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By Peter Kowalke • May 22, 2020

Pandemic Business Chaos: This Too Shall Pass

We are in the midst, collectively and globally, of one of the most challenging times in the past 100 years. In a matter of a few short months, COVID-19 has transformed the economy, our personal lives and the world at large.

Being in the middle of a pandemic has united us universally, during a time when none of us can come into contact with our neighbors. How in the world can business leaders use this time in a positive way?

There are plenty of short-term projects happening right now, from businesses leveraging their supply chains to deliver needed equipment and supplies to healthcare and front-line workers, to robotics students 3-D printing face shields for medical personnel. But organizations don't need to focus only on the short-term to promote positive change during this difficult time.

Preparing for Better Times

Everything about how the world, business and customer behavior is changing as a result of the coronavirus. While the economy is pretty abysmal right now, that won’t always be the case. So now is the time to prepare for when things pick up.

Savvy businesses are preparing for this future in many ways, but a few common elements stand out and serve as best practices for how to get ready for what’s to come.

Increased Leadership

In every crisis, leaders emerge who are calm, rational, proactive individuals capable of dealing with a variety of challenges. In the wake of the coronavirus, leadership qualities are more important than ever.

Within individual businesses, those in charge are being tasked with showing their true capabilities and exhibiting strength and optimism during the business downturn and mass uncertainty. Leaders will need to be empathetic without compromising their management qualities. It will be a delicate balance, and truly capable visionaries will get a chance to shine.

Leadership also will be essential in particular lines of business and industries. Competition is going to ramp up hard once the economy re-opens, and businesses must be prepared to exhibit strength and assurance within their particular niches and industries.

Customers will value companies that display strong leadership traits as they seek extra assurance when re-entering the consumer world. Being prepared for these changes in attitude, purchasing behaviors and generally new ways of conducting business will place any business in a strong leadership position.

Innovation Agility

Some of the best ideas are born from challenge and tragedy. Businesses throughout the world are already working feverishly to change and adapt to the world of COVID-19.

Many are developing equipment, systems and technology to manage and mitigate the novel coronavirus. And others are working on new business processes and solutions to help individuals and businesses transition to the new and drastically different economy and business environment that will emerge as a result of the pandemic.

China is obviously ahead of the curve when it comes to dealing with fallout from COVID-19 since the virus started there. According to the U.S. Chamber of Commerce, delivery in China has declined by 50 percent and yet grocery stores have seen a 70 percent increase in spending.

The trend is a result of uncertainty about the safety of food prepared in restaurants, which has led to more people cooking at home. People are also purchasing food and supplies on a community level, buying in bulk online and then sharing food items and necessities.

In fact, technology in China has already advanced to the point where residents scan a QR code, join a WeChat group, and post a list of items they need. These items are purchased online, as part of an apartment block's weekly shopping.

The drastic shift in shopping habits in China is just one example of what a post-pandemic consumer world may look like. But it should serve as a prompt to businesses globally that contactless solutions will be in large demand following COVID-19, and innovation should be happening right now to take full advantage of that and other changes post-pandemic.

Digital Modernization for When Business Picks Up

While relative normalcy might return some time later this year, social distancing and a concern with germs is here to stay. That means more working from home, and more ecommerce. Both of these changes are accelerating business modernization and digitalization as life moves almost fully online.

“People are being forced to work from home, but their whole life is being forced to adapt digitally,” said Joe McDonnell, head of research group WGSN Insight.

“These behaviors will not disappear once the quarantine is over, it’s very likely that people who have been forced to adopt digital practices will continue these. Consumer appetite for delivery services is going to continue after the crisis is over and retailers [that] are unable to fulfill are unlikely to succeed, even in a post-COVID world.”

McDonnell predicts businesses that offer comfort, convenience and necessity for consumers will be best positioned to do well in the post-coronavirus world. And now is the time to think about digitization of products and services, as the world and economy are transforming and being shaped.

Extra Supply Chain Resiliency

The tightly connected, single-source supply chains that have more or less dominated the past several decades are finished as a result of the pandemic. In its place will emerge an omni-channel, distributed and resilient global supply chain ecosystem that will look very different from its predecessor.

Technology will comprise the backbone of this new ecosystem, beginning with cloud-based ERP systems that connect businesses with a wider range of suppliers and adjust in real-time based on supply chain disruptions. The cloud will be instrumental for ensuring communication and tracking among the various links in this more resilient supply chain.

Of course, 5G, the Internet of Things (IoT), machine learning and blockchain are all emerging technologies that will play an increasingly integral roles in the new supply chain ecosystem as well.

Businesses would do well to start planning for the post-pandemic era of business by ensuring they have the right platforms and technology in place to handle this change in how supply chains run.

We are certainly in a historically difficult period right now. But by making the most of disruption and downtime, businesses can work on strategies that will help them smoothly transition into the new economy set to emerge after the pandemic subsides.

The pandemic is bad right now. But this too shall pass.