Rethinking Work Life

On March 8 learn how the COVID-19 crisis changed the dialogue around work life and Diversity, Equity and Inclusion.

5 Tips for Strategic Planning During COVID-19

by Orion Talmay

It’s understandable to feel unmoored in such turbulent times, but you can’t stop looking ahead. You need to come up with a new path to follow. Here are some tips.

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Towards the end of 2019, you most likely mapped out a plan for the coming year. All the goals, all the milestones, and all the deadlines you’d seek to hit. Preparation is one of the keys to excellent performance, after all: when you know what you need to do, all that’s left is to execute. Then the COVID-19 pandemic arrived, and the best laid plans got torn asunder.

For the first few weeks after lockdown measures were deployed throughout the world, simple survival was a smart goal. Not all companies managed it, after all. Many heavily reliant upon footfall couldn’t endure the conditions and quickly folded. Others couldn’t navigate the transition to remote working and had to furlough or fire their employees while they tried to adapt.

At this point, though, plenty of companies have managed to get used to operating remotely (or at least with various limitations in place), and are now wondering how to proceed. The answer is that they need to look ahead — to assess the current conditions and chart a path through them. Here are some tips for planning strategically in the time of COVID-19:

Anticipate an indefinite lockdown

When will the lockdown measures come to an end? It depends on the country and the region, obviously, but they’ll need to be lifted slowly even in the best-case scenario according to the WHO — and each change will need to be held for a while before it’s possible to tell if it’s making things worse, in which case it will need to be rolled back.

Due to this, the best thing you can do is expect the lockdown to last indefinitely. Don’t simply assume that everything will be back to normal by this time next year, or even by the end of 2021. This is a once-in-a-generation problem that won’t be solved so neatly. Plan nothing that can’t be achieved primarily through remote working, and settle in for the long haul.

Get everyone in the right mindset

A company is only as capable as its employees, and human resources is a massive concern during this pandemic due to the stress and anxiety that so many people feel. Those with friends or family members who’ve contracted COVID-19 are under the most pressure, and then there are people with existing mental health issues who aren’t positioned to endure the worry.

It doesn’t end there, though, because anyone can have a tough time in the midst of a pandemic, particularly when they’re isolated and unused to working remotely. Some people are stuck with housemates they don’t like very much, unable to get away from them for very long (very tricky). Others are lonely. Even people who already worked alone and kept to themselves are scared.

It would be enormously wasteful to put a lot of time and effort into a comprehensive plan that ended up being misused, and that’s a major risk with anxious employees. To address that risk, invest in support for your employees: find the time to talk to them individually to see how they’re doing, and see what you can do to help.

Could they benefit from some therapy or coaching? Do they need supplies? Home office equipment? Put in some orders: anything that you think will help will return its value in the long run.

Use huge companies as guides

There’s always value in taking inspiration from companies with resources you can’t even fathom, and that’s particularly true at the moment. All the top corporations will be investing vast sums in figuring out how best to thrive in these circumstances, throwing money at the problem as a matter of great urgency, and you can infer the conclusions they reach by paying attention.

Pay particular attention to other companies in your industry. Are they battening down the hatches in anticipation of further difficulties, or are they putting everything they have into growth measures like marketing? If it’s the latter, then what are they aiming for? Are they hiring in great numbers, or investing in new software, or going through rebranding?

You shouldn’t simply copy everything that bigger businesses are doing, obviously. Just look at them as general indicators of industry conditions, and react accordingly.

Focus on ethical operation

You’ve surely heard stories about people who’ve bought up medical supplies, raised the prices, and tried to profit hugely by selling them to people in need. Have some of those people made money? Presumably, yes — but they’ve destroyed their reputations, most likely beyond the point of redemption in the eyes of the public.

This is a time for cooperation, not competition. If we can’t glean a sense of perspective from many thousands of people dying, and many others fighting to survive, then what are we doing? And if you devise a plan involving any kind of conduct that most people would consider unethical, you’ll end up regretting it.

The eyes of the world will be on you as soon as you act upon it, and the intensity of the gaze will be beyond anything you could envision. You’ll forever be known as a company that concentrated on profit alone during a horrendous life-costing crisis, and you’ll be lucky if anyone still wants to work for you. So remember what’s important, and look for ways to profit through morally-justifiable actions.

Ensure clear communication

I talked about getting employees in the right mindset, but you shouldn’t just help them get working then expect them to carry on in perpetuity with no updates. They’ll want to know what’s happening in the company. How’s the bottom line? Do you expect to furlough anyone? What does the sales pipeline look like?

You don’t need to tell employees everything (and indeed you shouldn’t), but you should give them regular updates so they know where the company stands. You should also take this approach with your clients and any business partners. Keep them apprised of your results and what you’re expecting to achieve in the coming months — this will make them less likely to reconsider working with you during conditions that are damaging a lot of business relationships.

You might not be able to achieve what you thought you could achieve during 2020, but there’s still so much that your company can do, so focus on the positives and keep moving forward.

Orion Talmay is a wellness expert and life coach.