By Nico Steyn (Co-Founder and CEO of IoT.nxt)
Leading commentators, visionaries, consultants, business and political leaders have said that the world will be changed forever by COVID-19 and cautioned that any individual or company that expects life and business to return to what was before will be facing an uncertain future in unchartered waters.
The business and economic disruption caused by COVID-19 is immense and universal. Governments around the globe implemented strategies and introduced regulations to protect citizens against infection, slow down the rate of infection, provide treatment and set up infrastructure to prevent people from dying, and do whatever possible to ensure there is no overload at medical facilities.
The economic fall-out of the regulatory measures was swift and, in many countries, severe. Businesses large and small experienced drastic falls in business activity and in certain industries like tourism, fashion and apparel, hospitality, leisure travel, personal services, and more, sales fell to zero as people were required to stay at home.
US data service Yelp reported that the economic changes from the first quarter of 2020 were unlike anything they have ever seen. “In a period of about 15 days as the nation (US) reacted to the threat of the coronavirus pandemic, the economy transformed as much as it had in Yelp’s prior 15 years of operation, combined.”
Former US Secretary of State, Henry Kissinger, said in article for the Wall Street Journal that while the assault on human health will—hopefully—be temporary, the political and economic upheaval it has unleashed could last for generations.
This unparalleled shift in global business has presented an opportunity for agile businesses that are able to adapt to the new normal and to those that introduced and adopted the technologies of the future before COVID-19 struck.
IoT.nxt is fortunate to be in the latter group. We built our business on the principle of agility, focused on adaptability to what the market demands since launch and, very importantly, considered attracting the best team possible a key factor to drive the company.
Although our operations all around the globe were and continue to be affected by the impacts of COVID-19 and strategies nations developed around it, IoT.nxt has experienced one of its best quarters since the establishment of the company (in late 2015) and interest in our solution has accelerated since mid-March.
This is how we achieved it:
1. Invest in our people
To be considered world-leading and innovative companies must attract the best talent. And look after them. The company had 6 employees and one office in South Africa in March 2016. We now have 250+ team members in five offices around the globe (SA, The Netherlands, UK, two in the USA). The tech industry globally is known to attract young people and it is no different at IoT.nxt.
They bring an energy, fearlessness and enthusiasm that inspire the entire workforce. This is balanced with the more experienced in our team to provide a blend that drives our company culture and ultimately our success. Every employee is encouraged to think about and suggest new ways of doing things, new products, new avenues to pursue.
Management supports this with learning and development opportunities and commensurate reward for performance. Couple this with a team spirit of support and fun – largely driven by a company-wide love for everything Star Wars. We call our team members Troopers and have designed an office with a Star Wars theme that maintains an atmosphere of fun but always with an eye on the future.
We implemented a comprehensive employee wellness plan, beyond strategies already in place, to manage the changed working environment in a business world changed by the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We added a wellness team to our operations to focus on activities to support our employees. We also added the services of a trained therapist, to be available should any employee struggle with the challenges of remote work and not being in an office environment.
Regular broadcasts talking to the entire team were introduced as a critical element of our overall business strategy and to communicate business and operational news. And to provide the team opportunity to interact.
Protocols to protect the team were added and whatever equipment or consumables required were provided at offices.
As the impact of COVID-19 on economies, businesses, communities, and individuals became evident we stepped up our already inherent focus on innovation was stepped up. A new way of doing business unfolded which for us, as a technology company, presented exceptional opportunities. We rolled out a challenge to our team to come up with any innovative ideas that will make use of our solutions to solve business challenges created by the impact of COVID-19.
Our team did not disappoint and withing days new products, that can be brought to market in a short space of time, were devised and rolled out for testing. This includes the groundbreaking ‘Covision’ product, a solution that will help retailers and office parks manage distancing requirements and thus the number of people in a facility at any moment. Covision makes data available in real-time without requiring significant outlay for equipment. The team that developed this innovative idea is already working on other applications using the same principles.
Many businesses in diverse industries realised that there are new ways of improving their business operations and drive efficiencies, which our technology can deliver.
3. Be ahead with the use of technology
The fourth industrial revolution is truly in full swing now. Companies embracing this and introducing new technologies to update their operations to be ready for the future needs of markets in a post-COVID-19 world are the ones who will bounce back fastest once the impacts start to slow down and business activity picks up.
In our own business, we always look ahead and actively collaborate with partners, which include several of the leading global technology leaders, to seek new solutions and make new technologies part of our strategies.
4. Listen to our customers and develop solutions for their business challenges
Even now, months after the first COVID-19 infection was reported, so much of what continues to unfold in businesses and economies is unexpected and unprecedented. This has required new thinking from business leaders and they now demand new thinking and solutions or challenges they did not envision at the end of last year. For us, this is the most exciting part of doing business in this changed world and drives our teams to think beyond today.
5. Adapt processes and procedures
So much is new, but so much needs to remain structured and organized. We have introduced changes to workstreams, communication channels, meeting protocols, travel arrangements to adapt our business to remain robust and agile in a changed business environment. The effort and energy we put into people management made this manageable.
Digital solutions will be the differentiator in a post COVID-19 world. Business will need agility to adapt, continue to focus on building strong teams and looking after their well-being. The global business disruption we are experiencing now delivered immense challenges, but also an opportunity to look at technologies of the future and utilize those to build strong companies. The agile and innovative will thrive.