thank you for a fascinating journey
Turned Inward...
It was surprisingly difficult to make sense of my interview data.
Not only because the professional and personal get conflated when work moves into homes, but also because as the lockdown progressed, respondents shifted sharply from pragmatic to philosophical.
The one constant throughout the series was that the Pandemic has turned us all inward to some extent - it has prompted us to question our operations, habits, expectations, and values. The startlingly ease with which change has been embraced has us questioning all kinds of things previously taken for granted.
56% loss of revenue
reported on average, with 35% of respondents reporting 100% loss over the lockdown period
13% leaner workforce
projected on average, many have rather cut salaries than staff, some have been forced to do both
47% less fancy offices
rethinking the need for large leased premises, and embracing flexible work arrangements
COVID is a great leveler, it has connected us with our humanity and our vulnerability. It has resulted in a lot of beautiful things.
CEO - Management Consulting
It has given us an opportunity to think. We've been grappling with "Purpose".
Philosophical vs operational.
CEO - Specialist Advisory
It is like a wildfire, and now the new green shoots will emerge. Forget the numbers, start fresh and rebuild.
CEO - CFO Services
The Pandemic has just accelerated the 4th Industrial revolution.
CEO - Communications and Media
Truth, honour, loyalty, respect, a return to old fashioned values
CEO - Live Event and Experiential Agency
We are all fucked - it's very liberating. South Africans are really good at crises.
Owner Director - Architecture and Interior Design
What is the nature of your business?
Respondents were either CEOs, MDs or business owners in the following sectors:
Architecture, Communications, Consulting, Data processing, Event Management, Farming, Financial Advisory, Financial Expertise, Food Packaging and Processing, Fund Management, Import/Export, Incentive Management, Industrial products, Interior Design, Media, Mining, Tourism, Wholesale/trading supply
Number of employees?
Between 1 and 1 300 employees - an average of 207 and a median of 24
Have you suffered loss of revenue?
An average of 56% of loss of revenue over the lockdown, with a projection of 31% loss on annual turnover on average.
Describe the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic and lockdown on your business?
Almost everyone discussed adapting to online, remote working, and the cultural and emotional impact on themselves and staff.
Obviously any service (not deemed critical) requiring physical presence or travel was either postponed, or cancelled, some at huge financial cost.
Beyond that, responses were nuanced and extensive, however, every single respondent was questioning some aspect of their business as mentioned in the introduction.
What if any of your operations have continued during lockdown?
Less than 20% of respondents were able to continue as usual remotely, the rest of the organisations were able to continue on average about of 50% of their operations during lockdown.
Knowing what you know now, what would you have done differently?
For a surprising number of respondents, the answer was "nothing" - they felt that they had responded correctly and effectively to the crisis, or had already made adjustments in the face of the economic downturn of the past three years.
Others talked about diversification of revenue streams, tighter control of cash flow, and generally leaner operations.
Imagine your business in six months – November 2020 – what would you like it to look like
Responses included:
Leaner, cost cuts, depends on the economy opening, narrow focus, more efficient, fewer salaried employees, more collaboration, changes in risk planning, different work ethic, cash is king, less travel, remote working, new business models, and industry consolidation as some players close.
How long will recovery take?
Most respondents predict recovery in between one and two years, some as many as five, and one optimist suggested that it could all be over in as little as three months.

Melanie Keartland
Every conversation I have at the moment concludes with some version of "no one really knows" - and we don't.
However I was really struck by the positivity and determination of the business leaders I spoke to - we will get through this crisis, and we are the only ones who can determine how we do it.
There are some who have seen 30 years of effort building a business disappear almost overnight, and others who look like frantic zombies from trying to keep up with unusual demands in bizarre conditions, but the leaders I spoke to are drawing deep on personal reserves; to preserve jobs, keep their businesses afloat, and rebuild our economy - for this I thank you all.
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