As news breaks that longstanding high street brands Debenhams and Topshop have little hope of rescue from administration, thousands of workers now face an uncertain future. In a bitter irony for a company that suffered from a lacklustre online marketing strategy, Debenhams’ website crashed as savvy bargain hunters sought to make purchases of remaining stock at up to 70% off. This week it has also been announced that Tesco will repay the £585 million it received in business rate relief due to the Covid-19 outbreak. Chairman John Allan stated that the Tesco’s board are “conscious of our responsibilities to society.” Sainsbury’s and Aldi have followed suit, perhaps signalling a sea change in the business landscape due to the Coronavirus. This thus prompts the question, what lessons can businesses learn from the tumult of 2020?
- Diversifying your sales channels is vital: The demise of Topshop and Debenhams has in no small part been down to online competitors such as Boohoo and Amazon providing comparable products at cheaper prices via their greater online presence. Even before lockdowns the trend was a world of increasing online and contactless payments, with traditional cash purchases on the decline. To ensure your business is ready for anything, take a look at our great eCommerce payment options, with industry leading rates.
- Accepted business practices have been overturned, companies will need to adapt: As consumer goods giant Unilever trials a 4 day working week in New Zealand along with finance heavyweights such as Virgin Money, it is clear there are no more sacred cows or unquestioned orthodoxies in the business world. Working from home has shown an entire generation of employees and managers that companies can be responsive and adapt quickly to massive structural changes. All of the traditional business norms are now called into question: expensive office space, face to face meetings, the 9 to 5 workday, and the five-day working week. Facilitated by the internet and the ever-increasing plethora of ways to communicate, the number of businesses that can now consider themselves footloose is rising exponentially. To succeed in the post-Covid world, managers and business leaders will have to become more open minded than ever before.
- Responsibility will be at the heart of corporate thinking: As businesses large and small have accepted public assistance in the face of the pandemic, there is now an implicit contract and perceived stake between civil society and the corporate world. This is not unprecedented, as the public monitored very closely the activities of major banks in the face of the 2008 financial crash, with an expectation of fiscal responsibility and a return on investment. It is not however simply the case that businesses will be forced to act in the public good because they are recipients of public funds, but rather this was the endpoint of the pre-existing trend of ethical business. As corporations have taken moral stands on subjects such as fair trade, the environment, and racial equality, it makes sense that corporate responsibility should extend to wider society at a time when it is likely that many will be suffering due to the pandemic and its economic impact.
- The business environment has relaxed: Suits and business attire are out as sales plummet, while everyone being thrown into the same Covid predicament has broken down traditional barriers between management and employees. Video calls have given an unusually candid look into life outside work, with children, deliveries, and pets all gate-crashing business meetings. The usual formalities have had to take a back seat in favour of a more understanding, more personal work life. While on the surface this is a positive change, for some it has brought some unwarranted side effects. During lockdowns and even after, the idea that you are permanently contactable for work matters has blurred the boundaries between work and home, while it is reported 73% of Brits this year have suffered from ‘Zoom anxiety’ fuelled by fears of technical problems and being unable to read the other’s body language.
- E-Learning is taking off: Upskilling and training staff has always entailed considerable time and expense, as sending employees to dedicated training centres can often involve overnight stays and venue costs. Now with all business functions being run via video calls, the popularity of receiving training via pre-recorded and live lessons is booming. Many companies are now seeing the value of investing in bolstering the skill base of their employees, rather than seeking new talent.
It is clear that 2020 has made huge changes to business, just as it has to all other aspects of our lives. As with other pivotal moments such as the 2008 financial crash and the 9/11 attacks, the changes to patterns of behaviour are likely to be long lasting. Business leaders would do well to learn these new rules.