Written by: Wade Wyant
Red Wagon Advisors

 

Isn’t it great to see everything getting back to normal? Offices and factories opening back up? People working at their desks and not in their living rooms? Customers placing orders and not just trying to ride out a crisis?

 

Ah yes. Normal.

 

But is this really normal? As relieved as we all are to see fundamental elements of the business world returning, we have to recognize that the world of this moment is not the same as the one we fled from three months ago.

 

It will probably return to “normal” before long, but this is more like spring training after a long offseason. We’re resuming business activities and getting ourselves back into regular-season conditioning.

 

But it’s going to take some time, and one of the issues I suspect could impact many companies is the quality of their workstream.

 

The world is now use to almost everything happening on a just-in-time basis (JIT). JIT delivery terms from suppliers was a novel concept a mere few decades ago. Now it’s a given. And of course, we all expect our digital information to be available on-demand.

 

The same is true with our people. We expect them to be poised and ready to react instantly to any need, because the world demands it and companies are set up to meet the demand. That’s the way it was before the lockdown. With everyone coming back, why would it be any different?

 

But it is different.

 

For one thing, much of the pent-up demand that’s now being released requires more than our returning teams are prepared to satisfy. I have clients telling me they’re surprised by the volume of orders they’re getting. I think a lot of business leaders figured people would meander gingerly back into the market, dipping their toes but not quite ready to dive in.

 

At least according to some anecdotal information I’m hearing, that is not the case. One of my clients got hit with a glut of orders, and needed to procure chassis to fill the order. But they can’t get them! Chassis are the simplest thing in the entire supply chain, and they’re hard to get at the moment because the demand surprised the suppliers.

 

Maybe it surprises you that it’s hard to get chassis. Maybe it surprises you that people are so willing to stand in line for ice cream at a time like this. But maybe we’re the ones who made the wrong assumptions. People weren’t going to stay in the quarantine mindset forever. It’s beautiful outside and people have been sitting inside and trying to avoid using coffee filters for toilet paper.

 

You’re darn right they’re ready for some ice cream. And you’re darn right companies are ready to start sourcing materials again. They want to be ready to take care of their customers, especially after so many months of not being able to function as they are built to.

 

So, as you ramp back up, you’re going to quickly notice that some things aren’t what they were. At least not yet. Demand from your customers might surprise you, one way or another. And what you expect from your workstream might not be what you get.

 

You need to take a look at where you stand and make sure you’re ready. And the place to start is your human resources. Most companies made the assumption during lockdown that people weren’t looking for jobs. Company leaders probably figured their people were happy to have a job to come back to, and that not many would be looking to make moves right away.

 

I can tell you that’s not true. There is heavy recruiting going on. Not everyone came back to their offices when the lockdown ended. Not everyone was brought back from layoff, and some people didn’t want to come back at all. That created openings, and the openings have to be filled. It’s keeping recruiters busy.

 

Don’t just assume all your people are coming back, and that none of them have their ears to the ground. Talk to your people and find out what you have to do to keep them in the fold. This is no time to have your team coming apart.

 

Next, you should look at any supply need you have that requires people. Any product that has to be manufactured or delivered is suspect. Part of that is because of the excess of caution being exercised now to avoid a second wave. (“Contactless delivery” sounds better in theory than it works in practice.)

 

Some of it is because your suppliers could face the same challenge with their human resources that you could face.

 

Digital resources aren’t quite as suspect, but even here we’re seeing disruptions. Google and T-Mobile have had major outages in recent weeks. That’s the sort of thing we figured we’d never see, but we’ve learned during this pandemic that such things are no longer guaranteed. Any system you have that relies on access to digital data could be more vulnerable now than it was before. If I were you, I’d check with your providers and find out what they’re doing to guard against outages.

 

All these issues have the potential to upset your workstream. They will probably moderate themselves over time, but right now we’re settling back into the business world we used to know. A lot of the parts aren’t going to fall back in place where they were, and a lot of what happens out of the gate won’t be what you expect.

 

If you check your workstream to make sure it’s ready for the challenges, you’ll be far ahead of the game – and probably ahead of your competitors too.