When It Comes To Doing Business During A Crisis, It's All About Taking Action
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“What has us going over to see your aunt got to do with your business?” That was how my clearly annoyed dad responded to me asking him to stay at home amidst the coronavirus pandemic.
“Everything,” I replied. I turned to my mother, who is usually more accommodating, to explain that in order to truly reduce risk for my business, she and my dad had to stop going out.
Setting aside conversations like these with my parents, I must admit that, through this crisis, for a global fight that has espoused international solidarity, I’ve been extremely selfish and distant over the last few weeks.
While I very much salute the efforts of our healthcare workers, there has, alas, not been much time set aside to cheer outside my window and recognize their heroic feats. Nor I have tried to get together with friends over a Zoom call and have a virtual hangout.
By now, my wife has given up getting through to me to take my mind off things. My kids don’t expect me to be with them at decent hours of the evening anymore.
All I seem to have on my mind is minimizing enough risk amidst this 100-year event to avoid an extreme downside scenario for my business Hello Chef, which delivers ready-to-cook, delicious, chef-curated recipes in the UAE.
As it so happens, I’ve been hunkered down in my own extreme form of mental self-isolation. This version involves a world of uncertainty and anxiety. What if one of my staff catch the virus and dies? What if I catch it? What if roads are closed and my logistics provider can’t deliver anymore? What if my key suppliers can’t fulfil our orders?
Perhaps I’ve been watching way too much news, or perhaps I’m feeling what most entrepreneurs have been feeling lately. Luckily, some of the time I spent in worry has paid off in the form of execution.
When it comes to a crisis, speed and tactics matter more than anything. When the rug gets pulled under your feet, reaction times can spell the difference between a bruised elbow and a concussion.
Once we knew how big this pandemic was getting, we got our core team members together to assess the severity of the situation, and what it could mean to them and the business. We had very few answers, but once we got talking, we started identifying risks and developing ideas on how to get things done quickly.
For example, much of our operations staff was living in various parts of Dubai, and we saw the potential risk of catching the virus on a bus or the metro on the way to work. As such, we engaged with the operations staff, and asked them if they would be willing to relocate to a building next door to our site. The landlord of the building offered a good deal as we were renting a bunch of apartments from him in a single exchange.
100% of my operations staff accepted, and they were relocated within a week. With work now being a five-minute walk from home, staff get to pocket their transportation allowance, which they appreciated. I also inadvertently solved a bunch of staff logistical issues that used to slow us down.
Our office staff had to make changes too. By working from home on a moment’s notice, we had to quickly figure out the efficacy of each communication channel relative to the urgency of each message. We reviewed all medical insurance policies and re-communicated what to do should someone have symptoms.
We spoke to staff who were juggling working from home with homeschooling their kids to see how we could accommodate work hours around that. Our quarterly meeting, usually a day-long retreat at a decent hotel with a group of staff, had to be adapted to be done over video calls.
Our customers also expected us to act fast too. They wanted to know what we were doing to mitigate their risk, and rightly so.
Once the plans were laid out, we started communicating with customers about what we were getting done, ensuring we followed through on every step. One thing we were proud of was the quick implementation of no-contact delivery, a method which involves no direct forms of physical contact between our customers and the delivery drivers.
With the crisis still not at its apex, it’s safe to say that the definition of risk is a moving target. We may have surprises around the corner. But taking action has helped ease much of the stress.
Processes that once worked fine have been broken down and completely rebuilt to thwart the invisible enemy. People have needed to be trained and retrained. In some ways, we’ve blown money by over-investing in things we probably won’t need once the worst is behind us.
To some level, doing all this has been painful, but there is a silver lining: this pandemic has given me a crash course on risk mitigation. And that’s something that will stay with me for the rest of my career.