How to lead your business through an unexpected crisis

Disruptions can come from the most unlikely of sources but having a plan in place to deal with them is important

Cathay Pacific Airways Ltd. employees wearing protective masks walk with luggage at Hong Kong International Airport in Hong Kong, China, on Thursday, Feb. 6, 2020. Cathay asked employees to take three weeks of unpaid leave as the Hong Kong airline is cutting capacity because of the coronavirus outbreak. Photographer: Ivan Abreu/Bloomberg

The Covid-19 crisis has now reached a concerning stage around the world. Some Italian cities are on lockdown, while my colleague in Hong Kong has been working from home for weeks now.

Though the main focus is to ensure the safety of the world’s citizens, finding a cure and containing the widespread of the virus as much as possible, the impact the virus is having on businesses and the way they are conducted is also important. If anything, the spread of the virus has turned around the way many businesses are operated overnight. Working remotely, and conducting businesses online, have become the only solution for many companies, as in the case of my colleague in Hong Kong, and have proved to be effective for those who were doubting it could be implemented as an option for their employees before the virus outbreak.

Even though many organisations have crisis departments and strategies in place, it is worth looking at important lessons of how the Covid-19 virus could help us prepare to navigate around unforeseen crises.

Firstly, you need to beware of rumours and their impact on staff. Rumours have spread widely across social media channels in regards to Covid-19 virus, its transmission, and ways to treat it. Though it’s safe to assume that your team is well-educated and could tell the difference between credible news sources and those that aren’t, it’s best to make sure that you convey credible news updates, especially official ones, with them and discuss how they can stay safe and how your business would operate should the matter escalate.

Depending on the crisis, daily, and even twice-a-day, meetings may need to be made to discuss updates and the effects they have on business operations.

If necessary, adopt a digital communication approach, and an online workspace that would help you to quickly and effectively reach team members should physical meetings become a challenge, and to resume work from home should your town or city be in lockdown or witness curfew hours.

Secondly, you should dedicate a team member to monitor the crisis. Depending on the nature of your business and its size, you may need to have someone dedicated to monitor a crisis and update the management and staff about it. Though the Covid-19 virus originated in China, it soon spread to countries around the world. Distance doesn’t equate to safety, especially with health-related crises. Always prepare ahead. What seemed far off to some countries just a few weeks ago is now a reality. Have a plan A, B, and C in place following different scenarios and severity levels.

When putting a crisis strategy in place, make sure that it’s flexible, time-efficient, and responsive. Have a small, dedicated committee in charge of the crisis, and provide them with room to make strategic decisions in a short period of time.

Adaptability is a key word to keep in mind. Being fluid and ready to go with the flow is essential to ensure staff safety and that your business isn’t negatively impacted. Resistance to change doesn’t play in your favour, especially at critical times and when others are depending on you for guidance.

After a crisis has passed, assemble your team, and discuss the lessons you have learned from the situation. Is your business well-prepared? Does your team have what it takes to deal with a challenge of this sort? Or do they need to undergo training to be better-equipped for it? A crisis always reveals a business’s strengths and weaknesses, and helps its managers steer it in a better-prepared direction.

If anything, the Covid-19 virus has forced entire companies to work remotely, benefitted online shopping, and disrupted supply-chains in both the manufacturing and service industries. As a result, I’m sure that many businesses will invest more in online models, and look for alternative supply channels. Perhaps this is when we will see the introduction of mail handled by drones and robots to cover for humans?

Covid-19 will certainly not be the last crisis the world will face. Economic, social, or even political challenges could present themselves in an unforeseen manner. The businesses that will survive best are the ones that are well-prepared, resilient, and fluid in face of unforeseen challenges.

Manar Al Hinai is an award-winning Emirati journalist and entrepreneur, who manages her marketing and communications company in Abu Dhabi.