe working environment, employers also have to manage their workers’ expectations to ensure optimum productivity and boost morale.
Thus, it is plausible that flexibility in the workplace will become extremely important in the year to come, and employers might consider a “hybrid” model.
Minister for Education and co-chair of the multi-ministry task force for COVID-19 Lawrence Wong previously said that work arrangements do not have to be “binary” and can be a combination of both.
For example, shifting working hours to allow workers to travel during off-peak periods. A mixture of remote working and working from the office can be considered too.
This opinion was also echoed by Zoom CEO Eric Yuan at a virtual conference organised by the Singapore Institute of Directors, and he mentioned that “the future of work is a hybrid model“.
Furthermore, business leaders are now looking for more flexible workplace solutions, according to JustCo co-founder and Chief Commercial Officer Kong Wan Long in an interview with Vulcan Post.
He told Vulcan Post that due to the Covid-19 situation, many corporates have started to realise that large headquarters which house all staff may not be the best way to go anymore.
Indeed, the co-working trend is picking up among large corporates that traditionally worked out of fixed office spaces.
According to Wan Long, more than half of JustCo’s tenants today are large enterprise clients such as L’Oreal, Novartis, Dropbox and Riot Games.
Thus, even though there is no one-size-fits-all solution for employers to adopt flexible working habits, there are many possibilities and it is important to find one that suits the company.
Level Up Communication
Everyone can agree that communication is the key to success. Whether you’re having a meeting or pitching an idea, communication is at the forefront of the workplace.
However, the pandemic has effectively made large face-to-face meetings unfeasible.
This is especially so in Singapore where employers have to ensure that employees are working from home for at least half of their working time.
Even though most employees prefer remote work, interaction and communication with co-workers remain vital.
Working from home — at least on some days — is here to stay, and businesses need to be able to find a way to effectively engage with their employees remotely.
This could mean improving internal communications strategies to prioritise employee relations, or encouraging continuous engagement.
In an interview with The Straits Times, Singapore National Employers Federation (Snef) executive director Koh Juan Kiat said managers should hold e-meetings regularly to update employees on the state of the business.
They should also frequently check in on them virtually through means such as video-conferencing and messaging.
Employers could also consider investing in online support structures to boost productivity and efficiency.
Rebuilding Customer Confidence
All businesses have customers that they need to serve, and the pandemic has forced a re-thinking of what customer care means.
Covid-19 has overwhelmed lives and livelihoods around the globe, bringing about pervasive uncertainty, and a sustained attention to health
This has also led to a different way in which customers interact with businesses and vice versa. Thus, companies have to understand consumer trends and patterns that will endure in the long term.
Firstly, health and wellbeing is an immediate concern, and it is important for businesses, especially physical ones, to build that into their customer experience.
For example, many businesses have already implemented contactless commerce to promote safety across its physical locations — a move critical in putting customers at ease.
In Singapore, even traditional hawker stalls have started to implement digital initiatives to help maintain safe operations, albeit heavily prompted by the government.
According to McKinsey & Company, “companies that adapt to the changing needs of customers will recover more rapidly and be better positioned than competitors.”
Another example is Singapore’s leading multi-currency mobile wallet, YouTrip, which has established themselves as a travel payment card.
However, with travel halted, YouTrip ran the risk of users completely forgetting about its existence.
To continue to engage its customers, the two-year-old company had to quickly refresh its business model, and focused all their efforts into an e-commerce use case.
The team went on to curate online deals and shopping guides to help users save money.
Even though travel has come to a standstill, YouTrip founder Caecilia Chu is of the opinion that “now is not the time to be slowing down”.
Instead, the company focused its efforts into customer engagement and maintaining a rapport with customers, such that it would be ready to serve them again when travel reopens.
Digital Transformation Is Already Here
Although “digital transformation” has been a buzzword for the past few years, Covid-19 has sped up the process significantly.
To survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world, businesses have to constantly stay atop technological trends, or at least, move online.
This is evident from the wave of home-based online businesses that have boomed during the pandemic.
Even firms that had a traditionally physical business model have found pivots into the online world.
For example, mixed martial arts startup One Championship was unable to hold large-scale fights, but managed to move them online. Besides simply live-streaming shows, it also offers data-driven insights for users.
The pandemic has also accelerated the growth of online-based services, such as telemedicine, which saw a spike in demand since Covid-19 hit.
On the flip side, businesses that have failed to move online quickly enough have faced negative consequences.
The recent high-profile closure of one of Singapore’s oldest department stores Robinsons has sparked questions on whether its demise was partly due to its lack of online presence.
Researching The Future
If there’s one thing businesses and individuals have learnt from the events of 2020, it is that a detailed plan to mitigate crises.
In the event of a crisis, immediate action is what’s required to protect mid- and long-term results.
To be able to do so, organisations require a plan that addresses “employee well-being, brand reputation, finance management, supply chain and legal issues,” said consultancy firm Ernst & Young.
As a start, businesses can begin to review what they have learnt in 2020 — what worked and what did not, and what business leaders can do differently.
Looking at how competitors are reacting and pivoting can also be a good way to glean insights on how the industry might change, and how the firm can be better ready to face it.
Another strategy can also be to relook at professional training, and ensuring that employees can be better poised to take on new responsibilities, such as digital marketing.
The Road To Recovery
It has been a challenging year for businesses, but the only way to move forward is to transform practices and be ready for any future crises that might come up.
In an interview with The Straits Times, Microsoft Singapore’s managing director Kevin Wo said: “innovation is no longer an option, but essential to survival and success.”
This is a sentiment echoed by many business leaders, and evidently, those that saw opportunities to pivot quickly are the ones that managed to tide through the crisis.
Featured Image Credit: Centaline Property