Coronavirus is a watershed moment. Businesses, battered by the downturn, are in a process of transition. At Working Voices, we quickly implemented a range of seismic changes, snatching a glimpse of the new normal along the way. Here, we look in detail at the key moments that helped us weather the storm.
After lockdown was imposed on March 23, no area of the economy was left unscathed. According to official figures for gross domestic product from the Office for National Statistics, Britain’s economy shrank in April by a record 20.4%, setting the country on course for the worst recession in more than three centuries. Firms had to quickly adapt, including us. In practicing what we preach, we stuck to five key principles.
- Trusting the team
Before the virus struck, as a professional skills consultancy 95% of our work had been classroom-based. Our consultant trainers worked with long-standing clients at locations all over the world. As part of our work, we encourage our clients to adopt a ‘human’ approach in recognising the innate value of their staff and the intellectual capital they bring to the business.
In keeping with this, Working Voices CEO Nick Smallman and our team of directors together foster an open, entrepreneurial culture. We’re a close-knit team, relying on a sense of trust where everyone is encouraged to speak up and swap suggestions. Last year, this sense of creative free-thinking prompted a new approach to the uncertainties of the future. In launching a Business Intelligence Consultancy service, we began looking for future trends, problems and solutions so that we could advise clients on how they might prepare for change by relying on creativity and agility.
- Take the initiative
By taking the initiative in this way we’ve been able to help our clients prepare for all eventualities. We weren’t particularly expecting a global pandemic, we were simply planning to keep one step ahead of whatever might unfold in the future. We had similar thoughts in mind in 2018 when we began to develop additional digital products and services. These were due to be launched throughout this year, broadening our reach into online consumer markets.
When Covid-19 restricted working conditions around the world, again we seized the initiative. Lockdown quickly reduced our classroom-based way of working within a matter of days, and so we set about bringing our new products and services to market faster than we had expected to.
- Diversifying into new products
In 2018, we knew that major reform of our digital offering would need to begin with a new world-class website. Working with designers The Web Kitchen, this was ready to launch by February this year, which proved to be fortunate timing. After unveiling the site, we intended to use it over successive months as a launchpad for our new digital products.
Our timetable suddenly changed at the onset of lockdown. Business clients everywhere were required to close offices and send their people home, making classroom training impossible. Since our plans to diversify were already well advanced, within weeks we were able to swiftly pivot from a classroom-based business into a supplier of predominantly digital products. By shoring up our own stability, we could support our clients as they rapidly set about making their own changes on a scale few had previously envisaged.
- Being prepared to evolve
Our clients’ training priorities changed overnight as demand shifted from traditional courses to newer titles such as Managing Teams Virtually, Presenting Virtually and Communicating Virtually. These courses were already available via the webinars we had long been offering. But we needed to speed up our work in developing multiple ways of delivering them, so that clients had the flexibility they required. Suddenly, it was all hands on deck as we set about making webinars available across various tech platforms in three continents, with varying delivery specifications to suit our clients’ needs. We also brought webinars to the consumer market, offering live virtual masterclasses with our trainers in the UK, the US and Asia.
At the same time, we rebranded our extensive e-learning products under the name Learnflix, comprising 1,100 videos in a new curriculum drawn up in early March. We also speeded up the decision to make Learnflix available to consumers – something that would have been infinitely harder without the new website.
We pivoted to the point that we moved 95% of our business online within a month. The icing on the cake comes with the launch of Curv, our unique app that has been in development for 18 months. A gym for the mind and soul, Curv will offer daily actions to enhance wellbeing and confidence.
- Staying flexible
As a people-business, with 20 years’ international experience, we are helping our clients develop the tenacity, resilience and flexibility that the current economic circumstances demand. We offer these things from personal experience. In swiftly bringing our new products to market, we pulled together to get everything ready in record time. CEO Nick Smallman said: “I never felt prouder of a group of individuals than I did of the Working Voices team. They really stepped up in the work they delivered and there is no doubt that we and our clients have benefitted from their dedication, commitment and good humour.”
The recent weeks have been a struggle for everyone. The widespread financial uncertainty demands a flexible response from businesses of all sizes, as many have quickly found. Companies who were previously reluctant to let staff work from home have successfully implemented new procedures overnight. In these unforgiving times, flexibility has become part of the bedrock of the new normal, the hallmark of survival. We may not be free of Covid just yet, nor the economic fallout following in its wake, indeed only a few weeks ago many businesses were ready to write off 2020. But through agility and flexibility, these same companies might find that this year may yet prove to be their finest hour.