Why it's no longer 'business as usual' in the coronavirus era
Arguably the most significant consequence of the global coronavirus pandemic is that a number of previously ‘unthinkable’ outcomes have now come to pass. Even two months ago, few would have predicted the sheer scale of change that has taken place in recent weeks – from extensive government intervention in national economies, to a quarter of the global population being subjected to some form of lifestyle-altering ‘lockdown’.
Recent days have seen growing optimism that the crisis may have passed its peak in several Asian countries including China, as well as much of Europe. Yet numerous countries that previously appeared to have the pandemic under control, from Singapore to South Korea, have once again tightened borders and imposed stricter containment measures given growing concern of new infections “imported” from other parts of the world.
This has given rise to speculation that rather than seeing a ‘one-off’ lockdown in each country, on which the theory rests that individual countries will ‘bounce back’ from the crisis, there may be need for a number of semi-continuous restrictions—possibly even coordinated multilaterally. While it still remains possible that this rapid ‘bounce-back’ will materialise, several previous ‘corona-consensuses’ have been crushed in recent weeks. Remember that a little over two months ago, for instance, there was a widespread optimistic belief that the virus might be a China-only challenge.
In the immensely volatile times we live in, we must all prepare for the changes that are occurring at this moment, as well as the changes that are yet to come. Here at Quiller we are already working with clients to do this with support functions such as crisis management, scenario planning, and future forecasting. What is already clear from the past two months is that, as and when each country begins its recovery from the crisis, many of today’s commercial processes will be ill-fitting for the reality of tomorrow.
What the future holds
While the next steps for organisations depend, in part, on their size, sector and geography, its already clear there will be a major transformation ahead for us all.
With the future belonging to those organisations that turn crisis into opportunity by embedding agility and resilience, here are just three examples of the key issues many organisations will have to be thinking through.
Reimagining the supply chain
Firstly, the severe fracture of international supply chains, which has resulted from halted business activity across the globe, means it is now the time to rethink lines of production and export finance – how can they be made more resilient? How sufficient are your business partnerships with local producers?
The very economies on which we rely for supplies and export earnings are at risk. Many countries, including the United Kingdom, heavily depend on international trade, which has left the nation exposed in its desperate need for personal protection equipment (PPE) products, medicines and testing kits.
The coming years may well bear witness to a reversal of economic globalisation, therefore, and an ‘onshoring’ which will see a rise in local production.
Growing consensus on stakeholder capitalism
Secondly, the societal response from many businesses to coronavirus has been remarkable. Retailers and manufacturershave repurposed their processes to produce masks and ventilators for local hospitals. In instances where such retooling is not an option, many have made monetary donations to support further medical assistance, charity support, food banks. Some have instituted employee support and engagement programmes, encouraging their workforce to volunteer. Others have joined forces through partnerships to accelerate the development of the coronavirus drug.
Building upon the powerful legacy of responsibility this will leave, organisations now need to think of long-term strategy to bring wider stakeholder benefits, beyond a strict focus on shareholder returns. Our new normal effectively echoes the theme of the World Economic Forum at Davos this year: ‘stakeholder capitalism’ and its’ main objective to ‘ensure the long-term preservation and resilience of the company, embedding a company in society’.
The outbreak of coronavirus has only proven that, for business, closer alliances with the government and the public at large are crucial.
Strive for sustainability
Thirdly, one of the few positive by-products of the crisis have been lower CO2 emissions globally. This does not mean organisations can lay on their sustainability laurels. When international travel picks up again and industries re-open the climate change discourse will circle right back round to the doorstep of your business. Net zero will be on the agenda of almost all environmentalists – and the majority of governments, too. The current economic disruption is simply not a sustainable solution – all it does is ‘undercut the engines of innovation that bring us solutions’.
The remainder of 2020 promises to be a landscape of enormous change: will you be ready for it and the future pandemics that are yet to come?
Marta graduated in Anthropology from the London School of Economics and Political Science, including a period of study in public policy and international business at the University of California, Berkeley, where she gained comprehensive knowledge in intercultural leadership and international relations. She is a CIM (Chartered Institute of Marketing) Level 4 Professional Marketer.