As lockdowns begin to ease and pressure to restart the economy ramps up, companies will need to balance resilience, adaptability and prediction
The challenge is unprecedented: restoring the economy and livelihoods while managing a very real risk to human life. Going back to work will involve countless unknowns, but the leading companies will need to advance where they can, retreat as soon as they must, and adapt as needed.
As many lockdowns around the world begin to ease, Bain & Company’s new research, Back to Work: Advance, Retreat, Adapt, Recover, offers a guide for how to think through some of the most critical questions that businesses will face when operating in a radically different environment.
“For most executives, the task at hand will be less like restarting a business and potentially more like starting a business from scratch,” said Hernan Saenz, head of Bain & Company’s global Performance Improvement practice. “Returning to work will be far more complex than turning the lights back on and restarting operations.”
Understanding what demand will look like
Companies will need to face questions that confront every business founder: What are the customer needs that I serve? Where is the demand and how will we configure the business model to meet it?
Evaluating the demand side of the equation can offer a starting point to gauge workforce needs and the urgency of returning different groups of workers to their locations of work.
From there, setting up Agile teams is the most effective and scalable way to adjust and build resiliency in what could likely be a fast-changing operating environment.
Ensuring the safety of the workforce
Tracking real demand provides companies with a rational way to determine how many people need to return to work and where. But understanding the workforce they need—and who needs to return to a work site—is just the beginning of the supply side of the recovery challenge. The top question every company faces is how to keep those employees safe in a constantly changing environment and how to mitigate the risks they face if they return to work.
Depending on the set up of the workplace – for example customer-facing stores, offices, factories, warehouses, or at customers’ homes – the degree of risk will vary greatly. Mitigating risk to workers as they return requires new policies, infrastructure and personal behavioral changes tailored to each type of work site.
“Returning to work will be a moment of truth for leaders, and building trust among employees will be critical,” said Karen Harris, managing director of Bain & Company’s Macro Trends Group. “Companies will need to think carefully and creatively about the very concrete measures they will take to ensure the safety and physical wellbeing of their workers.”