I was in the middle of my third Zoom call last Wednesday morning—my eighth of the week—when I came to the dreaded realization that being on video meetings was now my new norm.
It wasn’t that long ago—two months to be exact—that I went into virtual hibernation by order of my government. The promise at the time was that if society would behave and play their part in flattening the curve, that the government would open society and life would get back to normal fairly quickly.
I think many of us, me included, were disillusioned enough into believing that within a month or two max, we would once again be out and about, riding the subways, eating in restaurants, attending smaller conferences, and hanging out with our friends.
Fast forward a couple of months, the curve has now flattened, but most of the governments around the world are in violation of the social contract commitment they made in mid-March.
When this all began, I found myself watching the virus counts on a daily basis, much as someone might watch their favorite sports team in anticipation of a win (certainly not my home town Toronto Maple Leafs). In this case, a win is a flattened curve and a return to normality.
What the governments have come to realize is that it’s far easier to send people home and close the world down than it is to open up.
As a result, the consequence of remaining in a virtual standstill and the uncertainty of not knowing what tomorrow may bring has resulted in billions of people throughout the world stuck in purgatory.
As much as Canadian politicians seem to be getting along at the moment, which is a rarity, they can’t seem to agree on how things should be opened up.
On the eve of Ontario’s premiere announcing just last week that they’re getting ready to enter phase one of reopening, PM Justin Trudeau warned that if “Canada opens too early, the country could be sent ‘back into confinement.‘
The confusion is much the same in the US as well, with President Trump disagreeing with individual states on their reopening plans.
So which one is it?
Do we reopen now or not?
And under what circumstances would the government send the country back into confinement?
And most importantly for the small business owner, how on earth should you be expected to run your business and make future-oriented decisions knowing that within a matter of days—maybe even hours—your business could be shut down once again?
Here’s a sobering statistic that I’m sure the US and Canadian governments are aware of:
As of December 2018, the Canadian economy totaled 1.2 million employer businesses. Of these, 1.18 million (97.9 percent) were small businesses. That’s the same number in the USA: Over 99 percent of America’s 28.7 million firms are small businesses.
The small business sector is the heart of the North American economy. It goes without saying that entrepreneurs need clarity on how, what, when, and under what circumstances they can operate their businesses, and under what circumstances they might be shut down.
Governments need to treat the sector with the respect it deserves in consideration of its importance to the economy.
No small business = no economy.
If you’re running a restaurant or something in the hospitality, travel, or live event space, how comfortable would you be in reopening, knowing full well that you’re one health minister’s decision away from being sent back into hibernation?
What bothers me most is the lack of clarity and under what circumstances they might close some, or all of the economy once again, and then, under what circumstances they might reopen. And then, considering the damage that’s already been done to many of these businesses, how long can you be expected to “hang on” without concrete information to go on.
This is the New Norm. Position Your Business for Growth?
I was on a call with a number of CEOs/small business owners last week, 13 to be exact. Overall, most of the businesses are trying to readapt to the “new normal,” but what I found interesting is that most of them are doing fairly well, better than they would have imagined, with their staff working remotely.
Some are finding it challenging to manage their staff remotely, but they’ve figured out a new cadence, and although different, it seems to be working.
Quite a few actually commented that their staff seems to actually be more productive and collaborative.
These CEOs are questioning why they need office space or, if they’re going to “reopen” their office, they might not need nearly as much space, and that seems to be a recurring theme.
Many companies have decided that they’re going to do away with office space entirely, or, cut their current office requirements down significantly. Open Text, for example, announced that they won’t be reopening half their office space once the pandemic is over. And they have 15,000 employees.
The Beginning Of the Global Company?
The thought has also occurred to many of these CEOs that if they’re going to adapt to a work-from-home concept, and potentially reduce their physical real estate footprint, that they can now broaden their talent pool to include staff well outside their current geographic boundaries.
Do you really need to hire the local accounts payable clerk at $50,000 per year?
For many jobs, it’s quite easy to hire the same talent from India, the Philippines, or anywhere else at a fraction of the cost. You’re one good job posting on Upwork away from that hire.
It’s essential to maintain some semblance of corporate culture, but, that’s the case whether your staff is in India, or in the same city. You need to adopt a new culture or adapt to your old one. Either way, this virus has forced these changes, and your company needs to change along with it.
I’ve had a lot of success in hiring and building a remote team to work on a countless number of projects, both at my old role as president of a 50-person operation, and my current list of projects. That includes writers, technicians, marketing people, video editors, and so on.
Hiring foreign workers, and building a remote out-of-country team has its challenges, but, from a cost-containment perspective, it can certainly help reduce payroll costs, and then, help position your business for growth once things start to improve.
Do You Open, Close, Re-Open? What’s the Plan?
As a business owner, when faced with the prospect of opening, not opening, maybe opening, maybe closing, maybe no one knows, with government guidance as clear as mud, you, as a business owner, need to face the reality that what you’ve got is very possibly the new reality for a long time.
So long in fact, that if you’re holding out hope that things are going to go back to normal, and your business’s success and survival depend on going back to the old normal, then maybe it’s best that you mitigate the damage now, close shop, and open an entirely new business.
Alternatively, you should assume that what we have today will be with us long enough that you need to adapt your business model to work with the “new normal.”
If that means you need to pivot your business in order to stay in business, then pivot.
If your business can’t survive with the way things are today, and your business model is such that you can’t pivot, and you’re still reading the daily COVID numbers like today’s sports score, then maybe it’s time to stop throwing good time and money after bad.
Some Businesses Are Getting Ready For Rapid Growth
This recession will end. Eventually.
And when it does, there are many business owners who are investing in their business in anticipation of the other end of this recession and are getting ready to position their business for growth.
You can expand your business by making an acquisition, starting a new product line, building a new and/or more aggressive marketing campaign, hiring additional rockstars that would have been near impossible to hire just a few months ago, and so on.
It’s not all bad. Recessions bring uncertainty, and uncertainty brings opportunity. The challenge is to position your business for growth now so that when this recession ends, you’re well ahead of the market and ready for growth into 2023 and beyond.