Smart Machines & Factories
COVID-19 – how business is adapting in the face of adversity
Published:  15 July, 2020

Alistair Binks* explains to Smart Machines & Factories how the COVID-19 pandemic has driven businesses to focus inwards, looking with a critical eye at their more “fragile” business areas, or those markets which they may have relied upon too heavily so far.

The COVID-19 pandemic is a difficult time for everyone; none more so than those on the NHS front line. Businesses and workers across the globe have had to adapt in ways that may have seemed unimaginable just a few months ago.

Whether it’s been adapting to work from home or the shutting down of entire sectors, leaving staff furloughed or unemployed, the challenges have been both numerous and often testing in the extreme. But the shock to the economy of COVID-19 has also possibly made us all more resourceful and open to change. From keeping teams and customers connected through technology, to identifying ways to adapt, the Coronavirus has forced business owners and employees to find new, innovative ways of working and serving their clients.

Emerging markets

With the pandemic forcing businesses to focus inwards, this has shed a light on more exposed business areas, as well as highlighting markets - and countries - which firms had perhaps counted on too much.

The COVID-19 crisis has given businesses a chance to innovate, whether via new products or services or even a change in target markets. Newspaper headlines are filled with reports of manufacturing businesses responding to the Government’s call for help with ventilator production or switching their output to meet new demands. Examples include manufacturing personal protective equipment or scrubs for the NHS or hand sanitiser for both healthcare use and to restock bare supermarket shelves.

Some businesses are now expanding into new European markets, even going global. As a translation service provider, we have experienced a recent surge in demand for the translation of documentation, labelling and marketing materials to allow businesses in a variety of sectors to gain entry to these new markets.

Language and globalisation

With staff at many companies being furloughed, looking to new markets obviously isn’t just for the here and now. When “business as usual” finally resumes, the economy could well be in a recession with challenging times lying ahead. This is why it’s worth considering making the investment in taking your business to new geographical locations. Just some of the benefits include potentially exponential growth in sales, sources of new investment, access to specialised talent and a wealth of multilingual staff.

One of the frequent challenges for UK businesses entering overseas markets is the language barrier. In order to be able to operate successfully around the globe, translations need to be both precise, but also sensitively localised for the given markets. If your business sells directly to consumers, you need to consider how the different cultures in each country converse, right down to slang and colloquialisms. You also need to be mindful of intellectual property protection and trade regulations and policies in these new markets. You only get one chance at making a first impression and, by getting these things right first time, you will have the best chance of effectively marketing your business in your chosen target markets.

Corporate social responsibility

Another crucial aspect to get right is demonstrating solid corporate social responsibility. Whether it be retailers having special opening times for the more vulnerable, or manufacturers stepping outside their usual area of expertise to produce medical equipment or hand sanitiser, businesses have shown good leadership and social responsibility in the current crisis which will stand them in good stead for the future.

ITV News recently reported that The Institute for Manufacturing in Cambridge has been offering support to the NHS in the monitoring of patient flow and hospital logistics. Engineers have been using their experience to build simulations to see how different patient care situations may affect hospitals. Engineers Dyson have also turned their hand to making ventilators, as well as creating engineering and science activities for children off school during the lockdown.

Innovation and the future

Many business owners might well admit that, under normal circumstances, they can be rather slow to innovate. The familiar reasons tend to crop up time and again; ‘we understand our customers, so we don’t need to’, ‘we’ve got targets to hit in the short term and we don’t have the time’. But, when unexpected events happen, business owners simply have to think on their feet and come up with new ideas.

The strategic decision to enter international markets naturally often requires organisational changes too. But now is the time to realign to the new reality, create an appropriate strategy and act.

*Alistair Binks general manager of technical and life sciences translation specialists Albion Languages