The Covid-19 pandemic was a life-changing event for many business owners and start-up founders.
It has made companies spin while others have been forced to shut down completely.
If entrepreneurs have learned something during 2020, big changes can happen at any time, and good preparation is a critical part of the company's survival.
The question that executives ask themselves very quickly is: How do I keep my business alive in 2021?
As of the end of 2020, companies have five options to prepare for what is coming in 2021:
Embrace flexible work
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Due to the pandemic, working from home is no longer rare. Instead, it has become the norm for most Singaporeans.
We've grown used to working from home for a long time, and most Singaporeans prefer the arrangement of going back to the office.
According to a survey commissioned by The Straits Times, eight in ten Singapore workers say they prefer to work from home or have flexible working arrangements.
In contrast, only one in ten people wanted to return to the office full time.
However, around half of the respondents felt that employers would punish them for expressing their preference for working from home.
Not only must employers maintain a safe work environment, but they must also meet the expectations of their employees to ensure optimal productivity and improve work morale.
It is therefore plausible that flexibility in the workplace will become extremely important in the coming year, and employers could consider a “hybrid” model.
Education minister and co-chair of the multi-ministry task force on COVID-19, Lawrence Wong, previously said that working arrangements need not be "binary" and can be a combination of the two.
For example, postpone working hours so that workers can travel during off-peak hours. A mix of remote work and office work can also be considered.
This opinion was also confirmed by Eric Yuan, CEO of Zoom, at a virtual conference at the Singapore Institute of Directors. He mentioned that "the future of work is a hybrid model".
JustCo co-founder and chief commercial officer Kong Wan Long said in an interview with Vulcan Post that executives are now looking for more flexible workplace solutions.
He told Vulcan Post that due to the situation in Covid-19, many companies have realized that having a large headquarters housing all employees may no longer be the best way to go.
Indeed, the trend towards collaboration is picking up in large companies that have traditionally worked in fixed offices.
According to Wan Long, more than half of JustCo's tenants today are large corporate customers such as L’Oreal, Novartis, Dropbox and Riot Games.
While there is no one-size-fits-all solution for flexible work habits for employers, the options are many and it is important to find one that fits the company.
Level up communication
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Everyone can agree that communication is the key to success. Regardless of whether you have a meeting or come up with an idea, communication in the workplace is at the forefront.
However, the pandemic has effectively made large face-to-face meetings impossible.
This is especially true in Singapore, where employers must ensure that employees work from home for at least half of their working hours.
Although most employees prefer remote working, interaction and communication with employees remain crucial.
Work from home – for a few days at least – is here to stay, and companies need to be able to find a way to effectively connect with their employees remotely.
This could mean improving internal communication strategies to prioritize employee relationships, or encouraging ongoing engagement.
In an interview with The Straits Times, Koh Juan Kiat, executive director of the Singapore National Employers Federation (Snef), said managers should hold regular e-meetings to keep employees updated on the state of business.
You should also check them in virtually using video conferencing and messaging often.
Employers might also consider investing in online support structures to increase productivity and efficiency.
Rebuild customer trust
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All businesses have customers to serve, and the pandemic has forced a rethink of what customer care means.
Covid-19 has overwhelmed life and livelihoods around the globe, resulting in ubiquitous insecurity and an ongoing concern for health
This has also resulted in a different way in which customers interact with companies, and vice versa. Businesses therefore need to understand consumer trends and patterns that will last over the long term.
First, health and wellbeing are an immediate concern and it is important that businesses, especially physical ones, build this into their customer experience.
For example, many companies have already implemented contactless commerce to promote security in their physical locations – a step that is critical to reassuring customers.
In Singapore, even traditional street vendors have started to implement digital initiatives to keep operations safe, albeit heavily driven by the government.
According to McKinsey & Company, companies that adapt to changing customer needs will recover faster and be better positioned than competitors.
Another example is Singapore's leading multi-currency mobile wallet, YouTrip, which has established itself as a travel payment card.
However, if the trip stopped, YouTrip ran the risk of users completely forgetting its existence.
To retain customer loyalty, the two-year company needed to quickly refresh its business model and focus all efforts on one e-commerce use case.
The team curated online listings and buying guides to help users save money.
Although travel has stalled, YouTrip founder Caecilia Chu believes that "now is not the time to slow down".
Instead, the company has focused on customer loyalty and maintaining a close customer relationship so that it will be ready to serve them again when the trip reopens.
The digital transformation is already here
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Although "digital transformation" has been a buzzword in recent years, Covid-19 has accelerated the process considerably.
In order to survive and thrive in the post-pandemic world, companies need to stay on the cutting edge of technology, or at least get online.
This comes from the wave of online businesses that boomed during the pandemic.
From home bakers to collagen soups, entrepreneurs have used the digital shift to market their products and have been hugely successful in doing so.
Even companies that have traditionally had a physical business model have found hubs in the online world.
For example, mixed martial arts startup One Championship was unable to host large-scale fights but managed to put them online. In addition to simple live streaming shows, it also provides data-driven insights for users.
The pandemic has also accelerated the growth of online-based services like telemedicine, which have seen a surge in demand since the Covid-19 outbreak.
On the other hand, companies that haven't got online fast enough have negative consequences.
The recent high profile shutdown of one of Singapore's oldest department stores, Robinsons, has raised questions about whether its decline was due in part to its lack of online presence.
Explore the future
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If companies and individuals have learned one thing from the events of 2020, it is a detailed crisis management plan.
In the event of a crisis, immediate action is required to protect medium and long-term results.
To do this, companies need a plan that addresses "employee wellbeing, brand awareness, financial management, supply chain and legal issues," according to consulting firm Ernst & Young.
First, companies can review what they learned in 2020 – what worked and what didn't, and what executives can do differently.
Taking a look at how competitors are reacting and spinning can also be a great way to gain insight into how the industry might change and how the company can be better prepared for it.
Another strategy may also be to take a fresh look at professional training and make sure that employees are better able to take on new roles such as digital marketing.
The path to recovery
It's been a challenging year for companies, but the only way to move forward is by transforming practices and being prepared for future crises.
In an interview with The Straits Times, Kevin Wo, Managing Director of Microsoft Singapore, said, "Innovation is no longer an option, it is critical to survival and success."
This is an assessment that has been confirmed by many business leaders, and obviously those who saw opportunities to turn quickly managed to weather the crisis.
Selected image source: Centaline Property