Recovery Through Reinvention

Perspectives on managing change and the strategic impact of the pandemic across the sectors. Hear how three leading voices use collaboration and communications.

For over a year, the world has been consumed by getting COVID-19 under control. The popular notion in 2020 that the world’s economies could rebound quickly was just wishful thinking. As the global recession continues, the Asia Pacific region has taken the first steps to emerge from its economic downturn.

However, the rapid recovery that began in the third quarter of 2020 is not consistent across the region. This “multispeed” recovery, as the IMF describes it, will help regional economic output to grow by 6.9% this year, but the outlook for each country is dependent on factors including infection rates, the scale and effectiveness of government response, and its reliance on industries such as tourism and commodities exports.

This does not mean that the road ahead will be easy. Analysts estimate that an end to the pandemic and full economic recovery could easily take several years. According to Bloomberg’s Vaccine Tracker, it will take about five and a half years to cover 75% of the population with a two-dose vaccine at the current rate of vaccinations per day globally.

Depending on the industry, the outlook for some business leaders might be rosier than others. As McKinsey notes, the most profitable industries this economic recession (e.g. semiconductors, pharmaceuticals, personal products, software, and media) have increased profits by riding the wave of megatrends, such as food and grocery e-delivery services, remote working, and a heightened interest in health and wellness, compared to industries, such as financial services, energy and utilities.

Managing Change

From Singapore to Mumbai, business leaders have no choice but to move forward from the disruption caused by the pandemic. Business continuity playbooks have given way to new strategic plans to address the post-pandemic world, but not without tough decisions about the future. The bottom line about any economic downturn, according to IWG SVP for ASEAN and South Korea Lars Wittig, is that, “You can’t try and sell the same old product the same old way.”

Lars Wittig, IWG SVP for ASEAN and South Korea

The same is true about company culture and structure. Traditional corporate hierarchies that were primarily driven by the C-suite are being replaced by a culture that protects its most valuable asset: employees. Remote working full time created some unintended consequences for employees like burnout from home and work life merging, social isolation, and other stresses associated with adapting to new technologies, processes and expectations.

This made it even more important for businesses to take steps to lower turnover and increase employee engagement. As a result, over two thirds of global CEOs reported to KPMG that their communications to employees improved during the crisis.

Not only has this prolonged arrangement required a mutual trust between employers and employees, the acceleration of distributed workforces has also demonstrated why it is so important to encourage a free flow of communication and innovation. Company leaders are seeing the productivity and performance impact that empowered, motivated employees are having on businesses during this time especially. Yet, these results were not possible without a change in leadership approach. Chitranjan Kaushik, COO of Ecofirst Services Limited, noted the necessary shift in leadership styles saying, “This cannot be command-based like in the office. Now I’m entering their space to get the work done and that’s where leadership has changed significantly. Now it’s more consultative and self-motivated.”

Chitranjan Kaushik, COO of Ecofirst Services Limited

Acknowledging this change is vital to ensure that employees are empowered in new working environments and encouraged to take part in transforming how business is done. Sajid Khan, general manager of Fiji Airlines in India, observed, “The passion has really come out, and I have seen ideas come up every single day.”

Sajid Khan, General Manager of Fiji Airlines in India

Encouraging collaboration between teams and disseminating frequent updates from empathetic leaders are helping organisations energise virtual teams in the new normal and ensure that employees are adapting to new business processes.

“We are in the practice of regularly meeting with our teams and have become more available to discuss concerns directly. Anybody is in direct touch with me and can connect to me in a better way,” said Kaushik.

While the future is unclear, companies are already looking beyond the pandemic. Changing the culture to focus on fostering engagement between employees at all levels of the organisation is dependent on how businesses choose to include their employees in the corporate vision and engage them in reaching objectives.

“A lot of CEOs today feel much closer to employees at every tier of their organisation. Even though we have been separated physically, we have never been so close. I say that because we have shared this calamity and mission to push through it,” Wittig said.

It’s clear that companies will not make it through this period without some form of reinvention. Companies that embrace change today and bring employees along on the journey will prosper because of—not in spite of—the biggest disruption of the century.

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