Author: Gary Hibberd
Date: 6 October 2020
I was talking to a young businessman the other day (let’s call him ‘John), about his business and how things had been going during these ‘challenging’ times.
Sitting opposite me, across a virtual meeting, John discussed how his business had been operating and what changes he had made, and how things had changed for him and his business.
“To be honest, the ‘new norm’, feels very much like the ‘old norm’ to me. Except to say that when we use to work from home, we’re now ‘living at work’!”
I sat, listening as he told me how his software service business, had always been geared up for remote working, but not to the extent that we’re in now.
“It’s the difference between spending two weeks on a tropical island, and feeling like you’ve been marooned there! It sounds nice at first, but then reality kicks in! One of the things I’ve been very conscious of is making sure we don’t overly rely on email and IM (Instant Messaging), like Team Chats, to communicate. Regular check-ins with the team have made sure everyone is ok. I also make it a point of randomly messaging people and seeing if they fancy a coffee over Teams; I call it ‘Toffee Time’!”
His approach is clearly working as he explained that staff engagement and support has never been higher, and motivation across the business increased, even though some client work was put on hold.
“When a couple of clients put a ‘Change Freeze’ in place, there were some concerns by some of the team. But I put them to work on coming up with new and innovative solutions, and projects. I asked for volunteers to form a virtual team, to focus on new products and services. I asked for papers and plans that we could use for current and future clients. In part, I knew we needed this, but I also wanted to keep them from becoming despondent. I also set to work on documenting some of our operational tasks. The result? We have a highly energised team, we have some cool Cloud solutions that we’re now talking to you guys about, and we’re now going for ISO9001 and ISO27001, with you guys.”
In truth, his business is highly reliant on our digital universe and therefore has thrived as people have become accustomed to holding virtual meetings like the one we were holding. “In the past, if I had to see a prospective client, I would often be asked to attend a meeting at their premises. But now people are more open to the idea of virtual meetings. It’s like they’ve discovered that ‘face-to-face’ doesn’t mean being IN their face! This has saved us a considerable amount of time, which would usually be wasted on trains etc.”
Not everyone is so lucky
Of course, not everyone has been so lucky as John. Many businesses have suffered, and entire sectors are struggling to adapt to an ever-changing landscape. Like trying to build a house on quicksand, the ground around us is constantly changing, and people are reacting in ways which are difficult to predict.
On top of the economic uncertainties which are difficult enough to navigate, we must also consider the difficulties surrounding the increase in Cybercrime, and the risk of unintentional Data breaches (due to human error).
I’ve spoken to business owners, who have been the victim of mandate fraud, and to individuals who have become the victims of online scams, and social engineering (on the phone). Although I haven’t performed any hard studies myself, I can tell you that I have personally seen an increase in calls for help, following a Data breach or a Cyber related fraud (e.g. mandate, or Ransomware).
Mr Brightside; Contingency Planning
Yes, things are tough at the minute. There is no escaping that fact. We do need to think about the future, even if it is not the distant future and make plans for the next 3, 6 and 12mths. Even if you only focus on the next 3 months, then that may be enough for now.
How are your people feeling? What time and effort are you putting in, to make sure that they’re not just surviving, but they’re thriving? This isn’t just about considering the mental health of your teams (which is essential), but also their physical wellbeing. Are they geared up for working at home for long periods? Do they need new chairs? Desks? Monitors? Have you asked them?
How often do you check-in with them? But also, how often do you check in with your Clients? They’re people too. How are they being affected? What can you do to support them? It may be that you can help them with an introduction that helps their business. This isn’t about seeing what else you can sell them. It’s about seeing what challenges they have, that you could solve.
Do you still need those large offices, now that people are comfortable working from home? Can you downsize your office space? If so. How? What can you lose? We’ve seen businesses looking to downsize, and thereby reduce costs. Moving their Servers/comms rooms to our Data Centres has meant that they can look at different, more cost-effective office space for this ‘new norm’. Saving money on utilities and maintenance is justification alone for taking a look at the premises you occupy, and evaluating their use, and predicted use for the next 3 – 12mths.
By now, you’ll know which processes need improving. Are the processes documented? Maybe now is the time to look at how you operate? ISO 9001 or ISO 27001 will help you become more competitive, but also improve operational efficiencies. After all, both are ‘Quality’ systems; The former focusing on Quality of products and services, and the later on Quality of Information Security. Is this something you could focus on, in the next 3 to 6 months?
How are you going to ensure systems and services stay current, and protected in this world of isolation we’re all living in? Since Data left the server rooms and made the leap on to mobile devices, we know that we’re less-and-less in control of that Data. So what happens now, now that Data is sitting in people’s homes; Is it unprotected and uncontrolled? What are you going to do to make sure you’re geared up for the next 3 – 6 months?
Even when it feels like we’ve been marooned on a desert island, we’re NOT an island. We don’t operate in a vacuum. Who do you rely on for your services? How are they doing? If they suddenly went out-of-business, would it have an impact on you? Reviewing providers has always been a good idea, and now is a perfect time.
As John observed previously; We’re no longer working at home, we’re “Living at Work”. This is the new norm. It’s not necessarily a bad thing. It’s just different. COVID19 has taught us many things; not least-of-which is that we must adapt to an ever-changing landscape. But what doesn’t change, and I hope it will never change, is our desire, as humans, to connect and collaborate.
Living at work is the ‘new norm’, and we need to make it as comfortable and safe a place to live as possible, for everyone.
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