COVID-19 has not gone away, but there are signs in a number of markets that we are starting to win the battle against the virus and that life can start to return to normal.

But that does not mean it will be like it was before. “The end of the lockdown will not spell a return to the old “normal”, nor will it be universal,” says the consultancy Kimaro. “The opening will take different shapes, with different countries, different regions, and different business sectors opening up in different ways and at differing speeds.”

The new normal will see a world where face masks, and large-scale testing and tracing are ubiquitous. In the absence of a vaccine, there is no guarantee that any relaxation of restrictions won’t be reversed. This makes the gradual start-up of the economy particularly difficult to navigate for businesses, who have a great many issues to consider.

These include the financial health and state of mind of consumers and suppliers, how to motivate and ensure the safety of workers, how quickly demand will return, and what the post-COVID-19 landscape will mean for the company’s operations, suppliers and customers.

The new norm made executives work from home and other work staff work in shifts. For some companies who met their KPI’s while operating in this style found it is more cost cutting to allow staff work from home.

Mr. Kimaro suggests, in his report, action  that CEOs should take to ensure a safe and successful relaunch of economic activity.

  1. Create a detailed relaunch map. “The crisis has shattered many of the assumptions and tools that business leaders rely on for decision-making, but for the restart, they will need to define a solid framework for action in a highly volatile environment,”

“The best approach is to develop a detailed relaunch map—country by country, site by site, segment by segment, customer by customer, and product by product—in order to prioritize recovery opportunities. This map will guide production, supply chain, and marketing and sales efforts, and help determine a recovery timeline for each site,” they say. “It will also enable business leaders to get a head start on reassessing investments and prospects for changing the geography of their value chains, for example through relocation of assets. It may be appropriate to freeze some planned or ongoing projects until the company has the capacity to reassess them.”

Restart schedules will depend on government guidelines in different countries and states. Some countries and states, such as Germany, Austria and Texas, have started to lift lockdown restrictions; some, like Spain and Italy, have set out specific timelines for an easing and others, such as the UK, have announced dates for an end to the lockdown but have as yet given no details.

Within countries, rules may remain in place in the worst-affected regions or in different sectors depending on their working practices and be relaxed in others. In China, for example, the automotive sector is almost back to normal. but restaurants are operating at only 40% of previous levels. And large firms started up more rapidly than SMEs.

Consumer-facing businesses need to understand how households’ income and confidence about their future prospects have been affected, which will affect their willingness to spend. 

  • Reassure customers about the safety of their products and services. This can be through outlining how customers can keep themselves safe, for example taking temperatures as they enter stores, providing hand gel, more contactless payment, drive-through and click and collect services. 

The Emirates airline has introduced thermal screening of all passengers boarding flights in Dubai and asks them to wear face masks, while hotel chain Accor has created new hygiene and safety certification labelling.

Companies should also tell customers about measures that may not be visible to customers to ensure workers in back offices, production facilities and supply chains are safe. 

3) Safeguard the health and safety of employees Many employees are eager to return to work, but many are also worried about being able to do so safely. Companies will need to both reassure employees about safety and find ways to motivate them in a post-lockdown world. Managers need to ensure employee safety in the workplace through increased testing of employees, more remote working and redesigning workspaces. And to reassure and remotivate workers, companies will need to emphasize their concern for the wellbeing of workers. 

4) Revive demand Most of the decline in GDP (some 85%) during the pandemic came from a loss of demand rather than supply disruptions so companies need to reconnect with their customer base and stimulate demand. Firms identify and capture pockets of profitable growth, adopt tactical pricing without resorting to a price war, help core clients to remain solvent by providing payment facilities or extending payment deadlines, ensure marketing reflects the new reality and switch to digital channels where possible. 

5) Reboot operations and the supply chain While many companies will want to return to full capacity as possible, the restart of operations must match both demand and the availability of the supplies needed for production, which may now include PPE equipment as well as raw materials and components. To cope with the current uncertainty, operations should become more flexible with adaptable and regularly reviewed production programs.

6) Shift IT and technology to restart mode  CIOs and CTOs had to react rapidly to the demand to shut down facilities and get staff working remotely, “using new collaborative tools in a way that is both efficient and cybersecure”. They also had to create or expand digital channels for customers and ensure their IT infrastructure was robust enough to cope with large load increases. The importance of digital to customers, suppliers, and to the entire economy has rapidly accelerated—and executives must speed up their digitization plans.

The digital transformation must serve new customer and employee needs, for example creating virtual showrooms that allow customers to ‘visit’ dealerships or shops from home, and increasing employee training, especially in cybersecurity; improve data-driven decision making and data availability; and rethink IT and technology spending to reflect cost pressures, new working practices and an increase in e-commerce.

7) Steer the restart with care Companies need to increase their speed of decision-making as they address a large number of large-scale, complex and interdependent issues simultaneously. Crisis-management hubs set up to deal with the lockdown could be repurposed to help with this.  Firms also need to ensure they use capital wisely to ensure they have sufficient cash flow to cope with ongoing volatility and ensure business resilience. 

8) Sustain value creation born from crisis and reinvesting in recovery. Many companies may be able to continue some of the practices they adopted during lockdown as they return to full operations, for example, allowing more people to work from home more often, increasing the amount of video conferencing and reducing the amount of business travel. 

“Others have had to resize their teams, make their business models more flexible, shorten decision chains, streamline their processes, and even convert their production lines,” the report points out. “Finally, the skills of the staff have sometimes been developed in a hurry across multiple dimensions (in the business aspects, as well as in terms of piloting and execution capabilities, a stronger sense of initiative, greater versatility, and so on).

“In many situations, the crisis has been an opportunity to strengthen relationships with large customers and solidify the supplier ecosystem. Having navigated through this collective ordeal, many companies can strengthen partnership relations with all the stakeholders in their environment.

“For leaders, it is now important to determine which of the developments imposed by circumstance may have generated value, financially, operationally, and for their people. Some of these could then be incorporated into future thinking about the reorganisation of work and reinventing the business model.”

There has also been a huge amount of innovation of both process and product during the lockdown, which many companies may be able to build on. 

Companies will be returning to many unknowns that may go on for a long time, and may not have all of their staff, production facilities, supply chains and customers available to them. And at any time, the epidemic may return in a particular market, leading to a renewed lockdown. But by being prepared, they can navigate the challenges of the restart.