Lessons learnt from lockdown – how international business is evolving

“My worry was that being forced to work from home could be very demotivating and this would be absolutely disastrous.”

At the end of February I went to Abu Dhabi for the BSME conference, remembers the director of m2r Education Munir Mamujee,  a great event which was supposed to be the highlight of our Q1 international business develop strategy. The conference never happened due to Covid-19 and I ended up in lockdown  at the hotel for five days. It was a rather surreal experience and one I hope never to repeat.

Fast forward and here we are. My team could have vanished, our international business could have ended and all of us could have been on our respective sofas watching daytime TV.

Yes we, like virtually every business out there, have had to make some dramatic changes and accept that for some time to come, it’s not business as usual.

As a business owner I initially went through the usual initial emotion of woe is me, head in hands, wondering what the hell we were going to do.

On Tuesday 17 March we packed up the office and the team went our separate ways. I don’t like working from home. Too many distractions. I am simply not designed that way, or so I thought. I also didn’t know how the team would cope with working remotely when for so many years we have existed in a totally collaborative environment. My worry was that being forced to work from home could be very demotivating and this would be absolutely disastrous.

I don’t think my initial emotions are unique to me.

For the past 10 years we have worked exclusively overseas, supplying recruitment services across the EMEA and APAC regions. We rely on the global mobility of people and without this we have no business. So, a lockdown with no access to international travel isn’t exactly what we need. Not only did we have to look for alternative sources of revenue but also ensure the team remained intact.

However, over the past six weeks I have noticed something quite remarkable. Due to this huge business critical issue, the culture that I was so desperate to achieve and couldn’t manage in an office environment is now flourishing. We are communicating, sharing ideas, asking opinions and being extremely productive. Roles have been clearly defined, no blurred lines and peer involvement is sky high.

We are still working purely on overseas contracts however the business is evolving in line with lockdown. As people can no longer travel for work, we are having to bring work to them in the form of online teaching.

Through proactive international business development, using our British embassy contacts and local DIT support, plus a bit of luck, we have managed to pivot and open up new markets which are booming. It’s not been easy and I have no doubt that this is just the start, but at least we are trying our hardest and still able to trade overseas.

So why on earth has it taken a pandemic of such epic proportions for this to occur?

I think it’s sheer complacency.

We take our international trade markets for granted, happy to exist and develop those relationships within our vertical. Yes, we may stray beyond this comfort zone but generally how far out are we actually willing to go? Now, we don’t have a choice. Fight or flight.

For us, this has meant creating a new international marketing strategy, looking at trends and then going after that business. Having a strong international business background plus the support of our DIT trade advisor has kept the motivation strong. Of course, maintaining and growing current relationships is also essential, those clients which maybe we didn’t spend as much time with are now top of the agenda. Best practice and market intel is being shared and this in turn is aiding goodwill.

Internally. engagement is up, we listen more and we are helping each other more. Not only are we developing new international trade sectors but our internal company culture is changing for the better too.

We motivate each other, keep spirits up, learn new skills and are better and stronger for it. There is certainly a “we are in it together mentality”.

About the author: Munir Mamujee is the director of m2r Education, a multi-award winning education recruitment company based in West Yorkshire.