COVID-19: how business is adapting in the face of adversity

The COVID-19 pandemic is a difficult time for everyone; businesses and workers across the globe have had to adapt in ways that may have seemed unimaginable just a few months ago, reports Alistair Binks, General Manager, Albion Languages

Whether it’s been adapting to work from home or the shutting down of entire sectors, leaving staff furloughed or unemployed, the challenges have been both numerous and often testing in the extreme. But the shock to the economy of COVID-19 has also possibly made us all more resourceful and open to change.

From keeping teams and customers connected through technology to identifying ways to adapt, the coronavirus has forced business owners and employees to find new, innovative ways of working and serving their clients.

Alistair Binks, General Manager of technical and life sciences translation specialists, Albion Languages, explains to Manufacturing Chemist how the COVID-19 pandemic has driven businesses to focus inwards, looking with a critical eye at their more “fragile” business areas … or those markets that they might have relied upon too heavily so far.

This worldwide “pause for thought” has put business strategies under the microscope as never before. Many have since rallied themselves, using their entrepreneurial spirit to seize this critical moment as a chance to consider diversifying into new markets or growing smaller emerging markets to achieve future stability and, hopefully, longevity. The question is: how is the healthcare sector picking itself up from this initial shock?

Emerging markets

With the pandemic forcing businesses to focus inwards, this has shed a light on more exposed business areas, as well as highlighting markets — and countries — which firms had perhaps counted on too much. The COVID-19 crisis has given businesses a chance to innovate, whether via new products or services or even a change in target markets.

Newspaper headlines are filled with reports of businesses responding to the government’s call for help with ventilator production or switching their output to meet new demands. Examples include manufacturing personal protective equipment or scrubs for the NHS or hand sanitiser for both healthcare use and to restock bare supermarket shelves.

Some businesses are now expanding into new European markets, even going global. As a translation service provider, we have experienced a recent surge in demand for the translation of documentation, labelling and marketing materials to allow businesses in a variety of sectors to gain entry to these new markets.

Language and globalisation

With staff at many companies being furloughed, looking to new markets obviously isn’t just for the here and now. When “business as usual” finally resumes, the economy could well be in a recession with challenging times lying ahead. This is why it’s worth considering investing in taking your business to new geographical locations.

Just some of the benefits include potentially exponential growth in sales, sources of new investment, access to specialised talent and a wealth of multilingual staff.

Georgios Kostakos, Executive Director of the Foundation for Global Governance and Sustainability, has stated that the UK government’s emergency planning fell into disarray because supply lines cut across borders that were closed as a medical precaution.

Alistair Binks

Over-reliance on supply from one geographical location and a lack of contingency planning led to severe and ongoing disruption. This highlights that understanding your company’s place within the international trade ecosystem is crucial, make this the time to research and decide on the next steps.

Another frequent challenge for UK businesses entering overseas markets is the language barrier. To be able to operate successfully around the globe, translations need to be both precise and also sensitively localised for the given markets.

If your business sells directly to consumers, you need to consider how the different cultures in each country converse, right down to slang and colloquialisms. You also need to be mindful of intellectual property protection, trade regulations and policies in these new markets. You only get one chance to make a first impression and, by getting these things right first time, you will have the best chance of effectively marketing your business in your chosen target markets.

Corporate social responsibility

A further crucial aspect to get right is demonstrating solid corporate social responsibility. Whether it’s retailers having special opening times for the more vulnerable or manufacturers stepping outside their usual area of expertise to produce medical equipment or hand sanitiser, businesses have shown good leadership and social responsibility in the current crisis, which will stand them in good stead for the future.

The Association of the British Pharmaceutical Industry is working closely with the Department of Health and the NHS regarding how its members can best support the government. Its members are in a unique position to respond to the COVID-19 outbreak and are already turning their knowledge, resources and experience to developing diagnostics and treatments for the disease.

At the end of March, approximately 20 companies have potential medicines in various stages of development, with at least four existing medicines now in late phase clinical trials.

One of our own clients is currently investigating the possibility of converting its anaesthesia machines into long-term ventilators. This represents a timely example of the need to diversify, innovate and be open to new ideas. It also shows that even the toughest of times can act as a source of inspiration to do good for society and the company’s long-term health.

Innovation and the future

Many business owners might well admit that, under normal circumstances, they can be rather slow to innovate. The familiar reasons tend to crop up time and again: we understand our customers, so we don’t need to, we’ve got targets to hit in the short-term and we don’t have the time, etc. But, when unexpected events happen, business owners simply have to think on their feet and come up with new ideas.

New York-based electronics specialist Adafruit has been quick to embrace the need for innovation. The company is hard at work repurposing its manufacturing lines to produce face shields, ventilator parts, fever scanners and other gear exclusively for hospitals, healthcare workers and researchers. Adafruit is diverting all of its resources to protect the New York healthcare workers and to help fight this pandemic.

Being creative under pressure isn’t an easy matter. Businesses need to take this as an opportunity to determine what processes are missing in terms of being prepared for the future. Is time ever set aside for employees to be creative?

Do you encourage teams to share thoughts and explore without the fear of repercussions? If not, now could be the time to futureproof your business. The strategic decision to enter international markets naturally often requires organisational changes too. But now is the time to realign to the new reality, create an appropriate strategy and act.

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