Will things be different ‘after the virus’?

By Ruth Medd | 15 June 2020

'Will things be different ‘after the virus’ is a question many are asking; and the corollary - 'is there such a thing'? Will we somehow just have to live with COVID-19.  Here are some of my thoughts about public policy, large corporates, issues facing directors and working from home.

Public policy & decision making - we can do it

The pandemic resulted in Australian governments coming together and acting in the national interest. Better still, medicos and scientists were listened to and their opinions respected. Their advice was good, which we would expect in Australia.

There were a few glitches as some bureaucrats went a bit far.  The new ‘power police’ started fining people - possibly because they could, and the Ruby Princess mismanagement/ miscommunication seems to have resulted in a regulatory over-reaction whereby people needing to travel overseas/ interestate to visit a sick relative now experience the full force of ‘Border Patrol’.  Lots of forms to be filled!

The federal bureaucracy has worked tirelessly. The oft-maligned government IT departments and ATO implemented JobKeeper in five weeks and telehealth just as fast.  In other times it would probably take many months - or longer.  Acting quickly means you go with the information you have; which resulted in Treasury using worst case scenarios to estimate the cost of JobKeeper; as advised by the Secretary to the Treasury this week at Senate Estimates.   Fortunately, the worst case did not eventuate. But let’s not blame the forecasters.

Large corporates

As we would expect they did a lot of the heavy lifting, Innovatively sharing staff to ensure essential services were maintained (when will be the next time you get an impeccably groomed Qantas flight attendant on a Woollies checkout?); ensuring charities were able to continue to support those in need; working with DFAT to get stranded Australians home to safety. The job description for DFAT staff clearly has an unstated additional duty - that of travel agent.

The banks came to the party with the regulators to ensure cash flowed and the economy did not collapse.  That’s what banks do; and why they have a government guarantee.

Directors of the future?

Looking for the next normal?  Probably boards can’t sit on the beach and see what floats in on the tide - though it may be tempting.  There is a need for boards to learn quickly, hope the crisis management procedures stand up and to act systematically on the data available.  
What have we learnt about our appetite for risk?  What have we learnt about the adequacy or otherwise of those risk registers?  Understanding of risk drives a business and influences what resources are allocated and where. Time for a risk refresher?
Here are some suggestions for a board risk register post COVID.  
  • Global pandemic.  A free workshop to anyone who had this item in their risk register before COVID.  CSL excluded!
  • Total / partial shutdown of your business due to floods, fire, failure of utilities or terrorism.  Most have this and respond with a regular program of fire drills, relocating staff and test activation of their remote sites and systems. Perhaps this might be viewed in a new light post COVID.  Do you pay enough attention to this as a director or is it viewed as an operational matter.?
  • Supply chain risks.  It seems some business and countries were reliant on a single supply chain.  No longer a good look. Logistics and supply chain management personnel are the new black.
  • Government closes the borders.  Is this for good reason or is it a response to rising nationalism. What if one country develops the vaccine. Will they share it globally or will their citizens get exclusive access? Are you across the global effort being put into this scenario?

Working from home

At a personal level, working from home has impacted most of us.  Is it a good feeling?  Having done it partly for many years, but enforceably now for three months I observe the following:
  • Organisations were very concerned about the safety of employees.  As it went on the glitches started to appear, such as the strain of continuous Zoom or similar sessions, the increase in working hours for directors and staff and the increasing tiredness of staff who often had children (and pets) to manage. 
  • Some surveys suggested staff were generally positive and want at least to partially work from home post pandemic.
  • Did you facilitate and fund the technology for staff to effectively work from home? Some fell short. What about the new hire / new graduate who lives in a shared apartment and works from their room with inadequate facilities?
  • And the big one, how are you considering the increased cyber risk as your attackable network has moved from an office premise to everywhere.

Some working from home - tips from WOBer Vanessa Cullen

  • Take walking meetings.
  • Invest in noise cancelling lapel microphones and bluetooth, cordless headsets for phones.
  • Read on a treadmill or bike trainer if you can do so safely.
  • Take calls on a hands-free headset.
  • Be careful not to multi-task all day. Practice mindfulness when you just do one thing fully at a time. Mix it up between mindfulness and multi-tasking for changes in pace
  • Prioritise exercise and bonding time with family/friends/pets each day.
  • Schedule your day like you would normally but break it into 2hr increments and get up and move at the end of each.
  • Make sure your working set up is really well fitted to you ergonomically and build in ways to change postures regularly. Ensure it also has plenty of natural light but that you can control for glare throughout the day.
  • Drink plenty of water and take this time to eat healthy meals (batch cooking helps).