Business as “Newsual”: Working and doing business in the COVID-19 economy.

As lockdowns ease up around the world, many of us are going back to work. It won’t be business as usual until a vaccine is found. What will it be like to work and do business in the COVID-19 economy?

 

Working from home is all well and good for some sectors of the economy, but it’s not practical for everyone. Many industries require people to be in contact with other people – which means that until there’s an effective vaccine for SARS-CoV-2, there will be no “business as usual”.

 

So, what is Business as Newsual? Let’s define it as the new way of conducting business and going about your workday in the COVID-19 economy, or the economy before an effective SARS-CoV-2 vaccine is found.

 

Until there’s an effective vaccine and people feel safe again, there will be fewer in-person engagements ‒ less travel, more video conferencing ‒ as well as continued physical distancing, and longer and more tedious processes to ensure businesses comply with new safety regulations intended to reduce the spread of the virus.

 

Here’s what business as usual will be like in the new COVID-19 economy:

 

Less, but more intentional, travel

Before COVID-19, we were flying regularly to visit colleagues, headquarters and subsidiaries, customers and prospects. Many of us commuted – living in one city and working in another – every week. That has, of course, come to an abrupt halt.

 

However, even when we are able to fly regularly again, these flights and these visits will decrease, as we’ve realised that we can indeed be present, connect, manage and sell remotely using video conferencing and collaboration apps such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams and Slack. So, we will still travel, but these trips will become more spread out, more intentional and as a result, perhaps longer, as we reduce our trips, but make each one count.

 

We will fly less as fares increase due to fewer flights and fewer airlines competing. Physical distancing requirements will also demand that flights not operate at full capacity – so fares will need to increase to maintain profitability. In a way, we are going back to the way travel was a couple of decades ago – more space, more intentional trips, higher fares.

 

Here’s a good overview of differing views on the travel industry.

 

More video conferencing, but less formal and longer in duration

We’ve all experienced video conferencing by now in one form or another – either via a business tool like Zoom or Webex, or via consumer apps like WhatsApp or FaceTime. We are getting used to meeting virtually and feeling more comfortable doing so. It’s become routine for those of us working from home.

 

And, as things become more routine and comfortable for us, they will also become more casual, especially when video conferencing from home. With so many of us having had to care for our children while working from home, incidents like the now infamous scene from a BBC interview not too long ago will become more common and acceptable, as our home and professional lives begin to blend.

 

 

We’ll also either intentionally or unintentionally add more time to our video conferencing meetings as we try to connect on a personal level, since we are doing so less frequently in person. The idle chat outside the meeting room or while waiting for others to arrive before a meeting starts, will now happen at the start of your video conference as people try to make human connections with colleagues in a virtual environment.

 

However, others will try to shorten them and do away with the normal niceties as video conferencing fatigue sets in. If you feel tired from video conferencing, here’s a great explanation of why, and some helpful tips from the World Economic Forum.

 

Industry events aren’t likely to be in person for a long time

Events have either been cancelled or gone virtual. Until a vaccine is found and the danger of contagion is enormously reduced, in-person events ‒ if they happen at all ‒ will either allow fewer exhibitors and attendees, or require much larger floor space for sessions and exhibition areas due to physical distancing requirements.

 

No more packed auditorium or buzzing exhibition halls. And no more conference give-aways (freebies or SWAG) or paper-based brochures and business card exchanges due to the risk of passing on the virus on paper or other items. What about all of those hot buffets for breakfast and lunch? They’ll probably be replaced with brown-bag meals to be eaten at a distance from others. And no more big event parties and cocktail mixers for networking.

 

Office layouts will need to be changed

Expect businesses to rethink and change office layouts to accommodate the requirement for physical distancing. Some businesses may choose to downsize their office space altogether to save on costs, since remote working has proven to work well for many. Twitter recently announced that they were letting all of their employees work from home "forever". Read how this could impact salaries and where people choose to live if other companies follow suit.

 

Other businesses will use the space they have, but change to hot-desking and staggered, flexible in-office schedules, while others will add more space to accommodate for physical distancing. Here's an article from the New York Times that goes into more detail about how office layouts will need to change.

