“Never let a good crisis go to waste” – Winston Churchill

If you had asked me if I’d have asked for a crisis of the proportions of COVID-19 in February 2020, I’d have definitely told you that you’re absolutely bonkers. 

2020 was, on paper, going to be one of our best years ever, but by mid-March, it was clear that this was not going to be the case. We had been building a steady portfolio of travel clients and most of our projected growth for the next 18 months was going to come from three pillars: increased tourism business, growth of our events arm and growth of the rest of the business through Traction, an extremely successful series of events we were holding at our office.

I don’t need to spell out what happened next. We lost 65 per cent of our business in a couple of weeks, and we lost every single opportunity we had lined up for the year that hadn’t been confirmed. 

But one thing mattered: we survived. Thanks to the efforts of a team that was as determined as we were to pull through, we had two certainties in our minds – if we can survive this, we can survive anything. And if we do survive this, we’ll come out stronger.

What we hadn’t seen at the time was that if Switch was to survive the pandemic, then it would come out as a new and improved version of who we were. A version that is much closer to the dream that we always had for our agency.

This version of the agency is one that we could never have arrived at in such a short period of time, because there is very little that we could have done to change who we are while we were working at breakneck speed to service a growing client list.

But what really worries me as I talk to businesses around me, is that I see them on a path that’s slowly going to take them back to where they were just before March 2020. It’s true, we’d all like to have the value of the order book we had in March last year, but is that who we want to be?

And much more pertinently – is that who we need to be?

Is that who our clients expect us to be? Is that who our employees expect us to be? (spoiler alert: Nope) How can we, with straight faces, look at our employees and tell them that we need them to work from the office for five days a week? Or maybe for four days a week, the tokenistic equivalent of putting a rainbow flag on your Facebook profile picture during June to pretend you care about LGBTQ issues.

If there’s any lesson that we should have taken over the past 16 months it’s that we have a responsibility towards the people who we employ. If you don’t get that, then I’m sorry, but you will never earn, and nurture, their love and respect. They might tolerate you because you are paying their wages, but that’s about it. You’ve built a transactional relationship with the people you depend on most. To make matters worse, you’ve probably even convinced yourself that the relationship is the other way around, and that they depend on you. 

They might depend on you financially, but that’s only temporary, and a wage is extremely replaceable. You owe everything to your employees, and the quicker you can swallow that medicine, the quicker you will recover from the long-term effects of the pandemic.

But I’m not here to discuss HR. There are many other experts in that field on this platform, and I’ll let them write about what they feel is best for your organisation. I know what’s best for mine.

I’m here to make the case for questioning everything that you’re doing as you try to revert to it in an effort to go back to “normal”. There is no new normal, there is no old normal, there are the ways that you had, the ways that you have and the ways that you’re going to have. You have complete control over the direction you’re going in, but you have no control over the direction that you’re coming from, so this is the time to really check your course.

Here are some questions that you could ask yourself over the next few weeks:

  • If we’re discussing going back to the office, for example, do you need to spend 90 minutes a day going to and from work, or could that be seen as an extremely attractive perk for your employees (and for yourself)? 
  • Was the marketing that you were doing before the pandemic working well for you? Or are there lessons that you learned that mean that you don’t need to spend all that money and time on TV efforts because your business thrived without that spend regardless?
  • Do you ditch your ecommerce site just because your shops are now open, or do you use that opportunity to eat back revenue that you were losing to Amazon? (Yes, it’s one of my biggest pet peeves, here’s a post I wrote about it last year).
  • If you’re in knowledge-based industries, do you really need to work with local clients, or can you start offering your services globally? And vice versa, do you need to work with local suppliers, or can you shop around globally?
  • Do you need the office space you had 18 months ago? Do you really need all your people in the same space, or in the same location, or can you hire from further afield?
  • Are you going to be affected by the resignation boom? People are going to start resigning, and there’s nothing you can do about it if you treat them like cattle. Will you change your ways? Are you planning for re-hiring when this happens or will you reengineer some of your departments?

Finally, just ask yourself: Am I wasting this crisis? 

Are you going back to your old self to just get back into the old routine because it’s your comfort zone? Was it really better? Are there no lessons that you could have learned from this experience?

We don’t have all the answers at Switch, but we’re asking ourselves these questions each and every day. The questions you should ask yourself could be different to these, but whatever the case, you should be looking for the right ones to ask.

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