COVID-19 – how to respond?

By Sam Minnée, Co-Founder & CEO of Silverstripe, NZRise member.

Even as little as a month ago I didn’t expect that COVID-19 would dominate our thinking as much as it currently is. If, like us, you start your financial year in April, this is likely a time when you’re trying to finalise plans for the coming year and you’re likely wondering what the year will bring.


I don’t have any magic wand to solve that, sorry! But here are a few things we are thinking about:


Remote working and business continuity

Our main tactical work at the moment is ensuring that our business is set up to thrive during extended periods of remote working. Although in the short-term we are planning for 4-6 weeks remote working, there’s a reasonable chance that a good fraction of staff might end up working remotely for half the time (maybe there’s a panic for 1 month each quarter?) over the next 1-2 years, until a vaccine is developed. There’s a lot of uncertainty, but planning for this situation in your BCP would be prudent.


It’s challenging, but on the other hand we are one of the industries best equipped to grapple with this change. Another important point is that the goal of this remote working is to physically isolate people. If 90% of your people work remotely, and 10% of people for whom that is a big sacrifice come to work, that is still a form of physical isolation.


Equally: if tech companies physically isolate but those in other sectors do not, that is also a form of reducing the rate of physical contact that the disease needs to replicate. For this reason it’s worth being an “early-adopter” of remote-working, and this is informing our policies, and I imagine those of Trade Me and Xero who I believe have now shut their offices.


As a sector, we have an opportunity to show leadership to our clients and the country as a whole for how this can be done.


Beyond the nuts and bolts of remote access, VPNs, and cloud software, the main thing I’ve found to be most important is to keep communicating and keep asking people how things are going. Some people will find remote-working surprisingly good, others will struggle for unexpected reasons. Different people will need different levels of support, and that support will be emotional as much as it is practical.


Risks and opportunities

Longer term, there will be substantial risks brought by the extended disruption of COVID-19 over 2020 and 2021. A global recession is likely. However, there are likely to be opportunities as well. Finding those opportunities and pivoting our businesses towards them will be key to succeeding.


I’m sure you’re doing your own risk assessments, but a few of my thoughts are:

  • Tourism, event management, hospitality and even retail are going to be sectors that struggle
  • On the other hand, e-commerce is likely to boom, as are any services for facilitating remote-working. There’s sure to be opportunities there.
  • Any work to get customer or staff interaction out of physical channels and into digital ones is likely to be prioritised.
  • Broader global disruption may increase customers’ appetite for locally-run and locally-hosted solutions.
  • Public sector work is likely to be more of a sure thing than private sector work – the government will, to some extent, feel an obligation to provide fiscal stimulus. However, individual government workers will likely be overwhelmed by the chaos and that will undoubtedly derail projects.
  • Venture funding is likely to be a lot more difficult to get commitment on in the next year or two, as wealth is redirected to less risky investments.


Good luck, and be well!


Connect with Sam on LinkedIn, or find out more about Silverstripe.


Prior to being appointed CEO in April 2011, Sam was Silverstripe’s Chief Technology Officer.

Sam has a BA in Computing and Philosophy from Victoria University. When he is not at work, he enjoys making cider, artisan cheese, and 3D printed models. Like any good geek, he’s not too old for a few hours of Assassin’s Creed on a Sunday afternoon.

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