How to leave lockdown safely… and strategically

22 Jun 2020 By Matt Hamnett

The world has changed since the start of the outbreak, says Matt Hamnett. So wellbeing is paramount in returning people to work, but firms must also make conscious strategic decisions

Going into lockdown was incredibly difficult to manage for organisations and their leaders.  Leaving it will likely be just as, if not more, challenging. Beyond the obvious task of making your workplace ‘Covid safe’, you need to reflect on how the world has changed since you last set foot in the office, and what this means for your strategy, transition and longer-term transformation.

Safety first

Your most pressing task is to work out how you’ll make your workplace safe for staff, customers, suppliers and other visitors once the government permits you to reopen. That means working through the government’s guidance on the five steps all businesses should take – including a Covid risk assessment – plus the more specific guidance relevant to your sector.  

Once you’ve done that, it’s a good idea to consult proactively with your staff to make sure you understand their concerns and have captured their ideas, before creating and implementing a set of detailed policies, processes and plans to make your workplace safe. You should do this work assuming the worst; work backwards from an avoidable infection in your planning.

Strategy next

Things have changed since we went into lockdown. People are more environmentally conscious, more aware of their physical and mental health, more family and community oriented, and less inclined to work long hours, than they were before the pandemic. Three-quarters (74 per cent) of businesses plan to move at least 5 per cent of their workforce to permanent remote working. Governments have accrued huge debts offsetting the economic impact of the pandemic.

You need to take a conscious view on which of the many changes we’re seeing will last beyond the immediate term, how they’ll impact on your market and how you’ll respond. That means doing a serious piece of work to gather insight from beyond and within your market so you can decide how your strategy, goals and plans need to change.

If you don’t do this, you’re making an unconscious decision to let the pandemic ‘pass through’ your business and see where it leaves you. If you do this work, you’ll likely spot issues and risks that you can mitigate – and opportunities to step ahead of your competitors.

Then transition

You need a very clear view on safety and a pretty clear view on strategy before you can confidently begin your transition out of lockdown. Your transition plan needs to include every specific and granular step you need to take to make your workplace safe and operational: from policy to process, system to signage. Your conscious decisions on strategy will help you make sure that you transition into the world as it exists now – not as you left it in March.

I’d advise you to manage transition much as you (hopefully) did in the original crisis; ie as a discrete programme of work, with strong, centralised leadership reporting direct to your top team, and intensively managing risks, issues and progress. It’s wise to include staff and customer journey mapping in your transition work – to make sure the combination of action you’re taking adds up to a coherent, effective whole experience.

Transition into transformation

Your balance sheet likely requires that you reopen as quickly and fully as you safely can. That means you won’t want or be able to reflect all of your strategic conclusions in your immediate transition plan. Your challenge is to future-proof transition as much as you reasonably can.

As soon as you see light at the end of the transition tunnel, you need to start thinking about your transformation for the post-pandemic world. That means reviewing your assumptions about the future in light of the latest external and internal insights, placing your strategic bets, and charting a comprehensive transformation roadmap that will deliver post-Covid success. All the usual advice on great transformation applies here – particularly when it comes to maintaining connectivity with your strategy and goals.

Staff engagement 

I am certain of two things: first, the last few months have been tough for your staff (whatever their particular experience of lockdown); second, you need engaged, enthused and talented people more now than you ever have – and perhaps ever will.

You need their insight to help you develop brilliantly detailed plans for a Covid-safe transition.  You need their support to operationalise those plans – to spot where they’re not working, and to propose and make changes that ensure they work. And you need them to help you transform into a business that succeeds in the post-pandemic world.

Leaving lockdown safely is necessary but not sufficient. The organisations that lead their markets in two years’ time will, I am sure, leave lockdown safely, strategically and with brilliant staff engagement.

Matt Hamnett is the founder of MH+A

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