 

Touchless access control and automated doors will also need to be considered, to facilitate contactless access to office space and meeting rooms. Cubicles might make a comeback to create physical barriers between people in smaller spaces. Meeting rooms will be used, but less frequently, and will not be filled to capacity to allow for physical distancing.

 

And what about elevators? How do you get thousands of people into a high-rise building in a timely manner if physical distancing limits the number of people allowed in an elevator at once? Will you need someone dedicated to pushing floor buttons for others?

 

Here’s another good overview of some of the changes to expect in the office environment.

  

Touchless access control and automated doors will also need to be considered, to facilitate contactless access to office space and meeting rooms. Cubicles might make a comeback to create physical barriers between people in smaller spaces. Meeting rooms will be used, but less frequently, and will not be filled to capacity to allow for physical distancing.

 

Here’s a good overview of some of the changes to expect.

 

More working from home, and more flexibility

Those of us fortunate enough to be in a job that can be performed from home should see more flexibility from employers and our own increased willingness to work from home a couple of times a week, or when family situations require it. We’ve now proven that it is possible to do our jobs without coming into the office, so that initial hurdle of getting the business to buy in to the idea has been overcome. Productivity loss has been minimal and almost half of employees surveyed would prefer to work from home.

 

Some companies may begin to offer a monthly allowance for office supplies or a once-off office refurbishment allowance to allow employees to set themselves up properly with a good chair and desk to work from.

 

Less selling, and more relationship building

Expect fewer leads – unless you are one of the exceptions of businesses doing well right now – and for those leads to take longer to close. The future is uncertain for everyone, so purchase decisions are harder to make.

 

Show empathy and consideration to your customers who are showing interest in your product or service, but are hesitant to commit. Offer flexible payment terms to help and if that doesn’t work, simply use this time to build up your pipeline.

 

Instead of pushing for the sale, focus on building a relationship and staying top of mind by delivering value in small increments through helpful advice and guidance, and regular, friendly check-ins with no suggestion of an ulterior motive to sell or close.

 

When there is more certainty and people have recovered financially, you will reap the rewards.

 

Open for business, but at a slower and more methodical pace and with additional costs

What 9/11 did for security requirements in travel, COVID-19 is doing for health and safety requirements in the workplace environment. Touchless access control, automated doors, regular sanitation of all surfaces, the provision of PPE and face masks, and improvements in air circulation are just some of the changes that may be required to keep employees (and customers) safe at work.

 

As the threat of contagion and the spread of the novel coronavirus remains real, businesses will need to abide by strict health and safety compliance regulations that are currently being drafted, to remain operational.

 

The novel coronavirus can survive on certain surfaces and materials for hours and even days, depending on the material. So, businesses and workers will need to be meticulous in their processes and record-keeping when it comes to health and safety.

 

The cost of operating a business will go up as a result, as business add on the cost of face masks, hand sanitisers, disinfectants and more frequent cleaning services to disinfect workplaces.

 

Every industry and workplace will have their own set of regulations and requirements depending on their working environment, nature of work and resulting risk levels. For example, to address the specific requirements for field sales teams, Skynamo recently hosted a webinar with two South African occupational health specialists, Dr Frank Fox and Dr Stefanus Snyman, discussing what all field sales teams need to know about the new COVID-19 Health & Safety Regulations. You can download a free recording of the webinar, hosted live on 7 May 2020.

 

The one thing that will not change: the need to connect

We are experiencing so much change in so little time, that it can feel overwhelming. But throughout this period, the one thing that hasn’t and will not change, is our need to connect with one another.

 

The pace of business has slowed, and we are all practising physical distancing, but isolation has made the need to connect grow stronger. So even during “business as newsual”, make the time and effort to reach out and connect with one another and build relationships.

 

Here’s a beautiful ad from Apple that reminds us of our need to connect.

 

 

The above is a list of areas I see being impacted by the new regulations and business requirements brought on by the threat of COVID-19. I am no expert in any of the above and am simply expressing my opinion as someone with over 20 years of work experience and business travel. Follow some of the links provided for more views from experts. If you have any comments or different opinions, please feel free to get in touch!