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Lessons from Covid-19: what can businesses learn from the crisis?

Chloe Good

Despite talk of a ‘new normal,’ seven months on since the start of national lockdowns around the world, we still face extreme uncertainty about the coming months, or more likely years, before the virus is defeated for good. All we really know is that uncertainty is the ‘new normal’ for now, making it challenging for us as individuals, let alone for long-term business planning.  So, what can businesses learn and use to shape their future plans?

  • It is the sustainable and responsible businesses that are the most resilient. Companies that had strong sustainability strategies in place were best placed to meet the needs of their stakeholders and wider society when the pandemic hit. As the long tail of the crisis stretches out, we believe a company’s approach to sustainability will be a key factor in its long-term survival.
  • There’s no going back. The crisis immediately made the business case for employee wellbeing policies, flexible working and reduced business travel obvious, and while it shouldn’t have taken a global pandemic to fast-forward these actions, it is clear we will not return to business-as-usual.
  • While this crisis was unprecedented, dramatic societal shifts are becoming more frequent. Gone are the days when one materiality assessment would last several years and your strategy was set in stone. Issues are rising up the public and corporate agenda at an ever-increasing rate, propelled by social media and technology. From #MeToo to #BlackLivesMatter – these movements have shown that companies need a comprehensive and dynamic approach to strategy in order to be confident of the issues that matter to their stakeholders and their business.
  • Pandemic risk is not the only risk that has been underestimated. While the pandemics and climate change are very different, this crisis should serve as a wake-up call for companies that are not accounting for major environmental risks effectively.

Corporate Citizenship has been closely following the actions taken by companies – from the critical roles played by many in the immediate response through to the sustained changes a number are making to deliver greater social impact.

Throughout lockdown, we have engaged with hundreds of businesses. We have heard first-hand what has worked well, what could have worked better and, crucially, how businesses are setting their priorities going forward. We have distilled this insight into a three-stage route map, to help businesses re-evaluate their approach to social impact and ensure that business and stakeholder needs, which have changed as a result of the crisis, are built into ongoing strategies.

As we move into a new phase of the pandemic where governments attempt to balance public health and the economy until a vaccine is found, businesses will face some hard decisions. But, one thing is for certain, leaders must remember that how they act now will define their reputation for years to come. Taking action today to enhance your social impact is a business imperative for tackling the challenges on the horizon.

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