Many businesses across the world are currently battling under a combination of staff illness, self-isolation and shutdowns that are becoming more widespread and could persist for a significant period of time. At this time of business stress maintaining contact with clients, suppliers, regulators and other key stakeholders is more important than ever. This is particularly important as businesses will need to recover quickly once this shutdown ends so as to protect their revenues, market positions and overall franchises.
It is important to remember that all business is ultimately built on relationships and to nurture these relationships through this exceptional period. It must be recalled, though, that the likelihood is that all your key partner firms are also suffering through the effects of this crisis. Indeed, international relationships are particularly fragile owing to the lock-down in international travel. There is the added complication that key individuals within your firm or in your partner firms and stakeholders may be unwell and so unavailable for maintaining contact.
It is here that the concept of resilient networks can play a role. “Resilience is the ability to provide and maintain an acceptable level of service in the face of faults and challenges to normal operation.” In the context of relationship networks this means that you maintain alternative pathways to connect with your key stakeholders even in the event that your and their key staff are unwell. It is true that partner firms may allocate alternative contact points, but these may be suboptimal for your purposes. Indeed, a more optimal solution may be to contact alternative firms, particularly if dealing with advisors where domain knowledge may be scarce. It may well be that building or extending this relationship network resilience may prove to be a critical business advantage should the situation not revert to normality soon.
This opens up a further point that is currently being discussed in boardrooms – will the future be identical to the past, or will there be a “new normal”, perhaps involving less emphasis on office-based work, and less local and international travel as a consequence of people learning to adjust to the capabilities of the latest internet communications technology.
Add to this the growing awareness that all sectors of society must change to address the growing impacts of climate change. Many of these solutions involve less domestic and international travel, and a reduced emphasis on the “built environment”. Indeed, once a period of adjustment passes many workers may come to prefer not having to pay large sums of money to commute for extended periods of time to do a job that could just as easily be carried out remotely. At the turn of this century there was much made of a future of remote workers “dialing in” to their offices, with a concurrent increase in their personal wellbeing and reduced environmental and economic costs. Perhaps in retrospective Covid-19 will be seen as the economic push that made this vision become reality.
But all of this ultimately depends on the reliability of networks, both physical and relationship. It is obvious that remote working can only be as successful as technology and process systems allow. Less obvious, but just as important, is the need to deliberately create and manage the relationship networks on which future business success depends. Even without remote working the importance of these relationship networks in building sustainable business success is now generally acknowledged. Less appreciated, perhaps, is the degree to which relationships can be considered as another asset class and deliberately created and managed. Given the modern relationship network tools that now exist there is no excuse for organisations to just allow these relationships to spontaneously evolve, to become unnecessarily focussed, or concentrated in just a few hands. These tools allow management to assess their stock of critical relationships, manage their distribution among staff, and identify and fill gaps in their coverage.
The Covid-19 crisis has put enterprises around the world under pressure, and some are likely to find that pressure intolerable and fail. Strong, focussed, managed relationships may well prove to be one of the key assets in surviving not only the crisis but also the new economic and social environment that will evolve once this crisis passes. Neglecting this may prove to be very costly in the long run.
 The ResiliNets Research Initiative definition of resilience.