Every so often something unexpected happens that disrupts even the best laid business plans—whether it’s a company-wide issue or a world-wide pandemic like COVID-19. Crises like this can cause stocks to tank and can upend industries. They can also leave business leaders asking themselves: 'how do we respond to this?'
Software as a service (SaaS) businesses in particular are in a unique position. Technological infrastructure remains intact, and most major internet providers have pledged to keep customers connected, regardless of account payment status. This paves the way for SaaS decision-makers to follow suit. . .if they can.
What we learn from this experience and how different SaaS trend-setters react will undoubtedly shape crisis response in the future. For now, we can turn to the examples set by tech giants, and reactions to their decisions, as a guiding light.
Here are three of the biggest leadership takeaways from early on in the 2020 COVID-19 crisis for SaaS and recurring billing businesses.
1. Make informed decisions
Google, Microsoft, Facebook, Twitter, and other tech leaders are working hard to fight the spread of misinformation about the novel coronavirus. This is important for many reasons, not the least of which is the high risk to community health perpetuated by uninformed or misinformed audiences.
However, information integrity is important for businesses as well.
Understanding the real risks of decisions—such as keeping team operations in-office during a viral pandemic—is the only way to draw reasonable conclusions about how to proceed.
This is exactly what telecommunications provider Charter is learning right now. After insisting workers continue to come to the office, one employee sent an e-mail blast insisting that much of the team could work from home. He was promptly told he could take sick leave if he wanted to go home.
Instead, he resigned.
When Charter doubled down on its decision in another e-mail a day later, employees anonymously (for fear of retaliation) described the communication as ‘tone-deaf’. It was especially worrisome considering two or three staff had been tested for coronavirus and their status was undisclosed. As of this writing, tensions and complaints are still mounting.
Some organizations, especially government departments, are concerned with keeping data secure in a work-from-home model.
Charter, however, claims its policy is in place because it believes teams are more productive in an office environment. This is despite the fact that research finds working from home makes employees more productive and that country leaders are discouraging group gatherings of more than ten people.
Stay informed and use the latest information to make the best decisions for your business.
2. Consider impacts on various parties
Good business leaders tend to think in customer-first terms. However, in times of crisis, a broader perspective is required. Layoffs are inevitable for many organizations, drastically impacting the lives of team members. If this is the case for your business, offer what resources you can—whether by sharing information on how to file for unemployment, quickly providing reference letters, or other means of support.
Many businesses are fortunate enough not to have to resort to such drastic measures. We’re very grateful at Fusebill, for example, that we’re well positioned at this time to weather the situation with our team fully intact.
Still, employees may need additional support.
Apple and Amazon, for example, are offering unlimited sick leave over the next month for any staff who test positive for COVID-19. They’ve also joined Google, Microsoft, Facebook, and Twitter in continuing to pay hourly workers who’ve been asked to stay home.
And with our own Fusebill team working within an entirely remote setup, staff have been extended the flexibility and support to work around childcare and other family obligations. This understanding from the top down eases a lot of stress and anxiety during this time.
The decisions business leaders make impact not only customers and team members, but also partners and other members of their wider network. Keep this in mind as decisions are made, as well as in communications with these various parties. Choose language and frequency of messaging carefully, and only share verified, accurate information.
Your goal is not only to remain calm, but also to project that calm to others.
3. Leverage what you have to help
As schools shut down across nations, students, parents, and teachers rushed to figure out how to accommodate the disruption to education and schedules. In response, screen and video recording service Loom made its Pro account free to all verified teachers and students at K-12 schools, universities, and educational institutions. Adobe also gave teachers and students free at-home access to its Creative Cloud apps.
Resources weren’t limited to schools, however. Musicians and concert halls began streaming live and recorded entertainment for free, and many people shared lists on social media of museums with virtual tours. As libraries closed, they increased their Hoopla download limits so patrons could still check out resources electronically.
When businesses suddenly moved work into team members’ homes, file transfer service Meero made large-file transfers free. LinkedIn took down the paywall to its learning courses on productivity, networking, and work-life balance. And Facebook and Google offered the World Health Organization free ad space.
None of these examples even touch the many SaaS tools likely employed in hospitals and doctors’ offices right now as healthcare systems work to control COVID-19’s effects. Yet, that goes to show that SaaS business can help even if they aren’t directly on the frontlines of the problem.
Focus on your business’s strengths, and how those can help mitigate the effects of a crisis.
Take it all in stride
Unexpected challenges like COVID-19 completely disrupt the world as we know it, and it’s up to us to make sure we learn from the situation. As travel and gathering restrictions force businesses to re-think their operations, it also creates opportunities for discovering new, better approaches.
Eco-conscious businesses, for example, may be inspired by Italy’s reduced air pollution after lockdown and decide that more generous work-from-home allowances are in line with their mission. And a lot of businesses are having to get creative with newly revised shoe-string budgets in an effort to be more prudent with spending.
Crises, by definition, are stressful. However, they do eventually come to an end. As news and information comes in, remember to remain calm, and take it all in one bit at a time. With careful and considerate decision-making, SaaS businesses can weather the storm and perhaps even help to calm it.