Spokane Journal of Business

COVID-induced business concepts urged for 2021

‘2020 hindsight’ focuses on gaining some momentum

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Many of us in the Spokane and North Idaho business community are seeing progress and momentum after the unexpected challenges we faced in 2020. As you plan for the months ahead, here are some recommendations to continue building resilience, while positioning your organization to capitalize on emerging opportunities.

Build a plan now to help you face challenges and grow.

Protecting your company means taking steps to plan so you are ready to face the hard times. Cutting expenses in a defensive and reactive posture can have unintended consequences. Instead, create “what if” scenarios now and plan allocations for each. If the time comes, you can respond with a thoroughly vetted plan.

You can also do a thorough audit of internal processes and key relationships this year. For example, cash flow issues are a common issue, so it’s important to examine your supply chain and customer base for vulnerabilities that could impact your business, and review customer payments to identify issues before they become larger problems.

You shouldn’t let uncertainty stop you from planning for future growth. Start by identifying the top opportunities facing your company right now, whether it’s market expansion, reaching a new customer segment, or digitizing more of your business model. Consider potential hurdles you’ll face in pursuing these opportunities as it will help you formulate an actionable, prioritized plan specific to your situation.

Prioritize cybersecurity as a business-critical focus.

Cybercrime is more of a risk in today’s remote work environment than ever before. Did you know that hackers realize that workers are less protected when working remotely and can launch malware campaigns targeting people with insufficiently secured devices? Companies must take responsibility to prepare and to protect their customers and employees. The first step is strengthening mobile device management, ensuring security tools and protocols are in place.

Companies should also update and enforce a security policy for remote connectivity. Provide guidance on shared or public Wi-Fi usage, as well as how employees should share sensitive information. Another consideration is requiring the use of virtual private networks and well-protected home routers. Finally, cybersecurity training is worth the time to put essential safeguards in place while keeping cybersecurity top of mind across the company.

Strengthen environmental, social, and governance commitments.

If you haven’t considered your ESG approach, now is the time. It’s not an abstract, feel-good concept. Instead, it facilitates a culture of responsibility, sustainability, and innovation, which is good for both the company and community.

Best practices for strengthening your company’s ESG commitments include tracking and disclosing relevant ESG information. Another step is having a diversity and inclusion program and ensuring diverse representation on the board of directors, particularly as a strategy for attracting top talent. Employers surveyed in our 2020 Workplace Benefits Report cite diversity and inclusion programs as essential for retaining talent (73%) and something that builds a strong company culture (76%).

Protect the well-being of employees.

Just as you’re taking steps to safeguard cash flow and business operations, it’s essential to protect the well-being of your employees. Whether they are working in person or at home, employees have been under intense stress.

Comprehensive wellness programs  are more important than ever. The percentage of employees who rate their financial wellness as good or excellent declined to 49% in 2020 from 61% in 2018, and as much as 57% of employees feel their well-being has a great impact on their productivity, which could have major ripple effects on a company’s health.

This means we need to rethink what a supportive workplace looks like to meet employees where they are. Whether you have a budget for workplace wellness or not, creating a culture of flexibility and open communications is more important than ever.

Coronavirus created unprecedented challenges for companies, and executives bravely faced new trials. While no one can predict what’s to come in the remaining months of 2021, these lessons from 2020 can help companies reignite growth and plan for financial success this year.

Kurt Walsdorf is the Bank of America market president for Spokane and Idaho.

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