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by Amity Millhiser
May 14, 2020
by Amity Millhiser
May 14, 2020
No one could have predicted the environment we’re currently living and working in as the result of the COVID-19 pandemic. Life has been put on hold and the business community has been rocked seemingly overnight. Flash back to just a month or so ago and you’d find that the majority of companies had been instituting what most viewed as sound resiliency plans, with corporate governance, crisis preparedness, and digital transformation the keys that made many organizations confident they could withstand unchartered waters.
While this type of planning has certainly positioned some to better face today’s unprecedented environment than others, the difference between now and a few weeks ago is that even with preparation, no one could have anticipated the speed and scale with which COVID-19 has affected the livelihood of our people and the stability of our economy. Finance leaders recently shared how this pandemic has shifted their outlook in just a small window of time and there is resignation among leaders that no one is immune from having to look more closely at how business-critical factors like liquidity, supply chain diversification, IT infrastructure, and talent management can withstand such a generation-defining crisis. Now more than ever scenario planning is taking a front seat as organizations take swift action to manage the toll COVID-19 has taken on their business, their employees, and their bottom line.
What leaders do now matters — and the steps they take will impact our economy as a whole. As the Chief Clients Officer at PwC U.S., I see how we are advising our clients from across industries, geographies, and sectors to take action. These are the themes that are playing out in our conversations:
What we’ve seen in a short amount of time is COVID-19 essentially accelerate the need for digital capabilities, proving to many organizations that they are either capable of a pivot to a digitally fit organization quickly, or that they need to plan to be in time for the next crisis. It is clear now more than ever that having a workforce that is equipped to navigate this new remote, digital-centric way of working is not only beneficial, but essential.
Digital, mobility and collaboration tools have been put to the test during this time — and those that invested in these capabilities and trained their people to use them before COVID-19 are adapting to the remote working environment better than others. The productivity that some leaders feared would decline as their people transitioned to remote work has actually held steady in many cases as the result of strong IT infrastructure, tech-enablement, and digital upskilling programs. In some industries, projects that were previously done manually are being innovated in real-time to be done remotely. And of course, the ability for employees to quickly shift to videoconferencing to stay connected with their teams has kept a glimmer of normalcy intact and morale strong, factors essential to working through crisis.
Not only that, but I’ve also personally heard stories from our people and our clients about how remote working has created camaraderie between those that work together frequently. Videoconferencing – especially with visitors like children and pets in the background – allows us a glimpse into the real lives of those we work with most and breaks down the formality of our relationships, leading to stronger empathy and better communication! Which brings me to my next point…
Experience is key to customer loyalty, and that means our employees are the number one factor in our business’ success as they serve and communicate with clients. That hasn’t changed just because many of our businesses have shifted to remote working and we cannot be together in person for the time being. If anything, the lack of physical togetherness with our customers means that human connection is at a premium now.
If staying at home to “flatten the curve” has taught us anything, it’s that we crave connection. As business leaders make decisions to automate different parts of operations, we cannot underestimate how valuable the human connection is for business. And because of the critical role people play in a customer’s journey with our brands, they need to be taken care of so that they come to work as their best selves and project a positive, authentic experience — and frankly, feel empowered and equipped to manage through a crisis like this one.
This includes arming people with the right technology to do their jobs, checking in often to avoid burnout, and ensuring needs outside of work are met (e.g., health, wellness and family considerations). In today’s environment, employees simply have a greater constellation of needs, and it is leadership’s responsibility to make sure we are sustaining support to meet them, even – and especially – when times are tough.
Beyond just the value of a diversity of viewpoints, leaders also need to consider the diversity of their people’s current situations, and different at-home environments — because let me tell you, no two are alike. Perhaps employees are anxious about their family’s health or have e-learning obligations with children out of school. These factors affect how people show up to work, and the key to inclusion is to maintain an open, candid dialogue with our people about their needs, listening with empathy, and making adjustments to how we operate to accommodate.
Moreover, what we’ve seen over recent weeks is that crises like COVID-19 can stir up bias and disproportionately affect minority communities and those among us that are the most vulnerable, so now is the time for leaders to double down on driving diversity and inclusion efforts.
Ultimately, people are the backbone of our economy and our organizations — but despite all of the above, we’ve all seen how COVID-19 is taking a toll on our nation’s workforce, even as businesses work to prevent losses and transition their employees to remote models where possible.
While every organization is dealing with a different set of challenges around workforce now, 26% of US CFOs we recently surveyed say they are actively considering issuing layoffs in the next month — this is an unfortunate reality that some companies are having to face, and that others may have to consider as the crisis rolls on. But this number also shows that the majority of leaders are thinking creatively when it comes to how to keep their employees safe at work, and are treating layoffs as a last resort. By reevaluating things like pay structures, big purchases, and other cost levers, I see business leaders everywhere recognizing the impact that the pandemic is having on individuals and working hard to put their people first as they keep their businesses steady — which not only is the right thing to do but is also what is best for the recovery of our economy.
COVID-19 is changing our businesses and society rapidly and in ways we never saw coming, but the one thing that isn’t changing is the value of people – What they are capable of doing for the economy, for business, and for each other. As we begin to think about how we rebuild after this crisis – and prepare for the next one – our businesses and society will simply be stronger if we put people first.
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