Post-Pandemic Recovery Is Not Just Going Back To Normal. Here's Why
Post-pandemic recovery isn’t simply a matter of going back to normal. Here, Gen.T honourees discuss how their businesses have coped—and how they’re getting those companies back on their feet
Some businesses have flourished during the pandemic; most haven’t. As the world starts to tentatively envisage what a post-Covid world might look like, businesses are asking questions about not just how they rebuild, but also how they do so in a way that helps them future-proof themselves against the next black swan event.
The negative consequences of Covid-19 have been manifold: number one, of course, has been a dramatic change in customer demand, in sectors from travel to F&B. But there have also been others, such as sourcing and distribution challenges, legal and regulatory changes and staff sickness. Even when this pandemic is behind us, it’s inevitable that there will be other, similarly alarming challenges to overcome—and that if we continue to degrade the environment at the same rate, they will happen with increasing frequency.
It’s incumbent on all businesses, then, to think in advance about how they might cope if the worst happens again. And while we can’t be sure what form that disaster will take—although there are a few leading candidates, from another pandemic to a climate-related catastrophe—companies can take steps to ensure that whatever those unpredictable events might be, they’re not blindsided by them.
“You really don’t know what the parameters of the next catastrophe are going to be,” says 2020 Gen.T honouree Sangeet Paul Choudary, CEO of Singapore think tank and advisory firm Platformation Labs. “What has really knocked businesses is not a lack of technology or remote working but a change in demand. It’s fundamentally shifted, often either drying up or moving to a different channel. For companies to learn to be more resilient, they need to imagine the different ways they might service demand if channels change, so if they lose revenue from one channel they can make it from another.”
As 2020 honouree Jaeson Ma, founder of talent and brand strategy firm East West Ventures, and co-founder of record label and management company 88rising, puts it: “On a corporate level, you have to think: we now live in a world that’s compromised—we don’t know what will happen. You’ve got to be ready to shut down for months. So how do you pivot? If something else happens, how do you sustain your business?”
For Taiwan-based Lalu Hotels and Resorts, for example, the pivot has involved replacing lost international travellers with domestic tourists, and beefing up its wellness programmes. Says 2020 honouree Vince Lai, the group’s general manager: “Diversifying overall risks to minimise losses and turning a crisis into an opportunity is more important than responding to an incident. Companies must have the awareness of planning for the worst, and must be ready to react to an unknown crisis in the future. Implementing a periodic operation examination is a great way to assess the status of a company.”
For 2021 honouree Olivia Cotes-James, founder and CEO of Hong Kong-based natural period care startup Luüna Naturals, the number one lesson of the pandemic is: get your people on side. “When people ask what we can do to future-proof our business, my answer is always: focus on building a strong team culture,” she says.
“You should be doing this every single day of your business, and it’s something people take for granted. People are by far the most important factor in the success of a business—the pandemic exposed this like never before—and as a founder, one of the most important things you can do on a daily basis is work for your people, so that every day, especially when times are tough, you can count on them. Really be dedicated about putting measures in place that make your team feel valued. It’s something that needs to be done long in advance of a crisis happening.”
Indeed, the pandemic has been salutary in certain ways, providing a chance to reset and do things better. These changes can be practical—says Ma, for instance: “It’s clear from the pandemic that a lot of fat can be trimmed. For instance, do we really need an office for five days a week? Maybe we only need it for meetings and other forms of collaboration.
But they can also be philosophical. “People and businesses have seen with increased urgency that we must change our habits,” says Cotes-James. “On a consumer level, more than ever before, people care about the ingredients of their products and the effect these have on the health of our bodies and the planet. Businesses are focusing more on ESG.”
Some business owners have also discovered depths of resilience they never knew they had. Singapore yoga studio chain Yoga Movement, for instance, is usually open 365 days a year, so the pandemic has hit it hard. “It was the first time we’ve ever had to see our business model turn upside down,” says its co-founder and director Alicia Pan, a 2021 honouree. “I think having gone through what we have and remodelling certain things within the business to make the numbers work has made us prepared for setbacks in the future. We’re clear now on what works and what doesn’t. We’ve definitely gotten a lot more confident in how to react to any future force majeure that might come our way.
“Personally, it’s definitely been a huge rollercoaster ride. While I might feel a little down about the current situation of the world sometimes, I do also feel proud of the resilience of what we built.”
Similarly, Singapore-based 2021 honouree John Tan’s two businesses, coding school Saturday Kids and edtech startup Doyobi, have had to make big adjustments, moving online and adjusting their content offering accordingly.
“The ethos at both Saturday Kids and Doyobi is to help kids develop 21st-century skills that prepare them for the future,” he says. “One key skill is resilience. Covid has been tough on the team, and on me personally. But it also gave everyone on the team the opportunity to walk the talk. How do we help kids develop grit and resilience if we don’t have it ourselves? So much of the last 12 months has been about working together as a team to get through whatever Covid throws at us. It’s during times like this that company culture really helps. We know we’ve got each other’s back, no one is going to be laid off; we’ll get through this together. That’s what I’m most proud of.”
See the honourees on the Gen.T List 2021.