As talks take place around the potential easing of local lockdown restrictions to level 3, more and more businesses are making preparations to reopen.

Since lockdown restrictions were eased to level 4 on 1st May, we’ve seen a number of businesses come back to life. With the easing of restrictions surrounding ecommerce last week, we anticipate that economic activity will start whirring once again.

The question many business owners have however is how to reopen and address concerns government, customers and employees may have.

But more than that, as we’ve heard many time before – our way of life pre-COVID-19 will never be the same.

It’s something chief executive officer for Accenture in Africa, Vukani Mngxati, is acutely aware of.

“Reopening requires more than a return to normal, however, because the unpredictable and long-lasting period that follows this pandemic will feature fundamental changes to economic activity, fast-changing cultural norms, societal values and behaviours,” says Mngxati.

The CEO hammers home the point that reopening an economy does not mean the virus is gone and companies should be prepared for reopening to come with its own pitfalls and turbulence.

For this reason, it’s important that decision makers consider multiple scenarios regarding the spread of COVID-19 and how it may impact the business should it reopen.

“Given the range of potential scenarios for the evolution of the crisis, companies will need to be prepared to change course on a dime. Any steps that are taken to reopen should therefore be easily reversible and scalable. Employees are likely to be concerned about the prospect of physical interaction while the virus is still circulating. Companies will therefore need to ensure that they provide a safe and secure work environment, communicating with their workforce transparently to build trust,” the Accenture CEO says.

Part of reopening may involve not opening doors at all. With many folks now working from home, businesses owners and managers should be ready for a workforce that challenges the norms and prefers working from home.

This in turn will necessitate digital transformation on a massive scale. Careful planning needs to be done not only to comply with regulations laid out by government but to earn the support of employees as well.

The Accenture CEO goes on to outline five things that need to happen when reopening:

  • Put people first – Knowing what is really going on in the lives of employees is essential to creating the next generation successful business. Technology, processes and employees will need to become even more truly human in how they interact with people. It starts with responsible leadership.
  • Design spaces that work – Companies must create a safe working environment that gives people confidence to return to work premises and to adjust to the new virtual / physical hybrid way of working. Support for employee well-being and mental health is a priority. The future workplace will also need new approaches to security.
  • Solve in phases – The reopening is just the start. Companies should plan for a phased return that responds to unforeseen events, slippage, and reversals. Companies should see this not as a time to return to “normal”, but an opportunity to rethink, reengineer and improve future operations.
  • Commit to an elastic cost structure – Having secured short-term liquidity, companies will need to focus on the longer-term financial health and affordability of the business. That means moving from rapid cost reductions to building a resilient cost management mindset, and from balance sheet protection to long-term investment.
  • Get future ready – The secret to the long-term success of reopening lies in building new capabilities: fresh approaches to innovation, supported by more holistic technology strategies that support innovation at scale. Purpose, empathy and agility must be at the centre of new customer growth opportunities.

While the face of our businesses, our jobs, our hobbies and the world has been changed forever thanks to COVID-19 we should also be aware that this presents new opportunities.

“Those that can reinvent themselves—their processes, customer experiences, employee and social contracts, and do so in ways that further their purpose – will win,” says Mngxati.

“Outmanoeuvring uncertainty – by mitigating immediate challenges while building a better future – will create organisations that one day look back on the crisis as the darkness before the dawn,” the CEO concludes.

[Image – CC 0 Pixabay]