Leading Through the Fog: Applying Past Lessons to COVID-19 Challenges
TenFour is taking steps to respond in full force to the COVID-19 pandemic. In addition to our official response and information on the current state, our leadership team is passionate about supporting the business community by sharing past experiences and personal advice. In the piece below, Dan Nacinovich talks about his experience during the 2008 recession and his recommendations for the current crisis and future business success.
On the Brink of Recession
There’s a saying that came to mind recently: “When the fog is so thick you can’t see the road, don’t step on the gas. Pull over and wait until you can see again.” Although there’s some practical merit to this saying, at TenFour we don’t think events like these are cause for inaction.
As the world deals with the spread of COVID-19, we’re all coming to grips with some unfortunate realities regarding business and the economy. COVID-19 is a catalyst that is forcing governments across the globe to mandate that individuals quarantine themselves and businesses drastically reduce operations or close physical locations altogether.
This coronavirus, which first emerged in the Chinese city of Wuhan last December, has infected at least 462,000 people and killed more than 20,000 worldwide as it has spread to more than 195 countries to date, according to the World Health Organization. Even though major industrial countries have launched massive campaigns to “flatten the curve” and reduce the spread of disease, both the illness and the related precautions have quickly become the biggest threats to the global economy and financial markets.
While economists already suspected in 2019 that a recession was on the horizon, it has become less of a possibility and more of a certainty, with many operating under the assumption that we’re already in the midst of one right now. Reuters recently reported that the International Monetary Fund, for example, expects that “the coronavirus pandemic will cause a global recession in 2020 that could be worse than the one triggered by the global financial crisis of 2008-2009.”
Even while business leaders are grappling with the impact this event will have on the people behind their operations, they are now being forced to plan for a second wave of hardship. In addition to an already drained workforce, recession means the emergence of numerous challenges, including drastically reduced consumer purchasing, broad reductions in credit availability, and the disruption of supply chains, just to name a few. As a result, even as businesses are continuing to move to Business Continuity Planning (BCP) and remote operations, which in themselves create unique challenges for all public and private sector segments, there is a pressing need to pivot toward more resilient and recession-tolerant practices.
Looking Back to 2008
While the COVID-19 crisis is a new challenge for virtually everyone in business, recession is not new, and I’ve had my fair share of experience. In 2008, amid the housing market crash and resulting recession, I was presented with an array of dilemmas not unlike what many businesses will face in this upcoming year. I was working at Salesforce.com as Regional Vice President, leading a basket of our largest accounts across a broad array of sectors including financial services, media, consumer packages goods, manufacturing, diversified business services, and real estate. All of my customers were directly impacted by either the reduction in consumption or the weakened global financial markets, but frankly most were impacted by both simultaneously. To add to this complexity, we were very near to our global transportation either being partially or completely shut down, which we experienced in part in 2001.
Although Amazon had launched Amazon Web Services (AWS) in 2006 and Google launched Google Docs the same year, Cloud computing as a category was not as ubiquitous or understood then as it is now. And although Salesforce.com had found great success as a leader in the Customer Relationship Management (CRM) space, the company had only just begun to market its underlying APEX platform with the goal of expanding beyond CRM, putting a broad set of custom application building tools in the hands of customers.
Needless to say, we expected several challenges; projects were initially stalled as companies determined how their business would need to be restructured before enhanced productivity measures were approved. Substantial innovations and progress were made in Cloud computing business models during this period, and I’d argue that the recession of 2008 served as a driver that made it easier to make the pivot with these new approaches to technology.
During the 2008 recession, our customers that had the foresight to partner, collaborate, and chart a path of increased productivity to navigate out of that period by treating it as an opportunity to drive clear business outcomes were the companies that succeeded and thrived going into 2009. Companies like Salesforce that were able to align the utility of their services to the ways in which businesses want or need to consume those services benefited greatly from that period of rapid transformation.
