maintain connections

What are Australian businesses learning from a brutal start to 2020? Focus, resilience and trusted relationships are things all good business leaders work to achieve. For many Australian businesses, all three of these things are being sorely put to the test by a potent mix of natural disaster, pandemic and economic uncertainty.

Austrade worked closely with seafood producers to help them pivot early. But the reality is that COVID-19 is a global challenge, and sometimes there is nowhere to pivot to.

That is where relationships and innovative workplace culture come in. COVID-19 has forced us all to think fast and creatively in order to meet new needs.

We are seeing companies working together in new ways, and business leaders focusing on agility — implementing flexible working arrangements early on if they were not already in place, and guaranteeing “open-leave” policies to support staff needing to self-isolate or care for children during school closures.

For others, it means developing a highly segmented approach to market recovery dynamics, sales force density and supply chain infrastructure.

One of China’s biggest dairies used this approach to plan supply as COVID-19 swept China, constantly shifting production from factories in severely impacted regions to safer sources, in a phased approach. Its messaging, budget allocation and marketing also shifted frequently in response to the path of infection.

In France, luxury goods company LVMH, manufacturer of Christian Dior, Guerlain and Givenchy, is redirecting its perfume production line into a hand sanitiser to distribute to French hospitals at no charge — not a move many businesses are in a position to make, but one that will be remembered.

In Australia, edtech startup Practera grasped the opportunity early to help students in China affected by travel bans. More than 20 Australian universities used their service to enable thousands of students to participate online.

Drawboard, an Australian startup whose call to action is: “let’s make the paperless office a reality”, appears to be well positioned to capitalise on the sudden wave of remote workers. Investors agree — pouring $9.3m into the company, which is offering a free trial of its app, which allows people to write over PDF documents.

While planning for disasters and external shocks has long been risk mitigation 101 for business leaders, the COVID-19 pandemic may permanently change the way we do business.

As head of a trade and investment commission with more than 100 offices around the world, I believe people should always be our top priority. At the time of writing, some of our international offices were closed, some were being run on split shifts, others were in the process of reopening.

Support your people. Keep investing in them, like Ling Qingxuan, a Chinese cosmetics company that had to shut down 40 per cent of its stores because of the virus. Instead of laying off its staff, it retasked 100 beauty advisers to become social media influencers, engaging with customers via WeChat. Sales rose by 200 per cent, year on year.

Your business relationships will also help see you through. Some of our closest relationships are formed during adversity. Don’t let travel bans get in the way of maintaining those ties.

It will take time for us to understand the ways COVID-19 has changed the global business landscape. Let’s stay connected globally, leverage advantages such as our free trade agreements, reduce costs and prepare for recovery.

For more resources and tools, visit our dedicated COVID-19 hub.