Wednesday June 3, 2020
With COVID-19 cases growing worldwide, business leaders are scrambling to deal with a wide variety of problems, from slumping sales and stalling supply chains to keeping employees healthy and making sure they can continue working.
Professors of Harvard Business School were able to answer how the coronavirus pandemic is likely to change how companies do business. Here’s what they said:
The best leaders will break out of silos and improve workplace culture
If there were ever a time to “think outside the building” and be more aware of the wider system, it’s now. Operating in silos and paying attention only to a few stakeholders’ leads to vulnerabilities. Companies are dependent not only on global supply chains and what might be happening in other countries, but also on the state of institutions in their own communities. The ecosystems in which companies operate mean that a disruption to one industry or set of activities ripples to others.
Companies with the strongest stakeholder and partner orientations are best able to survive and transcend crises, because they can plan together, gain local knowledge from each other, and draw on good will to get back to business quickly when the crisis abates.
Employees and buildings will be healthier
COVID-19 will change the nature of our offices, apartments, hospitals, schools, and government buildings. Concern about the spread of this and other communicable diseases might fade after this contagion, but there will probably be more outbreaks in the decades to come. This means that we can expect our physical structures to change, too.
Think of the extension of today’s airport and courthouse security screening: not just what weapons you may be carrying, but also what infections you may be carrying. Many of us have experienced health screening in Asian airports for years as technicians viewed our facial temperatures, checked our passports and vaccination histories, and asked questions. This will become a more permanent component of entry to office buildings, schools, and transit hubs.
In-person meetings will be less important
All organizations will learn that they can leverage technology much more effectively to operate remotely and conduct business. We will realize we need far fewer face-to-face meetings than we thought. I think the productivity benefits could be quite big.
The companies that will lose: travel businesses, such as airlines and hotels. We may discover we just don’t need to travel to meetings as much as we thought.
Employees will take stock of their new work priorities
As this crisis unfolds, you may find your workdays following a very different cadence. Normal work activities will get disrupted and then blended with your personal life as you begin working from home. The colleagues you usually run into at the office will no longer be down the hall, and the normal meetings and email threads that occupy your days may get shuffled in unexpected ways, depending in part on whether the crisis cripples or amplifies the demand for your work. In either case, this is a good time to take stock of your priorities and rethink your patterns of collaboration.
By auditing your work responsibilities and project commitments, along with all the meetings, emails, and other tools you use to collaborate, you can become more focused and intentional about how you spend your time. Before this crisis, you may have felt overloaded with too many meetings and relentless emails, making it seem like you never had time to do your actual work. The shift to working from home, despite all of its inherent challenges, can also be an opportunity to reflect on your priorities and design your new schedule to accomplish them.
Supply chain strategy will be rewritten
Businesses have been surprised on how dependent they are on China, for everything from key raw materials or parts to finished products. Often they didn’t realize that it was a supplier to their supplier, or further down as a third or fourth tier. The magnitude of the shock means after they recover from the momentary chaos, many will start thinking about diversifying their risk and trying to develop alternatives in other countries.
The biggest losers from the coronavirus [in business] are service industries that have seen their revenues dry up. Airlines, hotels, the travel industry at large, are losing revenue and cash flow that will be difficult to replace. Manufacturers can run overtime and make up for lost production and fill pent-up demand, but services demand is perishable and hard to replace.
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