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Pandemic takeaways: Six lessons Covid-19 has taught us

Covid-19 will have permanent consequences on the future of every type of company in every type of industry.

Remote working was always there but never widely accepted in certain countries, especially in India.

By Sumit Mitra

When the Coronavirus pandemic swept in, companies had to change their business-as-usual approaches. The speed with which the pandemic has affected the workplace is beyond imagination. It not only magnified but also accelerated the damage through the existing flaws. Here are the six lessons I have learned:

Not keeping up with the customers: Today companies are scrambling to activate digital tools without realising that interface tools are just one element of agility. Being digital requires a delicate balance between design and scale that directly changes the way a business operates. Even companies which had digital transformation projects underway for some time have now realised that they just aren’t “really” digital to the extent needed, after all. Operating at the “speed of the customer” requires a deep understanding of where your customers and their experiences lie, irrespective of the boundaries of industries, technologies or expertise. The businesses that are analysing these emerging trends and modelling the long-term implications, will adjust faster to the imperative of the changing present and new-look future.

Not appreciating the power of remote working: Remote working was always there but never widely accepted in certain countries, especially in India. Covid-19 left leaders with no choice but to embrace home working. Leaders had to innovate and leverage tools which helped them to measure productivity and remote collaboration. Thus, it has inspired leaders to make the remote workplace efficient.

Not thinking about the future differently: Those business leaders who believe we will return to “business as usual” are at a disadvantage. Covid-19 will have permanent consequences on the future of every type of company in every type of industry. The ability to think, plan and execute in a clinical fashion is key to realising the nature of business change which leaders need to drive. This is about thinking through the ideas, experimenting quickly and scaling up. It is about surprising customers with possibilities that they never thought were possible.

Not feeling the pulse of the organisation: If there is one thing that Covid-19 engagement has taught us, it is the imperative to feel the pulse of the organisation on a daily basis. Gone are the days of six-monthly employee engagement surveys, today it is about right here and now. At Tesco, by sending a short, sharp, targeted daily pulse survey, we have been able to collate invaluable data and trends which have allowed us to make timely and appropriate interventions to manage engagement and improve motivation. The survey also offers a period of self-reflection to colleagues during their busy schedule of managing work and home life.

Not building an augmented workforce: There has to be less dependency on humans in operations. Humans need to move up the value chain in order to create “value”. Augmented workforces are smarter; they learn fast, focus on value-adding activities and are overwhelmingly customer centric. By 2025, I believe that there will be a mix of four to five bots per employee in all types of companies. Almost 40% of every job has some level of automation potential. If companies can redefine their strategic workforce planning to beyond just planning based on the productivity of humans, they will multiply their customer value while actually creating more jobs.

From profit to purpose: During Covid-19, reconnecting to the purpose of the organisation, that is, “why do you exist” has been the catalyst for driving the right culture within the organisation. It is no longer about running after profit. It is about connecting the organisation to a common purpose which then drives the right leadership values to deliver the right outcome. Profit should be seen as an outcome rather than as an objective.

The writer is CEO, Tesco Business Services & Tesco Bengaluru

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