by Schon G Condon RFD

To say that 2020 and 2021 have been different is an almost unbelievable understatement of the tallest order!  Everyone has had to cope with an amazing amount of change, an inordinate amount of mental and in some cases, physical stress, and a rate of change that many have found difficult to cope with and grasp.  That change however, has brought both good and bad, and has impacted many in different ways.

Businesses largely appear to have weathered much of it with changes to the way they operate, how they now service their customers and clients, how they engage with staff, as well as a lot of Government assistance.  Working from home is now commonplace and whilst possibly not always practical as a permanent change, will in various hybrid forms, be with us for a long time to come, if not forever.

One down side to this though will be in major CBD areas where the returning ‘daily’ workforce will be significantly lower in the future than the past and as a result, there will be many small businesses that will be left with a potential future level of available ‘customers’ that will not support continued viable operations.  Where there were once a hundred coffee shops, possibly now only half of that number can survive; where trains were once packed, there will be less so and the burden of maintaining operations will be increasingly passed to the taxpayer; without the daily grind of the office, dry cleaning needs are likely to fall significantly; and the list can go on.

Businesses now dealing with a variety of work styles can survive and even flourish but to ensure this, remains the case.  New, or possibly better processes will be required to ensure productivity is either sustained or improved.  Discussions with a variety of businesses have reported examples of both improvements and not so.  However, one concern that has been increasingly raised is that when the lockdowns occurred during 2020, productivity remained high, possibly because of heightened concern, but potentially also because of the ‘newness’ of the times.  Alas, what feedback is now saying is that they are experiencing early indications of a potential ongoing decline in productivity in certain areas.   It is acknowledged though that, in certain areas, there are also examples where there have been substantial improvements and that gain remains.

For Businesses to survive in this brave new world, they will need to stay focused on this ‘business’ aim and mould and amend their processes to accord with the environmental changes that are going on around them.  This will critically involve an ongoing assessment of both their relevance and their viability as well as an increasing level of teamwork with their staff, suppliers, landlords and other key stakeholders.

From conversations, those with significant workforces, many of whom are travelling long distances, appear to be the most likely candidates for the major shift away from the office.  What that will do in the long term for training, experience and professional growth as well as promotability, is yet to be seen.  Possibly at some time in the future, these could be the key factors in a new wind for change driven then out of necessity!  Alternately, by then everyone will have been replaced by robots or Artificial Intelligence; be aware, robot servers are already in use in restaurants!

What might be a practical solution for the future of these larger organisations and the SME’s that rely on them for survival, may well be instead of 10,000 square metres in the middle of the CDB, they choose a different model.  Possibly it could be replaced with say 2,000 square metres in the CBD and four 1,000 square metre satellites around Greater Sydney that provide for substantial virtual interconnectivity between the offices, travel times reduced, a healthy level of human engagement, and other roll-on benefits.  We will simply have to wait and see.

For business owners though, particularly those in the SME space, they will need to remain vigilant, become very adept at quick system and process changes and always remain well informed with timely management information from their businesses.  One thing that we can all be sure of is that what always worked in the past may not still work today.  There are nonetheless business fundamentals that remain: leadership, management, profitability, teamwork, and congruence of purpose.  Without those, well… a business is simply not a business.

Schon is the Managing Principal of Condon Advisory Group, a national firm of Forensic Accounting, Solvency and Turnaround Practitioners.
He has dedicated the past 40 years of his working life in the Greater Western Sydney region, helping the community and businesses to grow.