Should we rethink the restart?

Whilst we are all waiting from updates from the government in terms of coming out of lockdown many businesses are starting to think about what the future might look like in a post-pandemic world.

The CBI’s webinar on 29th April focused on the topic with speakers from Airbus and Tesco – throwing some big questions into the air about how things might be in the future.

The big question for agencies in the B2B space is actually existential. Is your business a Tesco, anAirbus or a British Airways?

Here’s how I would characterise these:

  • Tesco – you’re essential, so your sales volume remains stable, but the make-up of the basket changes. People buy products they haven’t been interested in before (flour for example), overorder on things they think they need but then change their mind (loo paper) whilst long term sales of some products will remain positive (hand sanitisers, soap). Impact on the business: changes to the supply chain, changes to distribution (Tesco are doubling their home deliveries from 600,000 to 1.2m per week). The changes and increases to skills (drivers rather than in store staff, more customer care assistants, more digital skills) are key issues to be addressed.
  • Airbus – some areas of the business are down (civil aviation) some are constant and may rise (digital technologies for cyber security, military and helicopters). Impact on the business: security of supply chain for existing, sustainable business, how to maintain the skills needed for existing business whilst knowing that the demand may drop off, how to redeploy talent to different parts of the business, upskill in growth areas, and how to pivot towards technological innovation e.g. more efficient aircraft.
  • British Airways – you experience fundamental change. Significantly lessened demand, damper on capacity, doubts about whether it’s even going to be needed in the future. Impact on the business: mass redundancy (BA are letting 12,000 staff go), refitting aircraft, rethinking the business model completely. Massive impact on the supply chain too e.g. aircraft build and supplies. The world has changed from having 1m people in the sky every day to a few thousand.

No matter what size your business, I think the principles still apply in terms of where we all are on this continuum. For agencies it will be hugely dependent on our services lines, client relationships and the business sectors in which we operate. But, as some reports are suggesting, B2B agencies are showing a certain amount of resilience in all this. So how might we go forward?

Here’s how we’re thinking about it at Omobono.

1. Getting back to work.

As an office based business which has shown it can operate extremely successfully remotely (years of video calls with US clients and colleagues set us up well for this) we’re not on the front line for returning to work. But when we do there will be some basics we need to assess.

Transport – how will public transport or car sharing work. Office life – do we have enough space for people to spread out? What protection do we need to offer our staff? How do we increase hand washing facilities – or is hand sanitiser enough? When do we expect people to be in the office and who? These are practical questions. Businesses are coming up with 10 or 20 point plans (Airbus’s 19 point plan is available on the CBI website) to capture their approach, starting with their staff’s journeys to work.

2. Interim change

As many people are already saying, this pandemic has also provided an opportunity for positive change. ‘Building back better’, as it’s being termed. We’ve heard of the holding companies laying off senior, expensive staff and those in non-core areas as a result of the pandemic as they begin to rethink the way they might operate in the future. What do we want to take forward, what do we want to leave behind? Do we need as many offices?

The CBI is estimating that in future we might only need 30 to 40% of the office space we did, as we now know the benefits of working from home in terms of not having to commute, the impact on the environment and the opportunity to be more productive in your day. But we’ll need new approaches too – particularly in the way we interact with each other. How do we build culture when we’re not together all day every day? How do we onboard people so that they feel part of our culture from the get-go?

3. Longer term

This is the existential question. Are we Tesco, Airbus or British Airways and how do we see the need for our services in the future? And, beyond that, what do we want to do in the future. If what we have been doing is still needed great, but is there something we want to build out that could prove a more sustainable future for the business. The big agencies are all investing in digital skills, as the world pivots to doing business online for example.

Do we need all the skills ‘on staff’, or will remote working mean we can have a smaller core and a bigger freelance community across the world to support with specific skills when they are needed. How much will clients build their capacity in house and what will they still rely on agencies to provide? And, looking at it from the other end of the telescope, what clients will you want to work with?

It’s an ill wind that blows no-body any good, as the saying goes – so if we can turn our attention to how we improve on what we had before, rather than simply harking back to ‘the good old days’ which in many ways weren’t so good. As the CBI put it, building back better is about sustainability, productivity and levelling up. Turning our attention to those ideas might put us in a position to give that saying some real meaning.

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