With difficult times ahead and uncertainty about potential local lockdown restrictions and the possible re-introduction of national Covid measures, is it time for business to think forward to a “New Normal”?
Instead of harking back to business as usually as soon as possible, we need to see this period as an opportunity to plan; putting corporate social responsibilities front and centre in a positive development for the future.
Even with the stop/start nature of business in this continuing health crisis and the challenges of maintaining a business throughout unprecedented circumstances this is the prime time to reassess CSR goals. We have reached a watershed moment to reconsider what the planet; our employees and our businesses need to be resilient and sustainable.
The Covid-19 restrictions have lead to businesses having to conduct themselves in many different ways; being more flexible, operating simpler, expanding homeworking and moving many activities online. This trend is likely to remain – at least until transmission rates fall or an effective vaccine is in widespread use.
By re-examining CSR principles, even while dealing with severe interruptions to normal business activities, companies can commit to strong core economic, social, and ecological values.
In terms of provision of services and goods, is cost still the number one significance, or has continuity of supply and environmental issues climbed the priorities table?
The more complex the supply chain the more risk of disruption. In times of crisis outsourcing from remote; new and unfamiliar origination is prone to difficulties of communication; scrutiny of worker welfare, reliability and quality assurance.
During these pandemic times, many companies have, and will forge stronger links between their suppliers and client base. It would be a backward step not to maintain these closer connections. Moreover, working in closer partnership arrangements can lead to additional selling opportunitie; shorter lead times (by buying locally); a higher level of control and reduction in transportation costs and emissions.
Interactions between employers and staff are becoming more closely attuned; as both parties adapt to the new realities of working in a post coronavirus world. There will be benefits of flexibility on both sides and an understanding of situations that never before existed. It is imperative that the advances in mutual trust and the effects of homeworking, remote office functions and relaxation in rigid work practices are built upon.
Employees who had started volunteering in the initial lockdown, may wish to continue; they may have been ill themselves or experienced loss within their families. All these factors will have knock-on effects for businesses; and in dealing with them companies need to be fair and transparent, entering into honest discussions with their staff.
Businesses that participated in community projects during the original coronavirus emergency, and are contemplating offering ongoing support for their chosen cause or charity, should seek input from their workers. Staff contribution would considerably enhance any such schemes and bring the added advantages of improved morale; an increased feeling of connection with the world about them and the company brand. A positive societal focused programme would likewise raise the profile of the organisation to its stakeholders; current and potential customers and the broader community.
Maintain the new
In the early days of the pandemic worldwide shutdown saw a rapid improvement in air quality and nature reclaiming a foot hold in areas previously displaying a lack of biodiversity. These improvements were led by the sudden fall in emissions from transport and industrial output, which crippled the economy. To preserve some of these “green” gains and for organisations to return to cost-effective operation; they will need robust internal analysis to achieve this dual aim of profitability and environmental protection. These actions should be aligned to clear corporate social commitments with realistic objectives.
An honest appraisal of how sustainable the company systems are proving to be when tested in the eye of the Covid-19 storm and its ongoing waves; can only assist the business with prospective planning. The area under the most stress being the fundamental ability of the company to remain viable. Critically, relationships with financial partners and customers, compliance with changing legislation and guidance, welfare of staff and provision of crucial materials are being severely tested. Many, if not all of these tensions will require first-class communication processes; new technology solutions; high standards of duty of care and good interpersonal skills.
With scientists warning that the coronavirus infection could be around for the foreseeable future; with repeated outbreaks, all sectors of commerce and industry will have to operate as sustainable as possible. Staff wellbeing and environment issues will be central principles; while maintaining compliance with new regulations and ethical practices in a Covid secure workplace.
These factors should be a positive influence on companies’ performance with economies improving bottom line figures, for example;
- Reassessing all business travel – decreases in costs, time and transport emissions.
- Benefits of homeworking – lessening commuting stresses, better work/life balance, family friendly implications, CO2 reduction and less pressure on office space.
- Retaining many of the recently introduced hygiene initiatives; cutting workplace transmission of common illness such as coughs; colds; influenza and stomach bugs – significant lost time savings and a healthy workforce.
- Get serious about waste – introduce Lean Manufacturing and Lean Office techniques – work smarter, save time, energy and operating costs
- Improvements in communication systems – better commercial relationships, less misunderstandings, clearer information and fewer delays.
- Renewed emphasis on training and awareness – more efficient and informed staff, higher output.
If firms are serious about CSR implementation, back to the future, returning to old ways of working is not an option.