Then & Now

This is my 52nd article for Reputation Today. Exactly a year ago, Amith posed a challenge to us to contribute weekly articles and avail of a fascinating discount for PRAXIS2020. The response from the industry and communicators has been awesome with many of us contributing regularly. However, the profession has seen so many changes since then. 

The communication game has changed. Work from home (WFH) has taken on a whole new meaning. Firms have restructured their priorities. The digital wave has overtaken almost all verticals. The pandemic has taught many of us new skills and new survival tactics. Our social interactive skills have been hijacked by the virtual world of Zoom, Webex, Teams, etc. Productivity levels have shot up due to WFH but at the cost of mental well-being.

It is also the era wherein communicators have rightfully regained their place at the top. This is the time of precision communication, if I may so. We cannot under communicate and at the same time we have to pay utmost attention that we do not over communicate. Fake news regarding science, development of new medicines and vaccines, etc., has the propensity of increasing uncertainty. Hence, communicators need to be vigilant and agile at the same time. Right news needs to be shared at the right time.

Internal communications is once again the reigning king with a renewed focus. So is reach out to vendors and other external business partners and customers. Innovative platforms to communicate with colleagues have sprung up. Videos and infographics are now the choice to communicate. Many organisations enhanced the support provided in terms of offering counselling services. Organisations worked with their medical insurance teams to include Covid related treatment as part of medical insurance. 

An interesting concept that has evolved is that of conducting ‘stay interviews.’ Stay interviews are just the opposite of exit interviews and are conducted with employees who are still with the company. Stay interviews help identify what’s working in the company and what needs improvement. Besides, it also helps improve team engagement and keep the dialogue going in the absence of face-to-face interactions.

Firmss have not been far behind. The advent of webinars is a prime example of the metamorphosis of PR firms. Suddenly, it so easy to listen to experts not just from the country but also tune into the world of global communication leaders! 

As the old 17th century saying goes – ‘Adversity makes strange bedfellows’; the pandemic has resulted in some unique collaborations and innovations. Automobile companies making sanitisers, 3-ply masks and ventilators was something completely unheard of before. Who would have ever thought that automobile companies would move out of their core business and repurpose car factories to make ventilators in partnership with medical device companies? 

We have also witnessed the rise of new business models. With business continuity becoming critical, many companies have taken a hard look at their businesses and have reworked their strategies. A McKinsey article ‘From surviving to thriving: Reimagining the post-COVID-19 return’ outlines four strategic areas for businesses to focus on: recovering revenue, rebuilding operations, rethinking the organisation, and accelerating the adoption of digital solutions. E-commerce companies like Flipkart, Big Basket and Amazon have reassessed their home delivery models and worked new strategies in an environment that has minimal transport and workers available. Healthcare companies have moved quickly to telemedicine to ensure quality healthcare is available and accessible for all. Telemedicine has seen an exponential growth with the increase in mobile phones penetration. Covid has acted as a catalyst in this area.

Will things go back to being normal? No one knows for sure. Hence, more the need to be continuously agile and keep experimenting with times and the way the situation evolves. We will need to experiment and have a continuous adaptive strategy to score a win. More than anything, we will need to embrace uncertainty.

The views and opinions published here belong to the author and do not necessarily reflect the views and opinions of the publisher.

Sarita Bahl
Country Group Head CSR at Bayer - South Asia
Sarita Bahl leads the Corporate Social Responsibility function for Bayer South Asia and is also the Director – Bayer Prayas Association. Prior to this, she successfully oversaw the communications and public affairs function for Bayer South Asia. Over her three decades of professional experience, Sarita has held multiple roles across diverse industries, public sector, trade associations, MNCs and the Not-for-profit sector. An alumnus of Tata Institute of Social Science and the Swedish Institute of Management Program, Sarita specializes in stakeholder engagement, sustainability and communications. She is passionate about animals (is mother to a female cat), books and movies.

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