Emerging from COVID-19: We're ready. Are you?

Trading through a pandemic creates complex challenges and - for those that know how to take it - unique opportunity. CEO of our Consulting business, John Chubb shares his approach and how a resilient, reliable, and manoeuvrable mindset can mean not only surviving, but succeeding.

What has COVID-19 done to us?

The genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

Business-as-usual has turned on its head at a pace quicker than anyone could have imagined. Almost every aspect of delivering and receiving a service has been impacted and it seems like the world will have to deal with being in a state of flux for some time to come.

The abrupt arrival of COVID-19 in our lives has been unlike any other crisis I have experienced. However, for me and my team the experience has been clarifying, challenging and uniting.

Business continuity and pandemic planning is a given. But, while we were able to immediately press the button operationally to ensure we could keep the engine running, social distancing - the unique aspect of COVID-19 - has made us understand the depth of the industry's reliance on people. Handling a juggernaut that arrived at speed, that was determined to keep people apart, was the paradox we needed to quickly reconcile.

 

It is an organisation's ability to manoeuvre that will see it flourish in the future. Business will not be the same, and we do not have to be.

John Chubb

CEO - Consulting UK & Ireland

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Play the hand you are given

From responding to a national call for help for increased hospital beds and additional oxygen supply, to finding new ways to deliver our services to clients, we realised a few things.

  1. We had the theory; we have the expertise and we were ready to act
  2. Psychology was going to play a huge role
  3. Virtual collaboration and digital client interactions are non-negotiable
  4. The incidental benefits are significant

Rules of engagement

When you feel under attack or are fighting for survival, there is no neat, ready-made, one-size-fits-all way to respond. But you do need to find your path, and quickly. For us, we knew that with a resilient, reliable, and manoeuverable mindset: we could weather COVID-19 and help our clients do the same.

  • Resilience - making sure, in the face of complexity, that RPS and our clients have the organisational capacity, infrastructure and workforces to recover quickly. This includes early acceptance that things may never go back to how they were.  
  • Reliability - in a time of great uncertainty and volatility our clients - and we - need solutions, reliability and scalability on critical issues.
  • Manoeuverability – being prepared to alter course as things evolve, moving at pace and in a way that does not diminish the skill and expertise required.

 

What we know for sure

No one can be 100% prepared for something like COVID-19. Most importantly, it quickly became evident that the experience wasn't going to be the same for everyone, emotionally or practically. People were going to interpret advice differently and our approach had to reflect that.

Creating capacity and resilience - at an organisational level this was the ability of RPS and the teams we were working with to ‘up’ the decision-making rhythm, ditch the minutiae, analyse what could happen next and focus on action. This mindset meant we were connected within hours of lockdown being introduced, using collaboration tools with our clients within a day, going paperless before the post would have arrived and working with government and business to make decisions in hours, rather than weeks.

Size and scale bring assurance and reliability - Embracing the lockdown, focusing on delivering for our clients and quickly breaking existing habits has accelerated innovation at an impressive rate. The sudden change in working environment and time allocation triggered different responses to ‘old’ problems – reinforcing the adage that necessity is the mother of invention. We were careful not to lose reflection time in an environment that demanded pace and rapid decision-making. A tangible example is our new virtual public consultation service which removes the need for face-to-face interactions. Crucially, this technology enables planning applications to continue without disruption. With such a reliable, cost-effective and efficient alternative, I expect we may not see a complete return to the traditional approach once restrictions are lifted.

Manoeuvrability creates flexibility – One of the biggest hurdles to overcome has been ourselves. A pandemic creates a complex environment that triggers a multitude of emotional responses. Instead of allowing fear and inertia to take hold, we consciously mobilised – stepped into a different gear. Having the scale that gives us muscle without limiting agility has meant we've been able to continue to meet, and at times, exceed our obligations to clients. We've also been able to offer new services and respond to the national call for help to increase the number of hospital beds to help the fight against COVID-19.

Taking the next step?

We're here to help clients every step of the way as we emerge from COVID-19. Whether it's getting your project back on track, accelerating a delivery programme or looking to ensure good health and safety in your office spaces through evolving occupancy periods, we're here.

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What the future holds?

The immediate challenges presented by COVID-19 created a sudden, fundamental shift in how we collaborate with each other, make decisions and provide services.

In the immediate term we need to get used to having COVID-19 in our lives. We don't have to like it, but we do need to get used to it and find a way to restart work while implementing social distancing. Things aren't going to bounce back to what they were. What we have experienced is a permanent change in both practical delivery and behaviour.

It's important for the economy to kick start again, and in a way that is safe to do so. The reality is that our new normal for the foreseeable future will mean pushing ahead on two fronts – working around day-to-day disruption and planning for recovery. Businesses and organisations aren't going to be able to do this by themselves. This needs to be a collective industry-wide response. We will be stronger together. The Nightingale hospitals are a good example here – contractors and consultants doing in days what would have taken months.

For our part resilience, reliability, and manoeuverability defined our approach to handling the crisis and they have become the tenets of a sustainable strategy for our service offering in the future.

 

Business will not be the same, and we do not have to be.

COVID-19 has forced a change that until now had sat buried in pandemic planning, business continuity plans and brainstorms. It's demanded that we accelerate the change we've been talking about for years but not perhaps universally accepted. We're not going to go back to how we were – the genie is well and truly out of the bottle.

We're ready. Are you?

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