The Umbrellar Connect survey – What you learned from a year of crisis and your aspirations for 2021

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Peter Griffin

We may have avoided the public health disaster Covid-19 represented for many countries around the world, but the pandemic put a dent in business for many and reinforced the importance of being adaptable.

Those are the key takeaways from Umbrellar Connect’s maiden annual reader and partner survey where 43% of respondents indicated that their business had suffered financially this year.

That compared to 24% of business who reported increased revenue and 33% who said the pandemic hadn’t affected the bottom line much one way or other.

WFH becomes the norm

Accommodating the shift to remote working was identified as the biggest tech-related priority of the year as companies big and small sent their staff home for extended periods. Going hand in hand with that trend was the need to develop and deploy new applications to support the workforce and customers, which was identified as the second major tech-related priority of the year in the survey that attracted 112 responses.

Asked what their biggest learning had been from the disruptive events of 2020, a large number of respondents remarked on how smooth the transition to remote working had been – often against their expectations.

One anonymous respondent discovered that “we can conduct much of our business decision making virtually via Zoom, reducing the need to bring people in from all over NZ at considerable expense for face to face meetings”.

Tomorrow in Part II: How the events of 2020 affected your mental health and tips on improving your wellbeing in 2021.

Another hoped to “lock in the gains of remote work”. Those who were largely operating virtually prior to the pandemic had an advantage in adapting to the new working environment.

“Operating mostly online and being familiar with working remotely was extremely helpful and a number of online meetings and remote working approaches can work efficiently in 2021 and beyond,” wrote one respondent. 

Others had enjoyed the new social aspects that had emerged out of the video conferencing boom.

“Team drinks online work!” wrote one.  

“They are actually a great way to learn more about your team members e.g. take a tour of their house, meet their children and pets…”

Mixed financial fortunes

Umbrellar Connect readers and partners were split on whether Covid-19 could be regarded as a game-changer for their business, or a mere blip with little in the way of lasting impact. 

The biggest challenge in 2020 survey respondents identified was taking advantage of new business opportunities the pandemic had created. That far outweighed the challenges associated with making staff redundant or dealing with reduced revenue.

But respondents were clear in identifying their top business priority for 2021 from a list of 10 suggestions – growing revenue. That was following by improving their customers’ experience. A return to business as usual was the lowest-ranked priority.

One respondent planned to increase their company’s cash reserves “as we expect the economic impact to hit in about March next year when everyone has spent their current ‘overseas holiday’ money on house/spa/car upgrades and local holidays.”

Those businesses reliant on importing goods from overseas suppliers were vowing to “build in resilience to supply disruptions”.

Improving business continuity plans was also a highly-ranked priority following the pandemic. Part of that would involve being more adaptable and having the flexibility to embrace change.

“Complexity, chaos theory, adaptive, black swan,” one respondent summed up.

While the Government moved faster than it was accustomed to in its pandemic response, including the move to inject billions in economic stimulus into the economy, many businesses were finding that they too were able to move at pace when the conditions created by the pandemic demanded it.

“We were on the right track prior to the pandemic and it sped up our rollout,” one respondent noted. 

“My takeaway from this is that you can make progress quicker than you think.”

Your team is everything

Aside from the need to shore up the bottom line next year and keep customers loyal and happy, the survey comments converged on a common theme – looking after your teammates.

“Staff comes first before profit,” was how one respondent put it.

“Regardless of how big or small your business is, you’re working as a team every day, in or out of the office,” another explained. 

“The entire world has had to come together as a huge team to get through this and I have now learned how big the impact of teamwork can have on your business.”

Some had learned, as the ability to offer quality customer service was stretched to breaking point for many businesses, that it was putting people first that mattered.

“In the health industry, human interaction is more important than cheap prices and nameless, faceless internet transactions,” wrote one respondent. 

The rubber band effect

Many respondents planned to focus on retaining customer loyalty and creating additional value for their clients who had stuck with them through hard times. 

Others wanted to take a more strategic view, to increasingly work “on the business instead of in it” and not to slip into old ways of working.

“People are going back to business as usual at a corporate level without recognising that things have changed,” one respondent pointed out.

“I call this the ‘rubber band effect’. Those people snap back and then realise that, actually, the world is different.”

Tomorrow In Part II: How the events of 2020 affected your mental health and tips on improving your wellbeing in 2021.

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Peter Griffin

Peter Griffin has been a journalist for over 20 years, covering the latest trends in technology and science for leading NZ media. He has also founded Science Media Centre and established Australasia's largest science blogging platform,

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