Uncertainty continues to loom as countries around the world slowly ease the lockdown restrictions to allow for some degree of economic activities to resume. As offices prepare to resume businesses, safe management measures are implemented by employers to create a safe environment for employees. The pandemic has certainly changed the way businesses operates and redefined the way that companies interact with employees. If the pandemic has taught us anything, it would be that people and organisations are interconnected and responsible for one another and the society in ways beyond short-term earnings. The world will emerge with a new normal when the pandemic ends. Companies need to recognise and adopt an ecosystem mindset where collaborative efforts with an extensive network of people can help create value. Companies need to embrace the concept of “together is better” and re-evaluate their businesses, strategies, and operations to protect jobs and employees. The key to doing business in the new normal is to re-design business model into one that is sustainable and viable in the long run.

Leading in the Knowledge Worker Age

Stephen R. Covey, the well-known author of The Seven Habits of Highly Effective People, explained in his book The 8th Habit – From Effectiveness to Greatness that we have long passed the Industrial Age where the dominant philosophy was in control and leadership position was based on formal authority. Leadership in the new Knowledge Worker Age has shifted from a boss-centred culture to a team-centred culture. If organisations continue to think and operate with an Industrial Age mindset, they will eventually be left behind.

In the Knowledge Worker Age, leaders need to build trust followed by a culture and a community within the organisation. Leadership no longer lies in the hands of one leader. It requires a cohesive team of people at every level to be equipped with a leadership mindset to propose initiatives and drive outcomes that can bring an organisation to greater heights.

Leading with awareness, vulnerability, empathy and compassion is vital to help your teams weather the crisis and can help set the stage for recovery. In reinventing their business model, executives should consider adopting the servant leadership style where their role is to empower their employees to take the lead in getting the job done, and provide support when required. This type of leadership style builds the trust between employers and employees, allowing the organisation to have a shared sense of purpose and a common performance culture.

The first step to empowering employees can be done through streamlining of the organisation with a flat hierarchy that allows for delegation of decision making downwards to members of the team. This can result in a more efficient and effective response time. This approach provides employees with the authority to make key decisions to address a problem on hand and stimulates them to develop critical thinking to invent new creative solutions. In the long run, it creates a nimble and interconnected ecosystem that can be quick to adapt and respond in times of crisis. With a decentralised and team-based structure, talents can be identified in different parts of the organisation’s value chain and allow top leaders to deploy the right talent to the respective role.

Remodel the Business

In the various budget responses to the COVID-19 pandemic, the key message has always been for employers to keep calm and retain their employees as people are our most precious assets. In the new normal, executives should shift their focus and commit to a renewed emphasis on talent development through programmes that can reskill or upskill their employees to prepare them for new challenges in the fast-changing economy.

Remodelling a business with the interconnectivity between the organisation and its people as the centre of focus cultivates an environment where people feel that they are part of the organisation and not just mere employees working for the organisation. An empowered organisation develops a deep-rooted trustworthiness within its people, which is an important mechanism that keeps employees motivated and aligned with the organisations’ values and goals. A bulk of the world’s work actually gets done through relationships amongst organisations and amongst people within the same corporate entity. Therefore, the higher the level of trust, the greater the productivity. Human capital is no doubt an important resource within an organisation and, therefore, rebuilding the organisation with people at the core is the foundation to growing a sustainable business in the new economy post COVID-19.

Going Digital

Coming out of the crisis, the growth and scalability of businesses is also a key concern of many organisations. Consumer behaviours and demand patterns are likely to have changed significantly and will continue to do so post COVID-19. With the work-from-home arrangement and the increased use of online communication platforms, there is no doubt that the world will emerge from this pandemic into a digitised global economy. In this aspect, going digital is nothing new. The pandemic is only a catalyst for what was already in its progressive stage. This is the time for businesses to carefully consider the kind of innovation they want and need, and invest in the right technology to implement so as to help future-proof their businesses.

As the economy re-opens in phases, consumers are likely to continue with contactless payment modes for health and safety reasons. Some of the areas for consideration would be the development of a digital payment infrastructure based on global standards that is interoperable with the rest of the world, and adoption of a robust Distributed Ledger Technology (“DLT”) as a new global supply chain strategy. Many businesses in the US use DLT to better track their supply chain. For example, Walmart uses DLT to get suppliers to upload information of their produce ensuring food sold meets the safety standards.

In Singapore, Quick Response (“QR”) code scanning also helps to ensure food security. Contactless payment systems promote greater efficiency and seamless transactions, while having a robust DLT can help businesses greatly through improved transparency and trust in their products. As Singapore continues its journey towards becoming a SMART Nation, the Government has initiated various incentive schemes that aim to encourage businesses to adopt digital solutions. One of the schemes is the Small Medium Enterprises (SME) Go Digital Programme. It provides newly incorporated companies with foundational digital solutions through the Start Digital Pack, and supports companies that are planning to venture overseas markets with their ready e-commerce platforms, as well as trainings to build competencies through the Go Digital Pack.

Support grants have also been expanded to include new online communication platforms and virtual meeting tools to help strengthen SMEs’ business continuity practices. Singapore also provides support grants for the adoption of automation and technology to encourage businesses to partake in innovation activities. Businesses should take this opportunity to utilise these government support schemes to invest in research and development to build our home grown innovative capabilities and prepare themselves when the economy recovers.

Moving into a New Economy

As the economy moves onto the virtual platform, businesses also need to rethink how they can differentiate themselves in the virtual world. Online shopping and home deliveries have gone from convenience to a necessity during the COVID-19 pandemic and will continue to be so. Businesses will need to develop new strategies that will allow them to continue to deliver premium service to consumers without physical contact. For example, various apparel businesses have already started home delivery service where apparels and accessories are sent to consumers for them to try out before making a purchase. Companies that care and innovate during this period, and anticipate how customers will change their buying habits, will build stronger relationships that will endure well beyond the crisis.

The pandemic has thrown the world into a frenzy and has amplified the consequences of what fear can do to us. Businesses need to learn from this process and stay calm amidst an unexpected crisis so as to develop new strategies and solutions with a clear mind. While cost cutting is crucial in safeguarding your business, it is also important for business owners to think about how they can play a part in reshaping a more resilient economy through working with like-minded partners.