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With Australia now finding itself on the right side of global experience, some durable patterns are emerging in CEOs' feedback. We're advising you think about this in 100 day "planning spans". We're in the second 100 days now. What's next might offer game-changing opportunities for the well-prepared.

1. Market Feedback

Intelligence about the impact of COVID-19 on specific financial services sectors, not published by media. 

A. Offices & work

From around four weeks ago, many CEOs started to speculate about how they'd manage a safe return to work, when the time is right. The two main themes you’re looking at are what office space you’ll need, and how you’ll work. The speculation has solidified into some now definable themes. These themes don’t necessarily indicate what will happen, but they do indicate what many people with leasing decision power think might happen, even just for their own workforce.

You’re thinking about both less and more office space: less, collectively, and in an ongoing sense as people shift into a more always-on WFH. But, as we contemplate a return to shared work spaces, more individual space will be needed to maintain social distancing. These themes – unthought through by most I talk to, push tenants in opposite directions: to accommodate fewer humans at any one time but to give each one more space to stick to social distancing rules. Medical advice remains to keep distance at 1.5m but recent aerosol droplet spray images on social and credible media might push that out.  

Years ago the estimated floorspace per person was 14 metres, but thanks to more generous spacing for workstations and a higher proportion of offices, that’s come down to 10 metres and below. That ratio might now push up. At the same time offices and heavily partitioned work spaces are looking more attractive to medical professionals and government tenants. Antiviral cleaning might be here to stay for some time. Many are craving the professional and social connection that comes with moving back into office work, but less keen to lose the flexibility and benefits of working from home. While working from home has its perks, many employees and leaders say they want the option of returning to the CBD at least for part of their working week.

B. Distance: both a perceived and real barrier to communication

One unexpected silver lining is the greater propensity many now have to think about what global means and to do time zone and events in a way that doesn’t lean on corporate travel. Larger fund managers have been holding higher frequency and deeper engagement virtual events for clients, for instance launching global market calls to suit media in the APAC region, as opposed to being northern hemisphere-focused.  

This has been mirrored by smaller organisations responding to their usual contacts being unable to attend in person events. Many are finding that what divided us was less about national boundaries and more about perceptions of distance.  It’s ironic that as Australia’s natural viral defences – notably distance and border control– kept us out of the disease epicentre - we’re closer than ever to offshore colleagues thanks to virtual communication .

C. Macro economic commentary & emerging markets

China is on the mend, but as factory production restarts with nowhere to go, supply chains will be clogged and inventories will pile up. This will slow future production. There’s also a view that global businesses aren’t ‘re-opening’, they will be ‘re-starting’ – this will likely be a longer, more uneven process.

Strategists are predicting that investors continue to underestimate how long the negative tail of the shutdown will last.

One fund manager predicts that the capital market callout of COVID-19 is likely to be particularly acute in emerging markets, but that not all will be affected equally. Compared to previous crises, EMs are now better equipped to manage severe drawdowns with 3 in 5 countries on the MSCI EM index seen as “safe”. The minority seen a high risk include Indonesia, Chile and Mexico (currently the worst off) and South Africa, India and Mexico (least able to respond). The client notes it’s difficult for EMs to implement measures such as social distancing when per capita incomes are 1/6th of developed markets.

2. Management responses

This section outlines how CEOs and their leadership teams are responding.

Internal communication

CEOs and senior staff have shifted – notably – since the onset of social distancing to more personal internal communication methods with staff members. This includes video, but often also more phone calls, and the extra time taken to get business done is one of the main complaints from both team and managers.  

One big four employee recently told us: enough with the love. It’s hard enough to do my job without the extra hour in the day of being on calls from really senior people checking I’m okay. So, too, the intrusion into the personal sphere has had some downsides which management recognise.

Internal messaging includes genuine encouragement to air any questions with their manager and leaders, efforts to stay connected and medium term productivity: making sure staff have the right “kit” and practices to work and rest.

3. CEO guidance regarding coronavirus responses

This section provides our guidance on management and communication responses.

1. Re-assess your internal communication: when is too much love enough? 

We’re hearing everyone is struggling to get through their workloads. Some team members have not had a good experience through this. Others are feeling too much care and concern that easts into their working day. Adjust accordingly.

2. Plan for the next two phases of recovery - and opportunity
  • This 100 days (phase II) of return to work (say from now until 19 July) and...
  • The next 100 of “reimagination and reform” (July until 27 October)

On 10 April it was 100 days since December 31, the date the World Health Organisation was notified about an outbreak of atypical pneumonia in Wuhan. The next 100 days (we’re calling it phase II) may well see a graduated return to school, work and other aspects of daily life – and some resumption in normal business patterns. Conceptually, even though these phases are arbitrary, this is an important distinction. McKinsey has posited a workable model (slide 32) of “5 Rs: resolve, resilience, return, re-imagination and reform”. Whichever phases you think we’re in, the practical aspect of this crisis sees most of us thinking through a “return” but aware that there’s more risk, opportunity and planning needed for what comes next. 100 day 'planning spans' can help you think this through and move into action. By July, disease experience remaining positive in Australia, we'll be in a different mindset. 

Evidence shows businesses, particularly SMEs or slower-moving organisations, invest late in market cycles (often missing the longest time available to profit or prosper) and are too slow to invest early in the recovery. This costs them directly in lost margin or other opportunity through the most potentially profitable or opportunity-rich parts of the cycle – those where they’re ahead of competition. Planning now equals better outcomes later.

3. Consider a top-down, bottom-up renovation of brand, communication methods, channels, media and spokespeople

When context changes, so must communication. Right now the context has shifted fundamentally. It’s very hard to re-examine the things we take for granted (how we ‘do’ communication, brand or go-to-market) unless we somehow put ourselves ‘on the outside of the tin looking in’. Those who do that now will be best oriented towards those they serve in months to come. Note you’re not looking for change just for change’s sake in an exercise like this. You’re looking for the (perhaps 20%) of change, sometimes subtle, that will be important to stay contextually appropriate, current and potentially ahead of the game. Not everyone will do this.

4. Appendix: How to help us help you

This briefing is collective intelligence gathered, anonymised and shared with you by my firm for the greater good. We’ve taken the view, based on client feedback, that the collective benefit to you all takes precedence over normal competitive pressures at a time like this.

This is an excerpt from one of our client COVID-19 CEO response briefings. For more COVID-19 response resources and guidance, visit our COVID-19 Response page. 

If you’d like to discuss adjusting your communication strategy for the current times, please call us or fill out our contact form here.

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