As challenging as the 2008 recession was for many companies, and despite dire expectations, it was a period that served as a foundation for a dazzling—if not historic—rise of the companies that delivered Cloud computing and services most effectively to the market. Companies quickly pivoted from laggard software publication and delivery models by making the necessary investments and developing the methodologies to support them. By embracing new approaches to productivity, such as “agile” software development methodologies, and new tools that offered more flexibility, businesses were put in a position to build anything they wanted with anyone and anywhere so long as they had an internet browser.
Although the current catalyst may be different in 2020, I see similarities in how businesses today can chart similar outcome-driven strategies to navigate out of this period with confidence and to set the foundation for another period of sustained expansion.
Looking Forward to the Future
For the modern digital knowledge worker in particular, COVID-19 has created an immediacy around remote productivity. What does that mean for a company and its employees in a recessionary period?
Most modern companies invariably have BCP measures in place to address all manners of interruption, but given the very abrupt and personal changes this event has imposed on employees’ lives, the best first step in navigating this crisis is to listen. Yes, listen to employees; they are likely already aware of the resources available to help them do their jobs in and out of the office, but it’s important to talk to your team and ask not just what they need to do their jobs most effectively but also what their fears may be with regards to ripple effects of the COVID-19 crisis.
Invariably, there are likely BCP processes in place that address many pressing questions, but if not I encourage every business leader to adapt, pivot, and evolve with the times. For instance, some companies may underestimate the tools and secure infrastructure required to help employees work remotely. Does your network have enough bandwidth to accommodate increased virtual activity? What happens when the equipment required to stay in touch breaks and is unavailable for purchase? With the new requirements of social distancing, have you thought through the virtualization strategies, remote hands, and approved methods to handle distributed infrastructure?
The best way to prepare for not just COVID-19 but for a recession in general is to first and foremost reduce the financial hurdles required to pilot new strategies, and in turn this reduction will enable companies to test and iterate quickly so what’s needed to withstand these challenges is in place before it’s needed, not after. For your company to be customer-centric, you must deploy employee initiatives and technology that empower people to support that effort whether they are in the office or working remotely.
TenFour’s Approach & Position
TenFour is maintaining an optimistic perspective on the situation, operating under the assumption that global businesses and the economy will eventually emerge stronger and more resilient for having endured this pandemic. Just as I described with regards to Salesforce and the challenges faced in 2008, we are dedicated to providing a customer-centric service that will help businesses weather not just a new recession now, but any challenges they face in the future.
In the immediate circumstances, TenFour, like many companies, has been actively monitoring the developments along the way and subsequently enacted our own internal BCP measures to ensure that all of our employees are properly quarantined and working productively in safe and secure environments. We’ve optimized our internal logistics, supply chain, purchasing procedures, and third-party partnerships, as well as all virtual assets to ensure our customers continue to enjoy a flawless service experience.
At TenFour, we sometimes take the DNA and history of our company for granted. We are an organization built by devoted technologists who love hardware and software and utilize it daily to maximize our ability to serve our customers more effectively. We have seen the technology of the past and know that, despite previous hardships, technology has continued to improve the lives of those it touches.
Many of us at TenFour, for instance, are now using in our own homes the same enterprise-grade infrastructure we use in the office and provide to customers: digital whiteboards, high definition video and calling, and omnichannel team collaboration software. We’re thrilled and proud to be able to deliver a global IT infrastructure service for our customers that not only provides the tools they need to conduct business but a model that enables them to flexibly plan for the possibility of financial hardship. Because we have substantial technological capability built into our service and our own internal BCP provisions in place, we are uniquely positioned to help our customers navigate through whatever environment or circumstances may come, leading our customers out of the fog with confidence.
Our mission is to be honorable, to be fearless, and to be innovative. That doesn’t stop when times get tough. This is a time to be all three and more. We’re helping customers through this difficult period and will continue to do the right thing by them long into the future. Our goal is to give the confidence that businesses need to see through the fog and emerge safely on the other side better for the experience.
Copyright © 2020 TenFour | Co-written by Devin McKernan