The Insider Article – Our Land Abounds in Nature’s Gifts
LHA MAY JUNE 2020 | THE INSIDER | ASHLEY THACKER
Undoubtedly, Coronavirus has taken a lot from us, but it has also given us an opportunity to create better working and personal lives for ourselves as the ‘new normal’ dawns. It is time to look at this in a positive way.
At the time of writing, May has been greeted like a milestone in the Coronavirus pandemic and, at least here in Australia, we’re starting to prepare for a return to life in what is widely being called the ‘new normal’. That means we understand that social distancing measures might be here to stay for a while, but we’re resolute and positive—with good reason.
As we see supply chains starting to find a way to connect, we should be extremely thankful for a number of things that have given us a chance to make a speedy recovery: first, that we had the luxury of time to see COVID-19 coming; we knew of the severity of the pandemic before it hit us. For many countries it was the other way around; they were knocked to the floor before they had time to react. As a nation, we’ve got to acknowledge how lucky we were and accept that life for us could be very much worse going into the winter months.
Also, credit is due to the government’s JobKeeper Payment scheme, which supports businesses significantly affected by the virus to help keep more Australians in jobs. That’s an important point to emphasise because it’s different to what we’ve seen, say, in the UK, where employers can furlough employees and apply for a grant that covers 80% of their usual monthly wage costs, up to £2,500 a month.
In other words, people were paid but sent home and not allowed to work even if they wanted to. A furloughed worker isn’t even allowed to answer emails (company directors can honour certain board-level commitments only). Imagine the impact that has on someone who usually sends and receives hundreds of messages and makes a large number of calls every day. And the economic damage is huge; consider how hard it will be for businesses that furloughed the majority of their workforce to bounce back.
Many UK business leaders I’ve spoken to have accepted the scheme but acknowledge that it has seen the economy grind to a halt. How can an economy move if nobody is at work?
Here, the JobKeeper payment was open to eligible employers, sole traders and other entities to enable them to pay their eligible employees’ salaries or wages of at least $1,500 (before tax) per fortnight. The scheme has enabled businesses to retain their workforces and in turn keep the Australian economy turning, albeit not at 100%. It has been especially important in niche markets that have taken a hit and seen a downturn but have still been required to deliver services for essential and emergency work (recertification of lifting gear, for example).
A furlough system makes it hard to be responsive to any leads and opportunities that might come in because the workforce isn’t there to deliver products and services. Australian businesses can still deliver on 100% of the leads that they have receive during this period because workers have been on hand. Similarly, we’ve had 90% of our staff working every day throughout the pandemic. It’s been a juggling act, and we’ve had to move people from sales roles to technical or manufacturing roles, but we have been able to keep everyone working throughout the crisis. If they were furloughed some business would have been turned away because in itself it wouldn’t be enough to justify the payroll expense.
Despite the turmoil, it’s been satisfying to tackle this unprecedented challenge. Moving my laptop down to the factory floor felt like positioning myself with my troops on the frontline. I think that was an important move as now is not the time for leaders to distance themselves from their workforces.
Every cloud has a silver lining
Something else I’ve detected among many Australians is an acceptance of the new way of life, rather than the doom and gloom that many nations are experiencing. Of course, Coronavirus is dreadful and it’s been heart-breaking to hear of people of all nations falling ill and losing their lives, but the best way to defeat it is to bounce back quickly and not let it derail our lives and / or the economy for months or years to come.
The pandemic forced me into working at home on occasions (I endured a bout of non-Coronavirus related illness and had to self-isolate at one point) and I’m certainly determined to maintain a better work-life balance even when we’re back up to full capacity. I led my team, dealt with enquiries, processed orders, spoke to clients—and saw my one-year-old daughter take her first steps and helped my five-year-old son with his home-schooling. All professionals are happy to put their work first when they need to, but I know too many people who get the balance wrong, and I’m probably guilty of that myself sometimes. A successful day at work shouldn’t have to be instead of seeing your children. A productive meeting shouldn’t finish so late that you don’t have time for a glass of wine with your partner on the deck.
Good riddance to the old days if we can learn to thrive in the new world. I wrote a piece for another magazine about how we fast-tracked implementation and learning of video conferencing and other technologies to enable us to connect with customers and see their equipment without endangering anyone with an unnecessary site visit. This has also proven an effective way for staff to stay in touch, particularly for teams who are used to sharing the same office. You can’t beat face-to-face connection on occasions, but I’m sure many businesses have realised during this pandemic that they’ve been under-using technology.
We’ve taken our management board meetings onto the popular Zoom video conferencing platform, conducting sessions out-of-hours, which is a change I want to retain. We have been able to hold such get-togethers more often and have tackled problems almost with more efficiency than we would have done previously. Also, being able to share screens and talk people through projects has proved more productive than getting the team together in the boardroom in the middle of the day when phones are ringing and emails are hitting inboxes. At home, as soon as the call is done, people are back around the television with their families.
Companies are also realising the importance of having a strong online presence. We’ve been investing in this side of our business for a long time but many, especially those in traditional sectors, have neglected it. With more people on their laptops or at their desks at home, the companies with up-to-date websites, educational content and smooth ordering and contact functions have found themselves one step ahead. Whether there’s another pandemic or not, it’s prudent for businesses in all sectors to have the digital base covered.
If I was asked now what the most important thing in life is and who are the people I can rely on, I can answer the question much faster than I would have been able to at the turn of the year. Family has always been my number one priority but only now is it apparent just how little most other things matter. I would always have said I was appreciative of my staff too but, again, the last month or so has taught me a lot about how important some of them are. Yes, I’ve been let down by one or two people but, take the positives: better I know about the extent to which they’re prepared to go above and beyond the call of duty—or not—now than find out later.
All things considered, we’ve got to be sure we don’t get carried away with a ‘return’ to normality. There is much we have been missing in our professional and personal lives but to go back to exactly how things were would be a mistake. We were set to achieve our 10th consecutive year of growth, which is now looking like being slightly less than last year, but I feel like the reset could actually be a positive and will set us up for bigger wins and improved best practices in the future.
Australians all let us rejoice.