Corona Virus outbreak is the first and foremost a human tragedy, affecting hundreds and thousands of people. Corona Virus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) is an infectious disease caused by severe acute respiratory syndrome corona virus 2(SARS-CoV-2). The disease, first identified in Wuhan, the capital of China’s Huwei province, has since spread globally, resulting in the ongoing 2019-2020 Corona virus pandemic. On 30th January 2020, the World Health Organization (WHO) declared the 2019-2020 corona virus outbreak a Public Health Emergency Concern (PHEIC) and a pandemic on 11 march 2020.
Due to the high rate of transmission and lack of antidotes for COVID-19, human life has already come to a standstill. Naturally, the business world is also facing its own consequences.
In recent weeks, we have seen the huge economic impact of the corona virus on the global economy, financial market and vulnerable sectors such as manufacturing, construction, tourism, hospitality, travel, transport and education. The Indian stock market index, the BSE SENSEX, and National Stock Exchange of India NIFTY 50 has fallen by 25% in the last 30 days.
As the stock market is falling gradually, investors are choosing less risky investments. Gold, traditionally considered a “safe haven” for investment in times of uncertainty, also saw a tumble in price briefly in March, as investors expect a global recession.
In China, many workers have been home bound since late January, disrupting factories that assemble electronics or make automotive parts. As a result, the electronics and automotive industry has been badly damaged.
Oil has slumped to prices not seen since June 2001. Investors fear that the global spread of the virus will further hit the global economy and demand for oil. The oil price had already been affected by a row between Opec, the group of oil producers, and Russia. The pandemic has driven the price down further.
The travel industry has been badly damaged, with airlines cutting flights and tourists cancelling business trips and holidays in the beginning, which escalated to more than 100 countries having travel restrictions due to the corona virus outbreak. Most countries now have a ban on commercial passenger transport. The travel and tourism industry accounts for 10% of the GDP and 50 million jobs are at risk worldwide.
Regional airline Air Deccan on Sunday announced ceasing of operations until further notice, becoming the first Indian airline to succumb to the lock down crisis. The airline sent all employees on sabbatical without pay. A major oil price crash in international markets came as godsend, but the oil producers’ bid to cut output and cushion the price fall may take away much of that advantage by the time the airlines are back in the sky again.
Sadly, criminals and hackers are also exploiting this situation and there has been a significant rise in Corona virus-themed malicious websites, with more than 16,000 new Corona virus-related domains registered since January 2020. Hackers are selling malware and hacking tools through COVID-19 discount codes on the internet.. Stock markets are plunging — down about 25% in last 30 days — oil prices are in free fall, supply chains are being disrupted, and in the middle of it all, small- and medium-sized businesses are dealing with frightened employees, skittish customers and an uncertain future. The situation is so dire, US President Donald Trump plans to meet with Senate leaders Tuesday to discuss a payroll cut, small business aid and help for hourly workers who might become sick.
Ever since the coronavirus started infecting people in China, Eric Plam, president of Skyroam, a San Francisco-based company that creates and sells Wi-Fi-enabled hotspots to businesses, has been busy figuring out how to keep his staff safe and his business operating.
Pic: Effect on Travel based businesses and start-ups
NOT TOO LATE TO PLAN
This wouldn’t have been an issue a decade ago, when businesses mostly conducted business closer to home, but now many companies are global.
“We encouraged small businesses to be more global and to export more, and now they’re more vulnerable to things like the corona virus,” says Andrew Sherman, a Washington, D.C.-based partner with Seyfarth, a global law firm.
Despite cases continuing to rise and markets sending people and companies in a panic, it’s not too late for businesses to set up remote work forces, communicate with staff and prepare for a worsening outbreak.
COMMUNICATE WITH THE STAFF
One of the most important things start-ups can do is communicate with the employees. Many people are likely concerned about their health and how they can continue working as more things get shut down.
Henry Albrecht, CEO of Limeade, has his own Limeade ONE platform comes with an internal communications feature where people can instant message each other. As soon as the outbreak’s seriousness became clear, Albrecht set up what he calls a “care in crisis” channel that automatically sends push notifications to staff whenever he posts. “There’s an intentional importance attached, because the messages are coming from me,” he says.
It’s in that channel where he provides updates on the virus itself — he’s posted a number of CDC videos on COVID-19 and how to monitor oneself for the disease — along with recommended hand washing and social-distancing procedures, travel updates (most are canceled) and ideas on how to work effectively from home.
Employees can also post their own messages in that channel, which he says is key. “It’s powerful,” he says about the two-way communication. “We want to hear from our people as well. We also have the ability to ask people to take a quiz so they can tell us if they need more information on something.”
INVEST IN WORK FROM HOME TECHNOLOGY
While most people likely have a phone, a computer and an internet connection, some may not have enough bandwidth to do the kind of work they do at the office at home. Some companies may also not be set up with the right collaboration tools, such as internal communications programs or secure Wi-Fi networks to allow for remote work.
Over the last couple of weeks, many companies are looking to find ways to help their staff work remotely.
For Albrecht, Microsoft Teams is coming in handy. It’s a collaboration program that allows people to video chat and work on Word files together from wherever they may be. Programs like Google’s G Suite, which comes with collaborative software like Google Docs, Sheets and Hangouts, come very handy in such situations.
CREATE A DISASTER PREPAREDNESS POLICY
A lot of companies have never planned for a crisis on this scale, but as many are finding out now, they need one.
A good plan will cover a number of things, including most importantly:
- Procedures and tools for remote work – It should spell out how people should work from home and what tools they’ll need to get the job done; how to handle travel; what to do about meetings and more.
