By Bernd Debusmann Jr
Although there is little companies can do to prepare for massive events such as the coronavirus pandemic, planning ahead to be adaptive can help them weather the storm
“You’d have to be a psychic or some sort of spiritual guru to be able to tell this was going to happen,” John Sanei explains. “Most businesses aren’t prepared, because most human beings aren’t.”
Sanei, a South African best-selling author and speaker, is in the business of future-proofing. He travels the globe helping businesses prepare for the knowns and unknowns of days that are yet to come.
Even Sanei, however, could never have foreseen the massive impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic ‘Black Swan’ event (unpredictable event) that has swept across the globe. In the UAE alone, numerous businesses have been forced to adjust once promising forecasts amid plummeting revenues, or have been forced to scale back, in some cases by cutting wages or firing staff altogether.
“We’ve had a few of these over the last decades,” Sanei explains. “In 2001 we had 9/11. Then we had the 2008 [financial] crisis, and now we have this. I don’t think anybody can prepare. These things come from left field.”
While businesses might not be able to see events such as the coronavirus on the horizon, that doesn’t mean that they can’t prepare for an unexpected future. From preparing a firm’s work-at-home plans to adjusting HR practices, experts say there are a number of steps companies can take now to prepare for tomorrow’s unknowns.
The coronavirus pandemic is unique among previous ‘Black Swans’ in that it has forced businesses to face the stark realities of having to operate virtually, with employees around the world forced to work from home amid growing lock-downs.
Renuka Gunjahalli, a serial entrepreneur and the founder of Dubai-based Jupiter Business Mentors, said that Covid-19 has – more than any other single event in the recent past – showed businesses that in the future they must be prepared to shift operations online at short notice.
“It’s important that [businesses] innovate themselves as companies to remain relevant in their respective businesses. Now is the time you can look into doings things digitally – all your services, products and trading activity – so that it doesn’t get affected,” she explains. “It’s important, on a day’s or even a week’s notice, that you should change your method of operating and still be in business.”
Importantly, Gunjahalli says that companies who are painfully learning this lesson in the wake of the virus outbreak may find themselves benefiting in the short term – long before the next crisis strikes. “We’ve found that there is a 40 percent increase in productivity when you’re working remotely,” she adds. “That’s something good that would come out of this. We don’t have to feel that when you’re working out of your respective offices that you’re not contributing. That’s a misconception. Research has shown that’s a better way.”
Additionally, many businesses in the UAE that have been hard hit by a lack of proper contingency planning, despite repeated warnings from health officials around the world that a pandemic was a possibility.
“The problem with contingency plans is that you only look at them when you perhaps, potentially, think you need them,” said Claire Donnelly, an MCIPD qualified human resource professional on an episode of AB Live. “I think businesses need to start having up-to-date contingency plans the whole time.”
Additionally, Donnelly said that businesses should think about work-from-home plans ahead of time to prepare for any mass disruption, as has been the case with the coronavirus pandemic.
“We talk about it a lot as HR, and employees want it,” she added. “But we’re restricted here very much by labour laws. Perhaps this is a great opportunity for a refresh of labor law.”
In Sanei’s view, the widespread negative impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has highlighted the need for an entirely new way of thinking to plan for what’s ahead, whether it be global calamities or new ways businesses can operate.
“There’s a move from IQ, to EQ, to AQ. We all know what IQ is, we all know what emotional quotient is, but actually what organisations need to become in the world today and moving forward is AQ, or adaptable quotient,” he said. “That’s how flexible and adaptable your organization is in order to prepare for what’s coming.”
“Preparation will be vital to come through this massive shift, which has come as an absolute surprise,” he added.
Additionally, Sanei said that organisations need to ensure that their leaders are adaptable to prepare for unknown situations in the future.
“Organisations are a shadow of their leader,” he said. “If the leader of that organization is not adaptive naturally, its stuck in efficiency programmes…and is not focused on recreating and recalibrating itself.”