COVID-19 has been a unique experience across the world with countries, industries, organizations and individuals being impacted differently. Some have seen it as an opportunity for growth while others have found it difficult if not impossible to stay afloat. Individuals and organizations have found themselves looking for ways to transition into a more digital workforce while facing difficulties with work stoppages, productivity, morale and many more.
At challenging times such as these, it is important to take a broad view to understand certain factors that have incited drastic changes across different countries and institutions in order to create a robust system that can help to alleviate the effects of future possible disruptions.
Many organizations have found the transition to a Work-From-Home environment to be a major challenge. To some, the need to retrain their employees to serve in positions that required full digital interactions, using tools and solutions that were previously limited or out of scope has proved challenging. This transition has largely affected several departments in profound ways and causing some to have needed to completely switch their focus and strategy in the blink of an eye. The cyber and tech infrastructure folks suddenly were required to provide increased access to organization’s assets, and with that may have undergone the need to procure additional resources and/ or revamp their apparatus which is a challenge within itself. Increased capacity and utilization can also affect existing infrastructure whether it be lags, tech difficulties, availability of tech support, larger threat surfaces, cybersecurity concerns, and much more.
On the flip side of the coin, billions of people either lost their job (in the US, 12.6 million individuals were unemployed in September), were furloughed, or had to accept the added risks that their profession entailed. Individuals in particular industries were affected – it is estimated that the tourism industry alone may experience global loses of US$1.2 trillion. On top of concerns associated with job security, individuals found themselves also having to weight in the risks that their profession and activities may represent to loved ones and postpone certain goals and plans.
For organizations, a lack of operational clarity due to said environment drives increased risks and unexpected disruptions that in some cases, can lead to greater losses. At the same time, they had to contend with rapidly expanding their digital footprint to support revenues and have seen their supply chain operations plummet. Some governments (UN; IMF; Canada – Ontario, British Columbia; USA – California, New York, Texas) and organizations such as Shopify, Doordash, and Google took steps to help ease the challenges and transition of their partners. Yet, the number of unknowns that have come with these changes meant that many ended up spending additional resources in learning from trial and error with differing levels of success.
As organizations were faced with major changes and disruptions, tough choices regarding personnel became rife. To some, furlough was the chosen middle ground, helping to facilitate a restart to the business. Others had to contend with layoffs and the pains and challenges that it entails. At no time in recent history, has Canada and the US seen such a drastic change in unemployment rates such as the one brought by COVID-19. Due to heavy subsidies, nations around the world have seen a partial inverted V-shaped movement in unemployment rates with recovery levels remaining uneven.
Managers were also made aware of the fact that the movement to a work-from-home environment affected productivity rates and employee morale. Some employees have found it difficult to keep their productivity at previous levels, sometimes due to a lack of resources, other times due to personal challenges, and major changes to the work environment.
Not all digital transitions were created equal, with some managing to see a spike in productivity sometimes attributed to better work-life-balance, good management, reliable technology solutions and a sense of organizational purpose. To facilitate organizational performance in these difficult times, GPetrium has built a publicly available ‘Toolkit for a Successful Manager’. Organizations are highly encouraged to take advantage of the customizable nature of the solutions and tailor their solution to their specific challenges and needs.
Organizations and governments reeling from the challenges faced with the first wave have gained key experience and assets (e.g. PPE) to support the continuation of operations in case of a second or third wave. These activities are driven heavily by government policy responses. Yet, the sheer unpredictability of the virus, coupled with individual decision making, supply chain disruption and a weakened industrial base could prove to be devastating to some organizations with low margins, cash flow issues, heavily indebted or dependent on personnel with high COVID-19 susceptibility, especially without or with limited government assistance.
The prospect for a vaccine, coupled with East Asia’s rebound and heavy government subsidies has helped ameliorate the prospects for the end of 2020 and 2021. Yet, there are many unknowns that governments and organization have to contend with, including unexpected delays in vaccine or government partial to full lockdowns that have lately shown its head in places such as Ireland, France, Greece, and Canada.
The 2008 crisis has served as an example of how the Financial industry was heavily exposed to some financial instruments and how easy some of its issues could spread like a virus. COVID-19 has demonstrated again how many organizations and nations were exposed and poorly equipped to handle unexpected deviations. Although it is important to note that no single organization has the means to fully protect itself from all forms of exposure without incurring an enormous cost. One thing has become clear, more organizations are in dire need of building an emergency response task force to help facilitate the assessment and management of risk within the organization.
During times of change, it can be easy to lose track of routines that have helped build and maintain one’s life. To the individual, this can mean ensuring that their hygiene, eating, social and physical habits are maintained regardless of the conditions. An organization, on the other hand, may want to make sure that certain processes remain in place, including daily and weekly follow-ups and that all of its employees are engaged in the process to unify the workforce, create a sense of belonging, and support which can help enhance culture and employee morale.
Mental health has become an important part of individual and organizational success. Unfortunately, research has shown a rise in the number of reported anxieties being “very or extremely difficult to manage” from 6% pre-COVID to 21% during the pandemic. The NHS, University of Michigan and Mental Health America have provided a list of steps to help improve mental health. For an organization, having to contend with the challenges of staying afloat while considering employee can be at times challenging. To help facilitate that, it is important for the organization to build a culture of support and to have the appropriate processes, tools and resources to facilitate business disruption mitigation. As a manager, it can be easy to get lost in all the different issues that arise during these challenges, yet, it is essential to be mindful of one’s mental health.
For many, WFH and limited social interaction can feel alienating, furthering hindering their personal and career health. To help close the gap, individuals and organizations should consider having a day or two where video calls are mandatory. It is of course, important to consider unique personal circumstances that may hinder one’s ability to do so.
Whether it is a natural disaster, divisions, a virus, war or systemic failures, if history is a good predictor, society will continue to face similar challenges. Individuals and organizations must take a proactive approach to help mitigate and facilitate their transition between tumultuous times. The current COVID-19 pandemic should serve as a powerful sample to current generations, hopefully helping to shape a better society in the long run. It is up to you to make a difference and help guide society to a more prosperous place.