- Insurance coverage for business closures or trip cancellations
- Financing – How to finance when no one is investing, what lines of credit are in place, etc.
- Supply chain alternatives
- Companies like restaurants or local movie theaters, will have to think hard about how to manage staff and cash flows if people stop going out.
All of this should be documented, as it shows that people are thinking about what could happen in a worst-case scenario, and it acts as an easy-to-reference guide on what to do, how to communicate and how to keep business running in difficult times. Every company needs all the elements of a crisis-management or disaster-preparedness plan in place.
No matter what happens, small- and medium-sized businesses will no doubt take some sort of hit to their bottom line. While the government may step in to help — the Finance Minister, Dr. Nirmala Sitharaman has already announced several measures to relieve immediate stress of businesses — business owners need to be proactive and do what they need to do to keep their doors open, even if their employees aren’t there.
A Leadership Lesson the Pandemic has Taught to CEO’s
“My Biggest Concern is Making Sure My Workers are Available for Deliveries” -R.S. Sodhi, Managing Director, Gujarat Co-operative Milk Marketing Federation (Amul)
Amul has sought the support of local governments to ensure that the distribution of milk is not disrupted, since it is an essential commodity.
“I have seen curfews in the past, but I have realised that our teams should also be taught how to handle such scenarios and manage with just 25% of the staff, and which authorities to talk to when our trucks are stopped.”
Apollo Hospitals Enterprise
“This Pandemic Reminds Us that We are All Equal and Connected” -Suneeta Reddy MD, Apollo Hospitals Enterprise
Being able to sit and discuss with colleagues and brainstorm on courses of action and business decisions, and being able to find out best practices from around the world, is a blessing.
It reminds us that we are equal regardless of our religion, culture, occupation or financial situation. It reminds us that we are all connected and the false borders we have put up give us no protection. It reiterates how important our health is and how we should not neglect it and, most importantly, it teaches us that our true work is not just our job, that’s just what we do.
Lemon tree hotels
“Working from Home, I Have More Time to Think” – Patu Keswani, Chairman, Lemon Tree Hotels
There are two aspects. One, I think it has helped us become much leaner and will in the long term ensure we are more cost-effective — any and all potential points of waste have been eliminated and fixed costs reduced. Two, that in times of crisis, new streams of revenue arise — in this case the sudden need of IT companies and MNCs for rooms to house employees who are required for business continuity.
First, if your culture is great, your biggest support in times of utter uncertainty will be employees —it’s a wonderful and very comforting feeling to have. The second is an intuition, actually a conviction, that in future, such black swan events will occur more frequently and that one must always have a business continuity plan in place that factors in perhaps zero revenue for up to 6-12 months in the worst case
Sequoia Capital India
“For Many Startups, the Only Focus Will be to Survive the Year” -Rajan Anandan MD, Sequoia Capital India
I spend some meaningful time every day connecting with friends and family. We talk about non-Covid topics. Regularly checking in on people I care about helps me create some personal space during the day — and I find that helps for leaders, when the world is extremely worried and concerned, it’s important to be thoughtful and empathetic — but it’s equally important to act. If there was ever a time to be decisive, it’s now. Some of the decisions you take may not be correct. But in the current scenario, ‘wait and watch’ is not an option. You have to do what you think is best. And communicate constantly. People want to hear from leaders during tough times — so make sure your voice is heard.
“It is Important to Religiously Follow Daily Stand-ups and Staff Meetings” – Greg Moran, Co-Founder, Zoomcar
Teams are now getting into the groove of this new working reality. It is important to religiously follow daily stand-ups and staff meetings to ensure everyone is on the same page.
Never waste a crisis. Use it as a teaching moment and as an opportunity for the team to come closer and work at an even greater productivity level.
“I Keep a Positive Frame of Mind in Order to Help My Team” – Praveer Sinha MD, Tata Power
As the leader of a foremost utility service company, I have been through many ups and downs. That is the way of life and business and one learns to take the good times and the storms in one’s stride. As a professional manager and business leader, I have to ensure that I keep a positive frame of mind in order to help my team.
When the going gets tough, the tough gets going. I firmly believe that a leader is only as good as his or her team. My team is my strength and by serving the country in a committed and selfless way, they have proved their mettle and character. Our employees realise that all of them cannot afford the safety of working from home and are taking up the challenge with full commitment dedication.
“The Initial Impact was on the Supply Side; Now It is on the Demand Side” -Manish Sharma President & CEO, Panasonic India & SA
We have suspended production at our factories temporarily. We are monitoring the situation closely. In these defining times, it is crucial to reflect on our core values and further strengthen the consumer trust in the after-sales service. Practicing resilience is the way forward. Individuals and organisations need to be cautiously optimistic and consciously prepare for adverse conditions where things might not be in their control and simultaneously plan to explore the opportunities ahead. True leadership is tested in a crisis, where leaders need to accumulate the collective wisdom of people around, but still have the ability to take critical decisions themselves even if it means risking their own reputation. This is important to steer an organisation through tough times and be in a position to provide service to the society and livelihood to people in times to come.
Lastly, in this present scenario of utter distress and Global Pandemic, The Start-Ups ought to showcase their Corporate Social responsibility so that everyone’s small efforts can heal our Mother Earth from this Pandemic and free us all from the shackles of this distressed situation and as a result make our Mother Earth a better place to live in for the future generations to come.
Written by- Ritoja Sen, Arka Dutta, Animesh Bhakat
Edited By-Sayan Seth.