Four important learnings from the COVID-19 crises to take into the future.
As a global community, we are collectively sharing the experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. The outbreak of a pandemic – and accompanying social isolation – is something that most of us have never previously known. As a result, it is causing us to feel anxious, confused, unsettled and worried for the future.
At the same time, the spread of the virus is teaching us some important lessons about global connectivity – the downsides and the upsides. Connectivity has certainly enabled the virus to spread more rapidly than it might otherwise have done due to the prevalence of air travel.
Nevertheless, greater connectivity – in the sense of communication and technology – is allowing us to keep working remotely with colleagues, customers and suppliers all around the world.
It is also enabling us to learn and share powerful lessons so that we can respond more effectively to the crisis. At EY, for example, we are sharing the specific experiences of the member firms in China, South Korea and Italy with colleagues throughout the global EY network.
Four important learnings
At a big-picture level, the most powerful learning to take away from the COVID-19 crisis is that there is always a potential black swan event around the corner – that is, an unpredictable event that has a severe impact. And with today’s global connectivity, that event could again impact on the entire world.
Today, EY supply chains are so interconnected that the world would still have been affected by the COVID-19 outbreak even if it hadn’t spread beyond China’s Hubei province – with its key role in the high-tech, automotive and pharmaceutical industry supply chains, among others.
So, what are the other key learnings that organizations can take away from the current crisis?
1. Think the unthinkable.
The risks associated with black swan events tend to be so big and so rare that many businesses do not contemplate them, much less plan for them.
We need to have a mindset where we are always prepared to think the unthinkable – because the black swan will show up.
2. Business continuity is vital.
Humans are at the center of virtually every enterprise that exists. So, any organization’s first concern in a crisis like this one clearly has to be the immediate health and well-being of its people.
Nevertheless, it must also pivot to focusing on its business continuity strategy – because sustained financial performance is critical to the health and wellbeing of our people and communities over the longer term.
3. Transformation is more important than ever.
While the COVID-19 crisis has exposed the fragility that existed in many supply chains, it has also highlighted the power of technology as a tool to connect people and keep businesses running.
Technology, implemented at speed, is one of the most powerful tools that we have for countering the devastating social and economic impacts of COVID-19. So, we should explore how we can use it to anticipate and respond to other black swan events in the future.
4. We must prepare to change.
COVID-19 will force organizations to change – whether they want to or not. It will make them adopt new ways of working, invest in their resilience and reconsider their business models.
For example, organizations that rely heavily on individuals traveling to different markets may change their business models to make greater use of technological tools such as virtual reality.
Looking forward with hope
Soon we will look back upon this very, very difficult period as a time of huge social, economic and technological transformation. A transformation that had humans at the center, where technology was deployed at speed and innovation happened at scale.
Humans are right at the center of this transformation since the efforts of policymakers and organizations worldwide are geared toward protecting human wellbeing. At an individual level, people’s lives are being completely transformed as they self-isolate and adjust to new ways of living and working. New terms, such as “social distancing,” are entering our vocabulary.
We are also seeing the emergence of new initiatives and volunteering on an enormous scale – for example, the caremongering1 movement in Canada, where people are joining together to help the vulnerable in their communities. In the UK, 750,000 people have signed up to be National Health Service volunteers2 – supporting those who need to stay at home during the COVID-19 crisis.
In the world of business, companies are speedily deploying technology to keep people safe and parts of the economy functioning, as the world battles against COVID-19. Tools such as cloud computing, enterprise resource planning systems, video conferencing software, online collaboration platforms and social media are enabling many of us to work remotely while staying connected to the EY organizations and to each other.
Thanks to technology, millions of us are currently participating in what Time magazine has called “the world’s biggest working-from-home experiment.”
Companies are also demonstrating incredible agility, and achieving innovation at scale, as they try to bridge gaps in critical medical supplies. For example, the perfume factory of luxury goods house LVMH started manufacturing hand sanitizer within 72 hours3 of the French government asking for help. Fashion companies around the world are starting to produce masks and personal protective equipment4 for medical professionals.
In the US, Ford Motor and GE Healthcare5 are aiming to produce 50,000 ventilators within 100 days. Significant innovation is also taking place in the health care space as companies race to accelerate the means of testing for the virus and develop a potential vaccine6 against COVID-19. In the UK, Formula One teams7 – ordinarily rivals – are joining forces to manufacture ventilators to help alleviate the increasing demand.
As yet, we cannot conceive quite how our world is going to be transformed by COVID-19. But transformed it will be. This crisis will result in new behaviors, new expectations, new processes and new business models.
When we come out the other side of the crisis – which one day we will – we will find that this transformative period has served as a catalyst for reinvention.