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TechFlash: Your response to COVID-19 may determine if your business lives or dies

How business leaders respond will impact their employees and the viability of their companies

by Eric Miller

Co-founder and Principal at Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies (PADT) Inc.

Math is not on our side when it comes to the long-term health and business impact of COVID-19. A combination of relatively high infection rates, a long incubation period, and high mortality numbers point towards a seriously dangerous health situation. Throw on top of that a health care system that is not able to handle such a surge in cases, and we have a long and painful couple of months ahead of us.

First and foremost, everyone’s response should be about keeping their employees physically healthy. There are plenty of people who understand epidemiology and health care who should and are talking about those more critical aspects. Even though I want to focus on the business impact of this pandemic, I am not belittling or downplaying the moral obligation that business owners and leaders have to protect the safety of their employees.

This pandemic and the required response is a shock to the world economic system. From what we have seen with disruptions in the past, be it the weather, war, or financial risk-taking gone awry; when the dust settles, companies that plan rationally, adapt quickly and respond intelligently to a significant economic dislocation survive and might even thrive. Those that dismiss, cling to old ways and react emotionally emerge damaged or not at all.

From a business point of view, this virus and its impact fall into the “inconvenient truth” category. People will die, supply chains will be disrupted, business and consumer spending will go down. All very true, all very inconvenient. And so, because we are human, we search for facts to ignore or put off dealing with the cause and the response. And that is how we fail our obligation to our employees and ownership and damage our businesses.What can we do? When this is all done, and the experts look at the aftermath, they will have solid suggestions backed by real statistics. Here at the beginning of a protracted crisis, all we can do is look at what worked in the past and adapt what we find to this situation.

Keep employees safe, then productive
Telecommuting isn’t just an option for some people now. It will save lives. Now is the time to make sure employees that can get their jobs done from home can technically do so. Be ready before it comes time to send everyone home. Keep cybersecurity in mind and focus on productivity. Make a list of what each employee needs to be productive. And once you send them home, communicate regularly with them and adjust as needed. Don’t assume everyone is fine and everything is humming along smoothly.

Deliver value to customers
Everyone is mentally and economically stressed, including your customers. And companies that can deliver value and help their customers get through this will come out stronger on the other side. Ask them how you can help and what changes you can make to assist them. And, most importantly, keep asking them what their priorities are and shift to help them achieve their goals.

Refocus on long term or less impacted business
This is the hardest adaptation if you are an industry-specific business. It’s time to get with your entire team, especially your sales team, and brainstorm which of your customers, or potential new customers, will be less impacted. Things are changing weekly, and you should reassess where you should concentrate your efforts.

Community is our most powerful tool
Practicing social distancing does not require us to separate from the communities we belong to. The exact opposite is true. Now is the time to strengthen your network of employees, vendors, industry peers and customers. Because our standard ways of interacting are on hold and our businesses are stressed in new and different ways, the best thing we can do is cooperate and support one another. Communicate, assist, and be flexible.

Eric Miller is co-founder and principal at Phoenix Analysis & Design Technologies (PADT) Inc.

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