Article – Smart Company

Published in Smart Company

Did your business thrive during the pandemic but is now slowing down? Here’s how to rediscover success

For all the havoc this pandemic has wreaked on the business community, there were some silver linings. Incredible businesses were born and others galvanised their workforces to find success amid the chaos. But as the pandemic fades and Australians start looking beyond lockdowns and mask mandates, many of these great businesses have struggled to pivot into new areas.

This trajectory is something my team is all too familiar with, having found rapid success operating pop-up COVID-19 testing clinics or vaccination clinics, we were able to pivot into labour hire as testing wound down across the country. Looking back on that journey, there were many valuable lessons learned that businesses in a similar situation can look to for guidance.

Focus on your strengths not just your industry

For any business that is undergoing metamorphosis, it is important to identify your core strengths. The mistake that many businesses made during the pandemic is to assume their strengths were industry-specific, whether that be health, employment, or technology. The reality is a business’s strengths translate across industries. Being able to identify innately what makes you a company, allows you to grow and chase after more diverse opportunities.

Through setting up pop-up clinics for Queensland health with Covax Australia, I found that the strength of the business wasn’t in running clinics, but in providing trained staff for the right location at the right time. In our case, it made sense to pivot out of pandemic response and into industries with labour shortages like aged care and hospitality.

You must be malleable

Being ‘agile’ is often bandied around as a buzzword in executive meetings, but what we saw from lockdowns and constantly changing health advice was that agility wasn’t just a nice to have — it was a necessity.

Businesses looking to make a transition out of the pandemic need to maintain an agile workforce that can deliver even when the goalposts are constantly shifting.

A big part of what keeps you agile is the constant training of staff.

Over the last two years, workforces were conditioned to do things differently, to rapidly adjust to whatever health advice was handed down.

Today a lot of companies have let that aspect of their workforce entropy when they should be ensuring ongoing accreditation and compliance to keep their staff on their toes and always learning new ways of doing things.

The other half of the agile equation is being on the hunt for new opportunities.

When you have a business that has found success in as niche an environment as the pandemic it’s important that you diversify outside of it. A lot of the companies during the pandemic found success by only focusing on one or two particular facets.

We look at Ellume as a prime example of a great Australian business that got very good at manufacturing rapid antigen tests (RATs) but began to struggle when COVID-19 went quiet. Whether you are good at manufacturing RATs, treating COVID-19 patients or buying medical supplies, if you haven’t found opportunities to evolve and diversify your suite of products and services then you will struggle to move beyond your original purpose.

Pandemic infrastructure is an asset

The pandemic was a truly unique period for government intervention. It meant lockdowns and health rules, but it also meant massive fiscal stimulus for businesses and a willingness to support infrastructure that could minimise the impact of the disease and keep people employed.

Enormous investment in COVID-19 treatment clinics, vaccine manufacturing labs and quarantine facilities seems like a knee-jerk response now, but in reality, infrastructure will always be useful.

Businesses that developed facilities specifically to cater to the needs of the pandemic, should see these as assets that can be quickly converted to solve the next problem. For example pathology labs could be used to test for cancers in response to increased underdiagnosis due to the pandemic.

Companies that can see the benefit of the infrastructure they have built beyond its original purpose have a head start on competitors that won’t receive the generous crisis support of the government to build their own facilities.

The pandemic for all its disastrous consequences has seen Australia develop some incredible companies that solved complex problems under immense pressure. To see many of them slowly fade away is not just a loss for the staff who work there but for everyone in this country who could still benefit from their potential. If we are to hold onto these great businesses, leaders need to rediscover the agility and dynamism that made them successful in the first place.