4 Valuable Business Lessons Being Taught by the Pandemic

“Antifragility is beyond resilience or robustness. The resilient resists shocks and stays the same; the antifragile gets better.”
― Nassim Nicholas Taleb, Antifragile

Uncertainty rules the day. It seems like all the challenges of COVID-19 have us looking around for solid answers to far too many business questions.  As Nassim Taleb wrote in Antifragile, volatility, randomness, disorder, risk, and uncertainty can be used to make life better in the long term. And that’s what inspired us to look at the issues our community faces. What are the problems and solutions that help us become more antifragile? With that question, we take a look at four valuable business lessons being taught by the pandemic.

You Don’t Need All That Office Space (People CAN Work from Home)

Behavioral changes during the pandemic will most likely change the format of many “big offices”. Some companies are planning on drastically reducing their real estate Organizations are suddenly being forced to work remotely, and some will inevitably stick to it. It’s likely that even when people are allowed to re-occupy commercial spaces, we’ll be less enthusiastic about dense office environments. This is especially true if they know they can get their work done outside the office. It could also mean more reconfigured office layouts (such as less open-play layouts!). Randy Matusoff, a commercial real estate broker in Los Angeles, explained that office space planning depends on the business context — businesses like banks are thriving in offices today, many technology firms easily adapted to remote work, and others, like for profit education, have suffered from customer fears. Mr. Matusoff also said that open plan offices with ‘bench seating’ will not necessarily give way to private offices supporting 2-3 employees sharing them because it doesn’t alleviate all the issues. So for the foreseeable future, organizations must adapt, especially since most leases are long-term. Until COVID-19 is under control, modified office environments and remote work will be the norm.

A majority of organizations are ill equipped for remote work – and many are still evaluating requirements and solutions. Canceled events and the dire need to keep workers productive has pushed organizations to revisit collaboration tools and work-from-home policies. There’s a mandate to replace in-person meetings with online meetings and increase telecommuting options. Distributed teams can communicate via video, which can help sustain employee relationships & improve productivity.

In the end, we must use this experience to re-think collaboration culture and workforce flexibility. Combinations of safe, collaborative office space, virtual desktops, remote workforce productivity tools (with security around all of them) will be the new way business functions.

Your Business Continuity Plan SUCKS

Organizations must provide secure access to critical business content and collaboration processes. You should plan how communication will work. Internet access may be limited for some, and communication contingencies are critical. Where does it start for employees & customers? Who manages the process? What tools will be used? Organize ahead of time to ensure success. To become anti-fragile, you need to use the current normal to design the future.

  • Do you have a viable business continuity plan?
    • Leadership
    • Facilities
    • Safety
    • Communication
    • Critical Functions
    • Finances (!)
    • Disaster Recovery Procedures
  • Does your plan handle ‘white swans’ (known emergencies, like a fire) and ‘black swans’ (unpredictable emergencies, like COVID or 9/11)?
  • Has your business continuity plan been tested?
  • Is your team aware of the business continuity plan?

It’s Time to Look at Your Insurance Portfolio & Practices

Unfortunately, commercial insurance policies didn’t offer much assistance in this pandemic. As a matter of fact, since they learned their lesson from the Spanish Flu in 1918, business interruption policies specifically carve out communicable diseases (there are ongoing lawsuits that the lockdown was a government order, not an interruption by the virus). David Lebental, president of PNL Insurance Services in Torrance, California, explained that other policies also revealed challenges with COVID. He said that companies take liability risks with employment practices by not adhering to CDC guidelines, so it’s critical to follow them. And company management won’t be covered by Directors & Officers insurance if guidelines aren’t followed. Workers Comp policies, in many states, do not cover remote workers – they’re tied to specified addresses. In addition, many commercial property policies require 50% occupancy because of the increased risk of fire and theft. The bottom line is that you should audit your insurance policies to determine your exposure in these areas, else you run risks of denied claims or canceled coverage.

You Need More (Secure) Cloud Services

Experts predict that global impact of COVID-19 on the cloud market is growth from $233 billion in 2019 to $295 billion by 2021. Major factors driving cloud expansion include enterprises’ need to support remote workforces and rise in demand for cloud-based business continuity tools & services (see above!). Although most organizations have managed infrastructure centrally, they now need to organize assets remotely. This adjustment requires in-depth security review and structural adjustments to avoid cybersecurity nightmares. It also requires employees to be able to securely navigate their work tools. The first phase is the implementation, on a smart-phone or other personal computer, of the correct safety software and facility for automated upgrades.Companies must also ensure their workers are properly trained to perform remote jobs. Compliance goes beyond ensuring that people sign in as they are expected — employees must be able to identify malicious behavior and report ransomware, cyberattacks, and phishing attempts.

Lessons Being Taught by the Pandemic

Inevitably we’ll come out on the other side of the pandemic. First, we must survive, but closely on the heels of getting by, we need to learn the lessons. We have immediately found a few in our own experience, and you may have found others (please share in comments!). Whether you’re now aware of your dependence on a particular vertical market (e.g., restaurants) or you’ve seen the need to shore up your contingency planning or you want to lock down your network security to avoid a cyber threat, add your antifragile tasks to your to-do list. One by one they’ll make you stronger for another big challenge, and they very well may help you in normal times. No one ever got fired for having a secure network. No one ever said portfolio diversification was a dangerous strategy. The pandemic is a wake up call. We cannot ignore it.

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