Navigating the Second Wave

By Orla O'Callaghan

Irish businesses are facing a winter like no other. With Covid-19 cases rising again, a nationwide move to Level 3 restrictions and fraught Brexit talks underway, businesses are heading into a period of deep uncertainty that is perhaps unparalleled in living memory. The reality that Covid-19 isn’t going to blow over anytime soon has begun to sink in. Leaders must brace for the challenges ahead and begin formulating their strategic responses now.

Most businesses will now be trying to assess and improve upon their initial response to the Covid-19 outbreak. While some companies will have spotted their exposure points early on and adapted to survive, many others will have been structurally weakened by the onset of the first wave. Either way, it’s safe to say the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic on businesses globally has made clear that risk assessment and contingency planning need to move to another level.

Now is the time to pause, take a moment to assess what was done well and what could be improved upon, and then address these issues. This, of course, will mean different things for different businesses. It might mean reorganising shift workers to optimise social distancing in the workplace; or it could mean disaster planning for a warehouse worker outbreak or reviewing your work-from-home scheme and pinpointing improvements to enable better cohesion. This is a critical time for companies to engage with their employees on what has worked well for them over the last six months, and what adaptations may not be sustainable. Responsiveness, adaptability and agility are the new key words for living with the ominous shadow of a second wave.

In short, businesses must handle the ongoing crisis with direction and practicality. According to a recent article by Forbes “rapid, coordinated responses require top-down leadership.” If you are prepared to restructure your organisation from the bottom up in an attempt to brace for the impact of a second wave, the plan must be clearly communicated from the top down. We are collectively experiencing overwhelming amounts of data each day from the government, health officials and the media, and it can be difficult to find clarity and clear messaging. It is critical that the messaging coming from business leadership is cohesive, clear and controlled. Use internal messaging systems, statements and publish internal guides so that your messaging and stance is not only clear to your employees, but also your external stakeholders. With consistency and normality so often missing in today’s ‘never normal’, this is a chance for your company to get their messaging established and aligned.

It is in times of crisis that you can separate the great leaders from the good. As we head into yet another month of our large-scale Covid-19 remote-work experiment, motivation, performance, and well-being will lag for many. A great leader will recognise the need for new tools to re-energise their teams, to accurately identify and diagnose recurring struggles, and to help employees address their problems.

Empathy gets to the heart of what leadership is truly about – while it’s important at all times, in turbulent times like these it is even more vital. If people don’t feel you care about them when the chips are down, they’ll know you don’t care any other time.

Many employees have made whole-sale changes to their lives to accommodate the adaptions necessary to keep businesses operating during the pandemic. Employees have worked at home while caring for small children, dealt with sick family members, and pushing their own worries and anxieties to the side during this immensely troubling time. Acknowledgement of the difficult circumstances and appreciation of these extra efforts is critical for morale and perseverance as we move into the next phase of this unusual chapter in history.

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