4 Essential Rules for Businesses to Survive COVID-19 and Beyond

04/10/2020 Posted by Jeremy

Just a few weeks ago, none of what you are about to read would have seemed particularly important. Just another post that you scroll past on your LinkedIn feed, shared by some former colleague who always seemed to be just a bit too…out there. And then, like a train wreck in slow motion, COVID-19 has lumbered in between all of us, derailing everything.

Photo by Edwin Hooper
Photo by Avi Richards

There’s nothing like a crisis to make us quickly realize what’s important, and what’s not. That daily Starbucks run? Not so important. Being able to keep your business running when everything changes? Absolutely, critically essential.

Even as the story of the business impact of the Coronavirus Pandemic continues to be written, there is clarity to be gained from the first chapters.

Disaster Recovery is Not Just IT’s Job

IT DepartmentPhoto by Mario Gogh

Many business leaders have long felt comfortable viewing “Disaster Recovery” as just a category of software to address narrowly defined what-if’s. Perhaps a fire, or maybe even what your insurance policy defines as an “Act of God.”

But what if the disaster is a slowly evolving catastrophe with completely unforeseen implications? Sure, your data is backed up and can be restored, but what if your employees aren’t allowed to come back to work for days, weeks or months? What if the government decides your business is non-essential?

Disaster Recovery can no longer be abdicated to a particular department. Not even as part of a broader business continuity plan that sits in a binder on someone’s shelf. It must address known threats, and (in the words of Donald Rumsfeld) the “known unknowns and the unknown unknowns.” And it absolutely must be so ingrained in regular operations that it’s part of who you are.

Impossible, you might think. I can’t plan for the “unknown unknowns,” much less build my regular operations around them.

There’s no denying that it’s a challenge. Nothing you read here will provide iron-clad protection against all possible outcomes. But those who adopt these foundational principles can not only outlast COVID-19, but have better odds against whatever comes next.

Workflows Must Work Wherever and Whenever

Working from Home
Photo by Daria Nepriakhina 

Traditional Business Continuity and Disaster Recovery plans have virtually ignored the realities of social isolation. Now, remote work is essential to business survival. Customer interactions that once required in-office visits must now be moved online. And collaboration among remote employees with email and spreadsheet must be made more efficient.

Coronavirus has not only changed where we must work, but when. With schools out of session and kids home, employees now find it difficult to be productive during traditional business hours. Organizations must now experiment with ways to manage by output instead of by time-of-day.

Unfortunately, all of this is easier said than done. Proprietary or mass-market business software are often built for how things have been done in the past, not how they suddenly need to be done right now.

Consider better tools to help you respond more quickly. Flexible, no-code and low-code platforms can empower you to quickly digitize offline processes and redesign critical workflows, so that they can be resilient in the face of uncertainty. 

This means less dependency on single managers to steward a process from start to finish, and more autonomy for individual contributors to push actions forward. It also means automating anything that can be easily distilled into rule-based execution. Leverage these tools’ reporting functions to ensure quality standards are still being met and that the right workflows can be pushed forward from any place and at any time

Adaptability Must Be Part of Your DNA

Adaptability Must Be Part of your DNA
Photo by Edwin Hooper

“Past Performance is No Guarantee of Future Results” is a disclaimer relegated to the fine print of most mutual funds, but it should be taught in Business 101.

There’s safety in Standard Operating Procedures. They’re born from past experience, and bring efficiency, improve consistency and are easy to (middle) manage to.

They can also be a crutch. How many of us have worked at companies where the only reason things seem to be done a certain way is “because that’s how it’s always been done?”

It’s so easy for organizations to get comfortable with what works, that they lose the capacity to adapt when it stops working. Perhaps never has this been more clear than in the age of Coronavirus. Already, untold thousands of businesses have permanently closed their doors, and millions are out of work.

Naturally, some business models will suffer more than others amidst quarantines, travel restrictions  and other pandemic-related realities. Even so, the foundational problem underlying many of these casualties is a failure of flexibility.

To avoid a similar fate, businesses must answer some hard questions, and quickly.

Do we have what it takes to adapt to a rapidly changing situation? What operational or technological systems that have worked in the past are no longer serving us? What can we change?

And perhaps most tellingly, what can’t we change? And why?

To survive during this pandemic and beyond, the list of what can’t be changed should be vanishingly small. Things done because of the personal preference of managers? Not on the list. Things we can’t change because our technology won’t support it? It’s 2020. Get better technology.

Things done because that’s the way it’s always been? Everything has changed. It’s time to move on.

Focus instead on the goals and principles behind the Standard Operating Procedures. If your team understands the critical reasons why the procedures were put in place, they can be trusted with more autonomy to adjust those procedures.

You Must Empower Everyday Innovators

Everyday Innovators
Photo by Avi Richards

The only way to outmaneuver these challenges is to cultivate and empower everyday innovators.

These are the people in your organization that work in the trenches, see the breakdowns when they first occur and feel the results most acutely. They are often treasure troves of information on better ways of doing things at their level, but are typically overlooked.

Whether they’re acknowledged or not, everyday innovators invariably exist in every organization. They find ways to solve problems outside of traditional channels because they can’t get budget for software development or enough clout to change standard procedures.

Usually, this takes the form of spreadsheets that store data for a variety of purposes. They track processes, inventory, or customer information as best they can. In small organizations, these spreadsheets function as a quasi-source of truth. In larger organizations, they function as a go-between among rigid business systems that don’t provide the functionality necessary for everyday innovators to do their jobs.

Unfortunately, like many “shadow IT” measures, spreadsheets bring a host of problems. Sensitive data being emailed around, no true source of truth, terrible version control and countless others. And crucially, important information from front-line employees isn’t effectively relayed to decision makers. It seems that for every problem that employees solve with a spreadsheet, they can introduce several more.

So why do employees use spreadsheets to solve problems? Because they know what needs to be done, but off-the-shelf business applications or their company’s purpose built software isn’t readily adaptable. And most organizations don’t have the resources to develop expensive, custom software to fit every use case of their frontline employees. Spreadsheets are the only tool they have.

Instead of settling for spreadsheets and the inevitable problems they bring, companies can acknowledge their everyday innovators, and provide a better tool for them to innovate. No-code and low-code tools are designed specifically for every innovator to build their own custom processes and applications tailored to their exact workflows. These tools can also integrate with larger security and approval processes, so innovators can build with confidence that they aren’t subverting broader corporate initiatives.

About Knack

Knack is purpose-built to enable organizations to foster grass-roots, real-world problem solving among employees of all levels. Everyday innovators have been using our no-code platform to adapt to real-world problems since we were founded, and continue to do amazing things during the age of COVID-19. By leveraging Knack’s intuitive platform and expert builder network, organizations can quickly build no-code or low-code applications that can help you rise to the challenges of Coronavirus, and whatever comes next. 

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