With COVID-19 cases growing worldwide, business leaders are facing a deluge of problems, from slumping demand and disrupted supply chains to excruciating lay-offs—all the while trying to protect the health and safety of remaining employees, partners and suppliers. It’s hard to believe that just two weeks ago this reality seemed unthinkable when today’s global leaders are advising that we “make peace” with the notion of staying home for the foreseeable future. It’s hard to imagine how the economic downturn will take shape and how the nature of work may irrevocably change. But we do know that unlike the previous recession, the causes of today’s underlying economic misfortunes are not caused by any fundamental weakness of the financial system. This is why economists like Canadian leading expert Peter Hall predict that the global economy will rebound quickly once the outbreak stabilizes.
We are living through unprecedented times. It’s during such times that we need to lean on each other and collaborate most. Organizations are facing a tremendously steep learning curve. We will need to quickly test new ideas and find new sales channels, openly share information within our organizations, and learn to collaborate across sectors at unprecedented levels. And there will be new opportunities that emerge amid this crisis. The Great Depression of the 1930s wreaked economic havoc, but also produced new business models in industries from agriculture and groceries to beauty products and entertainment. The SARS pandemic of 2002-2004 led to the incredible growth of retail e-commerce giant Ali Baba. Airbnb and Uber emerged out of Great Recession of 2007-2009 when the subprime crisis meant that people sought new ways to supplement their income. We will also see that, over time, our present crisis produces transformations and some new beginnings.
Already we are seeing that some businesses aren’t just surviving—they are thriving. Supermarkets and pharmacies are struggling to keep up with demand. Online sales and delivery services are booming. Social media, remote meeting services and tools, hygiene products and health insurance are in high demand. Walmart announced last week that it is hiring an additional 150,000 workers and Amazon needs another 100,000 employees. Some local companies are also finding opportunities in turning to deliveries and online sales channels. Local businesses, such as local clothing designer Smoking Lily, have moved their entire operations to online sales. Local breweries like Vancouver Island Brewing are offering “beers on wheels” for home beer delivery services. To keep up with this demand, the world needs more drivers, warehouse workers, supply chain analysts, and more remote workers to handle dispatch and delivery logistics.
In the long run, some industries will see permanent changes. Many companies are already rapidly adapting to meet opportunities arising from people being forced to work, shop, and entertain themselves at home. Conferences and summits are becoming virtual; medical and support services are held over video conference; book clubs and exercise clubs are taking place in the digital world. Entertainment of all types has shifted to the home, and news and social media of all types are skyrocketing. Movies that would be in the theatres can be watched at home. Live entertainment is also finding ways of reaching online audiences. For example, the Seattle Orchestra is rebroadcasting live performances. Art galleries from around the world such as Art Basel Hong Kong have ambitious plans to launch online “viewing rooms” to the public with over 2,000 artworks.
There are also important changes happening to how we work. As more people adapt to working from home, companies that have services that allow us to work remotely, such as Zoom, Skype, Slack, Asana, Trello, are experiencing a surge in demand. If you’ve never tried these tools, now is the time. Tech companies like Google, Zoom and Microsoft are giving away free, limited-time access to conferencing and other collaboration tools for business. Working from home also allows businesses to save money on office space as well as other cost-savings in travel and overhead. While there may be productivity gains for small businesses that adopt these tools, learning how to sustain and grow operations remotely will be a defining challenge for many small and medium-sized businesses. For tips on surviving remote work and a list of the most up-to-date business assistance resources for Greater Victoria businesses, please go here.
At a broader societal level, global governments are being called upon to act more rapidly and collaborate more efficiently while having the most current data instantly at their fingertips. Privacy concerns aside, South Korea is widely considered to have the gold standard in the effective use of technology and big data for managing their outbreak through the use of widespread disease surveillance and testing. Not only have they tested more people than any other country, they have used smart technology apps to update the population on an hour-by-hour basis about the exact locations of the outbreak. In Canada, too, we may soon see accelerated investments in “smart city” solutions at the national, provincial and municipal levels as we are called upon in the future to manage other emergency events like natural disasters or cyber-security threats.
COVID-19 is first and foremost a global health emergency, but with each day it is becoming a more and more acute economic emergency. Millions of people around the world are feeling the intense human pain and suffering of widespread loss of life wrought by this virus. While the horror of this situation cannot be under-emphasized, there will be a horizon again. When the recovery begins, we need to be ready for it.
To help, we have compiled a list of the web’s best COVID-19 business resources on a range of topics from emergency funding and relief programs and small business loans to tips on managing anxiety across your organization, building culture in remote work environments and how to find fitness classes online.
These are very difficult times, but if we can continue to help each other, we have no doubt that we will soon see that our capacity to overcome such adversity is greater than we previously imagined.
Written and submitted by Emilie de Rosenroll, CEO, South Island Prosperity Partnership.