OPINION: Small business is the lifeblood of the New Zealand economy with over 500,000 (97 per cent) of businesses classified as small or medium enterprises (SMEs).
Yet, while New Zealand has arguably led the world in responding to the pandemic, small businesses across the nation have felt the impact of these world changing events. In fact, data shows that year-on-year revenue for small businesses fell by 10 per cent in New Zealand in early March and continued to drop in April by 34 per cent, a few weeks into alert level 4.
Despite the significant impact of the crisis on SMEs, what we have seen over the past six months is that some small businesses have risen to the challenges and found it easy to adapt to this ‘new normal’ while others have struggled.
While it is impossible to plan for every eventuality, we do know that resilience is a universal trait for dealing with a crisis – whether that be a global pandemic or a new competitor entering the market.
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Below are some key characteristics that any small organisation can embrace to become a resilient business.
Be an innovator
Thinking like an innovator is key for any small business leader. You have to be ready and willing to go ‘off-plan’.
The innovator mindset is all about being willing to enter new scenarios, learn from them and create solutions based on these learnings.
Companies who stuck to the systems and processes they already had in place, found it difficult to adapt and focus on what was really needed.
This year has proven that ‘agility’ and ‘adaptability’ are no longer values that companies can just write on the walls in their office, they are a necessity.
Move fast (but make sure you’ve got the fundamentals right)
The digital transformation roadmap has changed dramatically. When any crisis hits, speed of solution becomes paramount.
One thing that came out of this current crisis is that businesses no longer have the luxury of waiting to overhaul and implement a long term technology strategy.
The current crisis showed us that business leaders were able to cut through the layers of bureaucracy and enable remote working almost overnight. Customers have told us what was previously taking three years to implement is now taking three weeks.
Small and growing businesses have an advantage here as they are usually more agile. The key is ensuring your business is set up so that it is easy to adopt new technology safely and securely. McKinsey says that all businesses should act like a tech company and take a ‘platform’ approach rather than a ‘system’ approach.
The Detail: From lockdown to recovery – tracking a small business during Covid-19 pandemic. (First published June 30, 2020)
Embrace and enable flexibility
The impact of COVID-19 will stretch well beyond the current situation. Workers across the country have embraced working from home and while some will return to the office, this remote work experiment has given many businesses, and individuals, the confidence to work wherever they want.
In fact, a recent study of New Zealanders found that 89 per cent wanted to continue working from home post-lockdown, at least part-time.
Although 38 per cent of those surveyed stated that they had never worked from home prior to the global pandemic, 66 per cent of people found it “easy or somewhat easy” to adapt, with 82 per cent saying they felt they had the right resources to do their job, although only 17 per cent had all of those resources provided by their employer.
While the debate on whether in-person or remote working is best will continue, clever business leaders will listen to their employees and embrace a hybrid way of working. They will empower their employees to stay connected, productive and motivated across all working environments.
The small businesses that successfully transitioned to remote working during the pandemic did so by bridging the gap between the collective office and the home office through creating a unified environment that enables employees to be productive and connected wherever they are.
Listen to your employees
There are two interesting themes that have emerged during this time. The first is that employees wanted to use technology that was as user-friendly as the technology they used for their social life. The second was that the line between work and social became blurred. We found businesses simply couldn’t control their employees’ technology choices and were often too slow to offer them alternatives.
We know that employees adopting their own technology has its challenges. The opportunity many of our customers found was to embrace the fact they can’t be a gatekeeper and instead adopt a technology strategy based on user preference. So, rather than fighting their employees and locking them into a strict system, they are empowered to be productive while doing so safely and securely in partnership with us.
Ultimately, Zoom has faced the same challenges as everyone in the past six months – perhaps even more. In the first quarter of this year, we went from 10 million to 300 million meeting participants a day. This massive up-tick in users came with its own set of challenges.
Not just from a technology development side, we also had to embrace the hybrid office culture for our 2,800 plus employees worldwide.
In many ways, this has made us a more resilient business. Only by embracing a fast paced, innovative mindset and listening to our employees, customers and community have we ensured our business will survive, and thrive now and in the future.
Small business owners, leaders and decision makers have an opportunity to embrace the learnings from this crisis and build stronger businesses because of it.
Michael Chetner is the head of Australia and Asia Pacific at Zoom Video Communications