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24.04.2020 Business Briefing

Harriet Nicholson
Harriet Nicholson
Head of Strategy 24 Apr 20209 minutes read

A round-up of the most important insights and what they mean for your business.

cut through the noise

With the news cycle on hyperdrive, we know it’s difficult to stay on top of the Covid-19 latest. It’s even more difficult to unpick the significant insights for your business. The Business Briefing is your one-stop shop for the most important insights, with valuable analysis and opinion from our Etch experts. We’ll take you through this week’s latest on the economic outlook, emerging consumer behaviours and the implications for organisational and cultural change. 

WEEKLY DIGEST

Welcome to the latest Etch business briefing. In this snapshot of the week, we wade through the melee of Covid-19 updates, articles and thought pieces so you don’t have to.

So what has happened since our last business briefing? Well we started the week by getting over-excited about Denmark’s gradual reopening strategy (schools reopening? WE’RE SAVED!) only to have dreams dashed by Professor Chris Whitty’s address on Wednesday. In a sobering update, he revealed that the UK will have to live with some disruptive social measures for at least the rest of the year. Lockdown measures will remain in place ‘for the time being’. While some businesses, schools and public transport may reopen, social distancing restrictions are here to stay for the foreseeable.

THE QUICK READ…

Short on time? Here are this week’s headlines…

  • Power of brand purpose and social value: Covid-19 has shown that it’s possible for companies to create mutual value for business and society. Will we judge companies in the future for their crisis response? Will Covid-19 mark a new dawn in stakeholder capitalism and social value expectations? Or will consumers and companies slip back to post-crisis behaviours?
  • Blurring boundaries between government and big tech: To improve contact tracing, governments and big tech firms are partnering and sharing data. With the NHS contact tracing app just around the corner, how will consumers feel about exchanging privacy for public health and wellbeing?
  • Future of work post-crisis: Covid-19 has challenged perceptions about the viability of remote and flexible working. But successful remote organisations aren’t simply recreating the office online. They’re challenging conventions and legacy ways of working, reorganising for improved agility, adaptability, customer-centricity and creativity.

 [Accurate as of midday Thursday 23rd April]

THE LONG READ…

Doubling down on brand purpose

This week Trendwatching brought our attention to the website Did They Help? The site allows consumers to search for companies and celebrities to assess how they responded during the pandemic, in terms of helping health professionals, supporting the vulnerable and protecting their staff.

With overly sales-orientated messaging crass and inappropriate in the midst of an economic and humanitarian crisis, companies have been forced to take a good look at their reason for being, higher purpose and social contribution. Some have been forced to pivot altogether. The result? Under Covid-19 conditions, we’ve seen that it is possible for companies to create mutual value for both business and society. Couple that with the rising trend for radical transparency, where consumers increasingly hold companies to account over their internal cultures, actions and commitments and it’s not hard to see a new future where we increasingly rate companies by their social value.

Canvas8’s excellent ‘Re-evaluation’ webinar went so far as to suggest this could be the moment in time when we break ‘society out of the inertia that has locked it into neoliberal economics’. Similarly, former Bank of England Governor Mark Carney posited this week that we’re seeing a new dawn of stakeholder capitalism, where the values of economic dynamism and efficiency are joined by solidarity, fairness, responsibility and compassion

Steady on, says The Drum. Are we going to collectively acknowledge the positive actions of LMVH, Zara and Pret et al for years to come with our hard-earned cash or are we going to quickly forget and return to Weatherspoons despite their poor staff treatment during the crisis? Markets tend to have short memories after all.

Our view at Etch? Call us idealists, but we do believe that companies will be judged on the basis of their behaviours now and in the future. Who stood by their suppliers and staff when the going got tough? Who gave away margins to support society’s most vulnerable? Significantly, who acted consistently with their pre-crisis commitments to high ethical standards, excellent supplier and staff relationships and sound purpose vision? Who continued to pursue social value creation post-crisis? For an excellent case in point, take a look at The Pig Hotels’ Instagram account. The hotel group’s actions are a true masterclass in selflessness and social responsibility under extremely challenging circumstances. 

Trading privacy for public health

 Speaking of companies behaving differently under COVID-19 conditions, there was much talk this week about Apple and Google breaking down competitive barriers to collaborate on COVID-19 contact tracing technologyand Microsoft embracing open data. At first glance, this is remarkable. Microsoft once referred to free open-source programmes as a ‘cancer’. The idea that big tech companies would join forces and share proprietary information was virtually unthinkable just a few short weeks ago. But with a few more minutes’ worth of consideration, the ethical queries start to rear their heads.  

As Mintel mentioned this week, this could be a key inflection point. To control the virus, governments are looking to track consumers’ locations, contacts and biomarkers at scale. Smartphone technology represents an obvious way of doing this, so governments are forced to work hand in hand with big tech and big data firms. For consumers it poses challenging ethical questions, not least in how comfortable they feel about trading privacy for public health and wellbeing.

Preparing now for the future of work

A key theme this week as been around Covid-19 and its implications for the future of work. In its latest excellent data drop, GWI delved into employees’ attitudes towards under lockdown. 35% of UK workers would like to work from home more often when they return to normal working. Key benefits include more flexible working hours and the commuting time saved.

Axios also chimed in on the subject. In a report filled with some alarming psychological insights (more on this next week), they also highlighted the opportunities that Covid-19 represents in heightening workers’ autonomy, improving corporate trust in remote workers’ productivity and changing attitudes towards flexible working arrangements.

So far so good, but not all remote businesses are created equal. GWI’s research spots a disparity in organisations’ readiness for remote work, with enterprise businesses lagging behind in equipment provision, work from home policies and training. Etch’s Head of Product’s Jamie Heuze weighed in on this earlier on in the week, exploring the five levels of remote work. In short, successful remote working isn’t about recreating the office online, it’s about embracing new technology, systems and ways of working to empower teams to achieve more asynchronously.

To quote the Harvard Business Review this week, ‘Now is a time for companies to step back and re-examine which traditional ways of working exist because of convention, not necessity.’ Even nimble Google has reorganised culturally to improve agility, adopting new approaches to project prioritisation and planning cycles, placing a renewed emphasis on internal overcommunication and shifting activity quickly to respond to users’ ever-changing needs.

Our view? The future of work isn’t about successfully mastering Zoom calls. It’s about reorganising for agility, adaptability, flexibility, creativity and deep customer-centricity. It’s about creating the right conditions for people and ideas to flourish.

A FEW QUESTIONS TO ASK YOURSELF:

  • How will your Covid-19 actions be remembered? How are you treating your staff? How are you engaging or bettering society throughout the crisis?
  • How well defined is your brand purpose? How well defined are your broader societal and environmental commitments? How central are your social and environmental commitments to everyday operations? How is this communicated internally and externally?
  • How advanced are your remote working policies and remote training courses?
  • How are you reorganising your culture for improved agility, faster decision making, creativity and improved customer centricity?

GET MORE

Every day we will be sharing key business insights on our social channels. Each week we will round up our daily posts into a pivotal weekly digest. And if that’s not enough, we’ll be hosting regular webinars to talk through what it means for your customers, your sector and your business. So, keep an eye out on our social channels for upcoming webinars.

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