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The New Normal – Learnings from Asia’s COVID-19 response and the road to recovery.

The COVID-19 pandemic has shaken the world to its very foundations. It has impacted virtually every aspect of life and forced governments, businesses and individuals to make drastic changes to the way we live and work – and all of this within a few short months.  

This pandemic began in Asia and so the experience of, and response to, the crisis of businesses here is a few months ahead of the world. Based on conversations with our customers and what we see happening on the ground in the region, we have pulled together a short summary of some of the key things that many Asian businesses seem to be doing right and then building on these experiences, suggested a list of “must haves” for any businesss recovery. None of these are specific to any one business or sector; the lessons outlined below come from companies including SMEs, large financial institutions, growth FinTechs, e-commerce & transport conglomeratesairlines, online supermarkets and healthcare providers. 

What Asia has done right during COVID-19?

  1. Strong & effective leadership
    • Support: providing for staff, demonstrating empathy for new challenges that they are facing.
    • Direction: keep pushing managers and ensure focus on execution so leaders can think longer term.
    • Maintaining productivity: impact of work from home (WFH) and reduced working hours. It’s critical to ensure that employees have the right tools to be effective and agile.
  1. Communications
    • For people under WFH protocols, communication is probably the most important thing to get right - WFH was implemented immediately in Asia. The ‘how’ is as important as the ‘what’.
    • Use technology. Choose the right tool / channel (e.g. videocon (such as Zoom), email, chat (such as Slack or Teams), telephone, workflow management, document sharing) for the right tasks at the right time.
    • Be prepared not to get it right immediately. Ask for feedback and test and learn.
    • Think about whether remote working is feasible/desirable longer term: it can be done in a way that benefits lots of stakeholders and presents substantial cost saving opportunities.
    • For employees: retain sense of team and togetherness, share stories about challenges, explain impact on business and financials to staff – perhaps to a greater degree than otherwise and look at internal structures – teams, reporting and communication lines – aim for agility and efficiency.
    • For customers: let them know that supporting them remains your priority and what your limitations are so you can manage expectations. There are opportunities to generate goodwill right now- empathy and kindness are key - but it can also be lost overnight.
  1. Response and Recovery Plan
    • Execute your Business Continuity Plan – fast.
    • Put in place Recovery Plan (more on which below). Allocate responsibility, execute and keep moving forward. Be decisive.
    • Resist the temptation to ‘hibernate’ your business - you may miss opportunities and risk losing both market share when things return to ‘normal’ and the support of external shareholders. Identify any opportunities to pivot operations if you have other horizontals.
  1. Recovery and post-Covid
    • COVID-19 may be a catalyst for existing trends: increased digitization and changing consumer and workplace habits. It is highlighting the benefit of agile and flexible business models that can be scaled up and down relatively quickly.
    • Review supply chains: consider onshoring or regionalizing and diversifying supply chains to mitigate risk of weak links.
    • Look at fixed costs: consider outsourcing to manage the high costs of employing people.
    • Plan for the fact that activity and behaviours may not get back to ‘normal’ anytime soon - create the new normal.

The recovery – your “must haves”  

So, what can you do now to action these Asia learnings? Build your Recovery Plan! Below are the critical elements which any business should include in their Recovery Plan. 

  1. Government economic stimulus packages 
    • Research, explore and leverage all available government economic stimulus package offers, such as government’s furloughing support and business support loan or grant schemes 
    • Your main aim is to preserve your cash flow and liquidity position and to make it stretch for as long as possible.  
  1. Prioritisation exercise 
    • Undertake a prioritisation exercise to determine which parts of your business or operations you should focus on. This is the time to de-prioritise sites/activities or initiatives that have been underperforming.  
    • Identify opportunities in other parts of your business which you may have neglected, or which have not been a priority to date. Knowing when and in which direction to pivot your business will help you to build resilience and elasticity in your business.  
  1. Housekeeping – nail it before you scale it! 
    • Undertake a review of your existing systems, policies and procedures, controls and governance and risk management structures and protocols with a view to optimising them.  
    • Where you have identified any gaps, this is the time to work on enhancing or fine-tuning them. 
    • Put another way, see this as an opportunity to get your house in order. This will position you well to capture new customers and markets when the economy and consumer demand rebounds.
    • If, pre-COVID-19 you were planning to expand to new markets or regions, bedding down processes, systems and controls now will allow to do that with speed and with less risk.  
  1. Planning ahead and capture opportunities  
    • Planning for the rebound is crucial before the rebound happens, as demand will almost certainly be high. 
    • Build and incorporate resilience into your operating model/business, your processes and your people. 
    • This resilience should form an integral part of the new ‘normal’ and help with the recovery and post COVID-19 recovery effort. 
    • Leadership through the design and execution of a clear roadmap, as well as concrete and empathetic actions throughout this processare critical to ensuring that your organisation rides through the dark storm and can rebound quickly from the downturn.  

The new normal 

While it’s difficult to see the light at the end of the tunnel when you’re still in the midst of it, be assured that we will get to the other side. There have been crises in the past – not of this magnitude and reach to be sure – but businesses, particularly those in Asia, have managed to bounce back fast, some even in a stronger position How well your business will recover and bounce back will depend on how agile and resilient it is, coupled with your readiness to pivot and adjust your business model, customer value proposition and operations to meet the challenges and opportunities of the new ‘normal’.  

Danh Nguyen & Rob Shakespeare