Image Source: Newsweek
Roughly nine months ago I wrote “What’s your product rain delay plan?” and offered some opinions on how business should (and some do) prepare themselves and their products for the unexpected — for the time when things don’t go as planned — for the rain delay. Never would I have imagined that I’d be writing this article as a follow up in the context of a global pandemic. One hell of a rain delay, with no true radar, and a drastic shortage of umbrellas.
Just like that, businesses of all types have been forced to change how they operate. Many have shifted their ways of working from in-person collaboration to employees working remotely from their homes. The scramble is on for finding the right tools for collaboration, virtual meetings, and communication. Retailers have either moved to an entirely virtual format or adapted with curbside, no-contact delivery. Regardless of how a business has been affected by the pandemic, processes and procedures that were once standard issue are now up for grabs. This is definitely not business as usual.
Now, before I continue, I realize that businesses are being disrupted by a pandemic that is claiming lives. Many people have died, many are dying, and many are ill. I am also fully aware of the individuals who continue to bravely do their jobs in the face of uncertainty and increased risk. To all those suffering and to those fighting the fight — the world’s thoughts and prayers are with you.
Even amid the human suffering, businesses need to adapt if they want to remain in business and provide employment. Frankly, s#!t’s gonna change. To help everyone succeed in this new environment, businesses (and employees) should keep a few things in mind.
For many people this may be their first foray into working from home and are still getting a handle on what time to get up, where to set up shop, what to do for lunch, et cetera. Just to make matters more complicated, for those with children there’s now the added stress of child care, home schooling, feeling guilty about spending quality time vs. screen time. For these reasons alone it’s important for employers and co-workers alike to do their best when it comes to becoming a bit more flexible with timing, expectations, and policies to establish and maintain the trust between all parties.
Transparent Communication is Key
I’ve always believed that transparent communication is key to running a business, and in my opinion this is even more true of operating a business in the current state of the world. At Moonshot we try hard to make sure this is activated on a daily basis as a cornerstone of our culture. I also came across a very relevant example recently from a retail brand.
Obvious Shirts is a Chicago-based company producing t-shirts with simple statements on them, mostly aimed at sports culture and specifically for fans of the Chicago Cubs. As a fan and customer, I follow the brand on Instagram to keep an eye on sales and new merchandise, but recently came across the following on their story:
This message was delivered on March 14th, just as the nation was headlong into shutting down and shelter in place measures. I was immediately impressed by the direct addressing of not only issues that third party providers were having, but more importantly their own issues. What’s more, they offered a way for customers to contact them as well as their intended course of action. (side note: they also responded to my message complimenting them on their customer service example)
Opportunity for Change
With each passing day another industry is affected by this pandemic, and some of the hardest hit have been restaurants and small businesses that may not currently have any sort of digital component to their operations. However, as the strain and stumble continues, there is also an underlying component of new possibility underneath. As the famous saying by Frederick Douglass goes, “If there is no struggle, there is no progress.” Now is the time for not only addressing the obstacles which we need to overcome, yet also for beginning to look at new ways to improve products and processes as we enter a new era of society and business.
Perhaps the most obvious example of change so far has been the restaurants which had previously been solely a dine-in experience shifting their businesses to offer take away and delivery service at the drop of a hat. Not to mention, retailers scrambling to get products for sale online — thus not only opening up their products to another access point, but also to the potential of a much larger customer base.
In addition, as more employees and students are working or studying remotely there are amazing opportunities for online learning such as Coursera and Masterclass and participation in streaming workshops or conferences.
Rethink Our Priorities
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, our current global situation opens up countless opportunities for humans to reconsider our priorities. As we’re “sheltered in place” with our loved ones and neighbors we should embrace the opportunity to get back in touch with friends online or on the phone, pick up new hobbies or develop new interests (looking at all the new bread bakers out there), or simply set aside technology and go for a walk. In the larger picture, I recently watched an interview of Jason Fried (Basecamp CEO & remote work advocate) hosted by Jonathan Courtney (AJ & Smart CEO) in which Fried had mentioned noticing how quiet the environment has become with the diminished air travel, which got me thinking — what if we instituted no fly Tuesdays? No drive Wednesdays? From a neighboring angle, what about a community grocery list? More community gardens? What if all apparel manufacturers would receive a tax credit for utilizing excess fabric to produce hospital gowns and masks? The possibilities are endless.
So What Now?
The short answer — I don’t know. Personally, I’m taking things day-by-day, but the in the grand scheme of things there are thousands of smart people in the world who are at the ready to brainstorm and get to work. If you think you have an idea for a solution, are in need of help with your current situation, or just want to bounce some ideas off some smart folks, myself and the team at Moonshot are ready. We’re working hard to educate our peers and clients alike in developing the most lovable experiences for whatever the situation or product may be through the practice and education of Design Sprints. What I will say is that now is the time to make every effort to consider the future and begin planning ahead — to begin thinking upstream vs. downstream — because there are ways to get in front of our challenges by leaning on the shoulders of others.