How to thrive in a post-Covid-19 economy

Swann Group Chairman John Murray

As we slowly begin to see the emergence of a post-Covid world – or perhaps more realistically a world in which we coexist with and manage the virus – Swann Group Founder John Murray believes businesses should look far beyond mere survival and consider what opportunities are available.  

In this interview, John shares his thoughts on how boards can lead their organisations to meet and excel in the new environment facing individuals, businesses and society.

How do you view the responses we’ve seen from companies to Covid-19?

By necessity, the first stage of the response has been about survival. Companies of all sizes needed to ensure the health and safety of their employees, cut costs, look for opportunities for efficiency and generally reassess their business models for the short term. And this process was already well underway for a lot of organisations anyway.

While efforts to keep businesses above water continue, we’re starting to get to the ‘what next?’ phase. Boards and CEOs need to look at how they can make adaptations for a future that will accelerate and improve their business. As we enter a new normality, businesses need to work out how they can thrive in that setting.  

The resource industry has been through significant challenges before which have required organisations to look at workforce planning and organisational design in detail, so there’s already a lot of knowledge and experience around these issues within the industry.  

What areas should CEOs and Boards be evaluating as they enter into the next stage of this crisis?

Once the short-term budgetary and health and safety measures are largely established, companies will need to focus on their approach to leadership, communication, organisational structure and workplace policies. These are broad areas, but there are likely to be major shifts in how we work and operate after this pandemic, and it’s worth taking the time to re-evaluate and get them right.

There’s also the possibility that monumental events of this kind become more common as the world’s population grows, scientists experiment with biochemistry, and the climate and environment changes. The pandemic has been a wakeup call for us to learn how to better deal with adverse circumstances on a global scale.

Reconsidering how teams work and company structures in the light of this experience will be critical in ensuring that individuals, departments and entire organisations can meet and even exceed projected targets in future. 

Could you say a bit more about each of those areas – leadership, communication and organisational structure?

Strong, clear leadership will be essential. It goes without saying that companies need leaders who can consider available information and make informed decisions. However, in the current climate, and in future, leaders will be faced with a broader range of issues and challenges. 

They will need to have the versatility and bandwidth to consider and analyse more and different information while developing strategies. 

Putting together the right team will be essential to acquiring the right information and working effectively. With these shifts in interactions and locations, companies should be thinking about ways to structure teams and divisions to ensure that they have the right numbers, skills and remits on teams which no longer work in the same ways. It may be necessary to rejig responsibilities and reporting lines in light of new business requirements and locations.  

When considering the structure of their teams, CEOs and Boards need to place company culture at the forefront of their thoughts, ensuring that standards, values and principles are upheld. Large parts of the workforce are currently working from home, and it seems likely that remote working will be more common after we return to normality. Without the traditional office interactions and meetings, it is far too easy to slip out of communication with staff, leaving some feeling uninformed, unmotivated or isolated. 

What are the broader issues and challenges that will need consideration?

I anticipate there will be change in a range of areas and at several levels – economic, commercial, political and personal – which requires new consideration by Boards to ensure that they excel in the post-Covid world.

The rebuild of commerce and industry could lead to a rethinking of supply chains and a possible re-industrialisation to offset the current reliance on China. This would probably be on a five to ten-year timescale but needs to be built into strategies.

Infrastructure in the western world desperately needs a rebuild, which could kickstart the global economy and, with it, the mining, engineering, construction, energy industries and the associated service sectors.

Screening at ports and airports will become much more common and could present additional challenges when moving around the world. The international mobility we have taken for granted as individuals and as an industry is likely to be more restricted.  

Small and medium-sized companies could rethink the need for permanent workspaces and examine moving to working from home combined with weekly catchups in a convenient meeting room. Larger organisations might be more open to having remote teams, which has been fairly standard practice in major tech companies for several years.

There are certainly challenges that come with implementing working from home, and we’ve been helping some clients deal with them. While maintaining company culture and effectively managing people who are far apart are clear examples, working from home will accelerate a shift to a predominantly digital world. That runs the risk of increasing the isolation of older employees who may be technically savvy but didn’t grow up as digital citizens.

The lockdown may also give rise to people rethinking family and its importance. This could go either way after spending weeks and months in a confined space with their loved ones! I think people will become more selective about work and career. They may opt for roles that allow them to spend more time with family and require less travel, which will impact how roles are defined and how we recruit. 

Companies will need to think creatively about how they position job opportunities as personal performance, remuneration, and most importantly, culture could be looked at through a different lens by prospective employees.

What do companies need to do to come out of this positively?

Companies will need energy and applied intellect to regain their original market position or reposition to take advantage of vacuums and opportunities that will occur because of COVID 19.

The ability to work through ambiguity will be paramount and the global business community – as well as governments, education, families, social groups, etc. – will need people who can lead effectively. 

We need to identify and develop people who can recognise the challenges, work out reasonable solutions and drive change. And many leaders know what needs to be done, it’s more about the how.  

There’s an opportunity for global leadership in the resources sector to develop a more collegiate approach like some governments have done as the tackle COVID 19. It’s often in times like this that a transformational leader appears. 

While we work in a very competitive industry, one option might be to establish a global team of ten of the best, brightest and most practical, whose task is to share information, technology, strategy, and best practices across the industry.

It is going to be tough, but there will be opportunities for individuals, organisations and industries to flourish. At Swann and Cygnet, we’ll be doing our best to make sure our clients and our candidates are amongst them.