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Working with expectations in a COVID business world

Image of a woman working with a mask and gloves in a COVID business world

Learn to accept control is not always possible

2020 is the year we all learnt to adapt our expectations. At the start business owners laid bare their goals and plans for what they expected to achieve for the next 12 months. By March any expectations were wiped out as the UK entered lockdown 1.0.

After three months in isolation, the summer provided temporary relief as the lockdown ceased, however this was replaced by the governments tier system. Limiting areas and putting further restrictions on businesses especially those in hospitality. On the 5th November the country entered lockdown 2.0 with an end date set for 2nd December. News has since swept the nation confirming the latest set of rules sending more than 23 million people into tighter measures. In terms of expectations, they are slowly diminishing.

But with much talk of vaccines, might this provide a possible exit route with expectations based around normality returning in Spring 2021? Sadly, even this is not guaranteed. It’s been an unpredictable year, with many facing ebbs and flows in business sales and operations.

So how can businesses adjust their expectations when there is so much uncertainty?

Business expectations
Business owners start their journeys with high expectations, they appear well equipped for most eventualities. Predicting increases in sales, higher levels of profit, plans for expansion and generally being successful. Without these goals no one would dare start. However, in reality, they face long hours, reduced pay, constant exposure to risks and financial anxieties. All are part of the job and makes business owners more resilient to change. But even the most hardened and experienced entrepreneurs have fallen foul to the year of COVID.

This calls for an alignment in attitude and mindset, one where expectations are eradicated and turned into acceptance. A thoughtful approach and affirmative action can help a business to overcome challenges. Never losing sight of why they chose to work for themselves, understanding control is not always possible.

Instead, the current situation needs to be seen as a positive. One which reignites the flame of passion, focussing efforts into finding new and exciting ways to keep moving regardless of the limitations. Those that do will be in a better place to succeed in the future.

Customer expectations
The binding element that surmounts customer expectations is the service on offer. After making a purchase the client has the right to expect they will receive what was acquired. The price, delivery timescales, product or use of service is after all predetermined in a contract.

This is a powerful example of realistic expectations and if the business fails to deliver, the customer has the right to be unhappy. Take ecommerce, customers rarely have much contact with the company, but they automatically trust and believe in the process as defined on a website.

Keeping up with client expectations is often difficult, especially if the bar is set too high. Being a customer centric business can focus attention on core functions to prioritise delivering the best possible service. Remaining transparent and requesting feedback can instil higher levels of trust which is essential for business survival. The only way to meet such expectations is to do what is promised, if this is not possible then changes need to be made.

Employee expectations
Employees go to work; they do a job and in return expect to receive a wage. If the business is performing well, they may expect to get a bonus or even a promotion. These are realistic assumptions, ones that keep staff motivated. Employers have a duty of care to ensure staff are managed and not to over enthuse or make unrealistic promises.

Treating employees with respect can create an arsenal of assets, essential contributors to making the business a success and to grow a thriving environment. But in times of adversity and financial troubles employees are often first to feel the devastating effects and find loyalty is not enough to save their jobs.

Business owners should expect to act quickly, using clear lines of communication to dispel rumours and gossip often rife in troubled times. Those affected should be made aware of the circumstances and be informed of the procedures. Whilst this may not eliminate the stress, if handled correctly it will ease the situation for everyone involved.

Legal expectations
Any business owner knows that as well as managing sales, operations, staff and customers a large portion of time is spent on legalities. From financial aspects such as VAT, Annual Returns and Corporation Tax to insurance, intellectual property rights and stakeholders there is much to know and do. These tasks are not just expected they are mandatory.

Most company directors struggle, preferring to complete the work themselves which only adds to the day-to-day pressures. They apply expectations on their already busy shoulders, ones which can be easily fixed by outsourcing to those in the know.

Digitalisation has turned the business world upside down offering cost effective and streamlined solutions. This has become increasingly effective in the area of accounts. Bookkeeping and accounting software are available to remove the hassle freeing up time to prioritise focus on essential business operations. To be beneficial businesses need to let go of the assumptions they can do it all by themselves.

Government expectations
Never have the actions of our government had so much effect on small businesses. Over recent years business owners have been over shadowed by Brexit uncertainty and whilst this is still in negotiations, COVID has had an even greater impact.

The sight of the Prime Minister taking to the podium alongside his advisers strikes fear into the hearts of business owners. With realistic questions of what rules will be announced next, what tier structures will come into force. Will businesses be able to stay open or will they be told to close, and if so for how long.

Our expectations demand that those in power have the answers when in reality the country is facing an unprecedented crisis with no rule book to help navigate the way. A business owner should focus on reacting accordingly in line with Government guidelines keeping informed and taking necessary action. Carrying out risk assessments and planning to ensure products, services and the working environment is kept safe. And not trying to control aspects so far outside of their comprehension.

As human beings we have expectations, a firm belief that something will happen. It is one of the most unpredictable assumptions we can make. Just because it is expected doesn’t make it so.

When entrenched in the cosmic environment of a business, owners tend to be blinkered preferring to have eyes on the smaller picture. Believing they are in full control. Whereas in reality outside influences cannot always be predetermined, hence why risk management is such an important aspect.

In a COVID business world, company owners are learning the hard way. Whether relational, business, legal or in other forms expectations provide a direct route to failure. No one knows what will happen tomorrow or what someone else is thinking. Accepting this fact will expel expectations and instead help to focus on areas that can be controlled. Setting boundaries can protect our thinking dispelling assumptions and therefore removing a feeling of disappointment.

As we draw near to the end of 2020, it’s time for business owners to put their learning experience into action, taking a realistic look of what they can achieve in the year ahead.

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