The past two weeks have been truly turbulent. We have never experienced a similar disruption throughout our nearly 20 year existence. Within a couple of days we went from preparing scenarios to being in the darkest of them. I have never been more worried. Still, I feel I am right where I needed to be if such a crisis were to happen. Because we have a great team of super smart and inspiring people who are all in this together.
Control as a coping mechanism
We are now three weeks into this crisis, seen from our Rotterdam and London perspective. Although our business has been significantly impacted with one of our key clients (KLM, the royal dutch airline) abruptly canceling business, I am now confident that Livework will be okay.
Moving forward, we will definitely experience more disruption. We will be able to navigate the crisis and respond to events because we have been very clear from the very start to ourselves and our team how we are prioritising. By doing so we allowed ourselves to move from coping with the situation to having a sense of control.
Here’s our top 5 priorities we have defined and acted upon.
1. People 1st
For Livework this goes without saying and it probably does for most other organisations too: from the very beginning we have been communicating to our people that they are empowered to take care of their own safety and well-being. Our team was encouraged to work from home and asked to stay home if they are not feeling well. We also ensured that people felt they had permission to cancel trips to clients if they felt uncomfortable about it. Livework issued a full working from home policy several days before our respective governments did. The parents in our team get all the time they need to manage their home situation with schools closing fully on our expense for as long as we reasonably can afford to.
Also, and this is something we feel strongly about, we decided and communicated to our team that we have one guiding principle motivating our decisions: we are in this together and we intend to come out of this together with the entire team.
Our reasoning is simple: if our people feel safe and cared for they can take better care of their colleagues, our clients and our business.
2. Clients 2nd
Understanding how this crisis impacted our clients and the work we are doing for and with them is our first reflex. For many projects we were able to seamlessly change from face to face engagement to digital engagement. For others we needed to postpone activities such as research, workshops, training and coaching sessions. I am very proud that within one week most projects are reported to continue without significant delay. This shows just how flexible our people and our clients are in making this work.
For one key client we have even been able to pivot all workstreams to reflect the new reality (i.e. significant drop in revenues) and priorities (towards significant increase in customer digital enablement) from that organisation in a matter of days. This resulted in us keeping a substantial role in their business moving forward in a time where most consultants are sent home with immediate effect.
Our logic: If we listen to our clients well and help them adapt to their new realities, it is good for our business too.
3. Keep the business running
After taking care of the first priorities reality sinks in: our business is at risk. Even if we are taking all the right steps there are things beyond our control that may impact us significantly. Understanding what we can control and can do, and planning for when we should be acting, is a sensible thing to do. We stopped spending on marketing, traveling and some strategic initiatives we were planning. We consider this a pause, but it is something we need to do, to ensure that we are able to continue paying salaries and rent for as long as we can.
Besides this we started gathering information from outside experts in our network to try to understand the potential impact on our business. This information gathering continues today and includes understanding the supporting mechanisms local governments are putting in place to support businesses and employees.
Three weeks in, we have some clear scenarios in place. Scenarios that help us act when we need them. Scenarios that are also continuously updated when new information comes in. This provides a sense of control in times we cannot control nor foresee what will happen next.
4. Equip the teams
Although Livework is very used to working virtually across the globe we also have our preference to meet and collaborate face to face. Specifically with bigger groups or when co-creation and building relationships is vital.
We have invited our people to share their thoughts, concerns and ideas around the tools they have available to work safely from their homes in order to drive project results as if nothing has changed. Not only did this result in an unparalleled sharing of experiences and best practices across all people in our team, it also resulted in testing multiple solutions in real life projects and selecting the best ones by our people with input from our clients. This also reinforces priorities 1 and 2 above.
5. Explore opportunities
We would not be designers if we did not see(k) opportunity in this crisis and the chaos it comes with. We are doing this actively on three levels:
- Short term: Seek engagement with our (former) clients to understand what they are currently struggling with and offering our help. This can take shape in a quick sharing of best practice examples in a phone call, or a short working session with a client team to help them generate a structure to move forward. Or in any way, shape or form that is considered desirable and feasible considering the situation. Read the article ‘Turning service disruptions into business opportunities‘ from Erik Roscam (Group Director of Innovation) on the topic as well.
- Mid-term: Exploring markets and organisations that thrive in these difficult times. Quickly reframe the challenges we typically help our clients with and design, test and iterate “new” propositions by blogging about it, discussing it with (potential) clients and using our thought leadership market approach to engage a new audience. We go deeper into this topic in the article ‘Designing in the face of uncertainty‘.
- Long term: Taking a long term view on the changes we see in society, what governments, communities, organisations and people are trying to do to change towards a new desired way of living and working together, our own vision on it and the role design can (should?) play in enabling a better way to stimulate this desired change. Ultimately this feeds into our strategy moving forward as a relevant and independent design consultancy. Like we have been for the past 19 years and intend to be for much longer still.