Company boards across the world have had to work closely with their leadership teams through COVID-19. Following the declaration of a global pandemic, peak bodies including the Australian Institute of Company Directors quickly provided information sessions and key steps for boards to consider and prioritise.
Australian businesses responded with their essential workers remaining in the office, or employees sent home, whilst some businesses pivoted or were forced into hibernation awaiting the opportunity to renew. Two months has now passed and as a board member, our priorities have changed too. In the following, I will elaborate on the six questions as a board member you should be prepared to consider and ask in the COVID-19 recovery phase.
1. Business Impact. How resilient was your leadership team, financial position, business model and supply chain to change? Consider the impact on revenue and cash flow, and the opportunities created for businesses to reconfigure their operations, and where possible to transform. Explore and unpack opportunities to maximise reputational gains, new capabilities, new products/services created, and work-from-home practices in order to create sustainable businesses that are better future-proofed.
2. Emergency Response. What did your COVID-19 emergency response look like and how well did it hold up? This is an opportunity to better understand whether the response was timely and led from the top, with responsible leadership. And to better understand how your business, employees and clients were impacted. Discuss how options were explored and looked at in protecting jobs. And consider to what extent the businesses’ disaster response systems in place guided your response strategy, and how the leadership teams will materialise your COVID-19 learnings for future disaster responses.
3. Wellbeing. How well did your plans contain an appropriate focus on employee wellbeing? Did you provide support to assess and mitigate health risks for your staff? Consider the ongoing support your leadership teams need, and the best way to support them.
4. Offsite Work. How effective were the businesses’ procedures and communications if staff were directed to work from home? Consider how quickly the executive teams were able to stand-up new emergency initiatives, and how effective was the strategy to communicate timely messages to internal and external stakeholders. This is an opportunity to reflect on the effectiveness of the communications strategy, and lessons learnt during this transition.
5. Return to the Office – or Remain at Home. Where do your employees intend to work, and where do you require them to work? Consider your digital capabilities as the lockdown has shifted the timeline for employees acquiring skills to use business tools for communication and teamwork. Governments and industry bodies have published return-to-office guidelines. Consider the risk assessment and management of office locations, transitioning employees back to the office, and the desire of many of your employees to continue to work from home. This is not only an opportunity to ensure that your business is COVID-Safe, but also a chance to scale down office demands via hybrid work arrangements and digital tools, and to boost business productivity for the ‘new normal’.
6. Plan Ahead. What can your businesses expect in the next 6-12 months in the business landscape; what demand shifts do you envisage? If growth is not an option right now, what strategies and actions can leadership teams develop up and put in place for 2021 and beyond? This is an opportunity to engage your leadership team in strategy and scenario planning for the future.