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Building business resilience & surviving the pandemic with Sarah Vasey

Sarah Veysey is an experienced business writer. Her recent projects include writing thought leadership articles and reports for leading finance firms and trade bodies. Sarah has contributed to a variety of leading publications, including Business Insurance, The Financial Times, Commercial Risk Europe, Insurance Day, Global Reinsurance, Waste News, FT Fraud Report, Runners World, Sports Marketing and Brand Management.
Sarah Veysey Interview Portrait

In 2020, the World Economic Forum ranked climate change as the biggest risk to the economy and society with a need to move towards a nature-positive economy. Is this on the radar for many UK businesses or has it been lost in trying to survive the pandemic?

It’s understandable that surviving the pandemic has been the number one priority for most businesses. But climate change is such an important issue for all stakeholders that it cannot, and will not, disappear from the radar.

Severe weather events are among the biggest risks to societies, businesses and supply chains. A recent UN report found that there have been more than 7,000 major natural disasters around the world since 2000, resulting in the tragic loss of some 1.2 million lives and economic losses of close to $3 trillion. And those events have not stopped in the wake of the pandemic; this year we’ve seen severe heat waves, wildfires, storms, floods and other natural hazards.

Against that backdrop, many UK businesses have continued their efforts to reduce their carbon footprints and become more nature positive, even while their primary focus has been on adapting to the pandemic. 

One ‘side effect’ of the pandemic may be more permanent changes to the way business is done which could have positive longer term climate impacts. For example, there’s been a big reduction in business travel, and this will probably continue. 

We’ve seen an exponential increase in the number of people working remotely as a result of COVID-19. One thing that hasn’t been discussed much is the increased risk exposure, particularly cyber risk, to employers and employees. What do businesses need to be thinking about right now to protect themselves?

Cyber criminals have been taking advantage of the disruption caused by the pandemic. There’s been a marked increase in attacks against companies of all types with criminals using familiar techniques like phishing and malware. The methods and the threat aren’t new, but they have been amplified by the shift to remote working. Cyber security experts recommend steps companies can take to build their resilience to these attacks. Maybe the most important of these is to ensure there’s clear communication with employees about remote-working best practices. Colleagues should be kept up-to-date on their company’s latest security procedures. The devices and software that employees use for remote working should be updated regularly. And some relatively simple steps, such as changing passwords often, can also help to boost resilience to attack.

While distress has hit all industry sectors, some have been hit harder than others. What sectors do you predict will be the most resilient, and may even drive growth as the economy emerges from the recession?

No industry sector has been spared difficulty but some have undoubtedly been hit harder than others. Those sectors that rely on face-to-face contact are facing extreme challenges, for example.

While it’s difficult to predict at this stage which industry sectors will prove the most resilient, I think that those companies that have been able to be flexible will find themselves in a stronger position when the economy begins to emerge from this downturn. For many sectors, the pandemic has accelerated trends that were already being seen, and prompted companies to be innovative about the way they do business, what they produce and how they deliver services.

It’s a cliché, but for many companies, if not all, people are the greatest asset. Employees have responded in an extraordinary way to the new norms of working – while all the while facing personal challenges such as caring for elderly or unwell family members, juggling homeschooling and childcare, and so on. Companies that recognise their employees’ wellbeing and mental health during this time of crisis, will, I think, find they are better placed once the macro-economy begins to recover. 

What are your top tips for businesses that are struggling? Is there anything they can do to improve their resilience?

This crisis has affected all sectors but for some businesses it’s been devastating.

Business continuity and crisis management specialists recommend companies have flexible plans that they test and update regularly, and this is something I’m sure businesses are doing to try to withstand the second wave of the pandemic.

There are some companies that have responded well to the challenges and adapted the way they do business. If companies can be innovative in what they do and how they do it – and communicate that strategy clearly to employees, customers and other stakeholders – then they stand a better chance of weathering the tough times ahead. 

Having a clear vision and being able to articulate it will be vital.