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What Has the Coronavirus Taught Us, and Which Lessons Should We Remember Moving Forwards?

You can find links to other articles about the Coronavirus crisis and its effects at the end of this article.

The Coronavirus hit us like an apocalyptic vision. I think that if anyone had raised the possibility of such an event, even in November 2019, we’d have all treated them like a fool. Despite the surprise, globally people adjusted remarkably quickly. It’s enough to look at the parallel development of vaccines, and their approval by health authorities, within 10 months, to understand the revolution in tends of behaviors and thought patterns that occurred over the last year.
The price is very high, with almost 2.5 million dead globally, about a 110 million infected, and many more having lost their livelihood.
Official data from Israel shows the fluctuations in employment caused by the pandemic. In October 2020, there were 940,000 unemployed (22.7%) in Israel. A month later - after the second lockdown ended - 600,000 (14.6%). This demonstrates how hundreds of thousands of people experience unstable employment, moving from work, to furlough or layoffs, and back again. They live with an uncertainty regarding their work situation. Not a simple experience. At the same time, thousands of businesses in Israel will be unable to recover from the financial crisis, and will go bankrupt. In fact, any discussion of statistics and costs hides with in it the personal disasters of many people. But like a forest decimated by fire, recovery will be swift.
In this article I’ll discuss this recovery, what can be learned, and the lessons we must remember moving forward.

What’s Happened over the Last Ten Months?

I’ll start with a short review of some of the phenomena we’ve seen. A year ago they would have been completely unexpected, and today they seem like an inherent part of daily life.
We’ve called ourselves a global village, and all of a sudden, flights have stopped, mobility has stopped, it’s not so simple and trivial to travel. Restaurants and cafes have closed, as have most malls and stores, schools and universities transferred to remote learning. Offices closed, and almost all non-manufacturers have switched to working from home. Meetings have been reduced, and most are done over Zoom. Hundreds of thousands of people have been laid off or furloughed. Managers focus on efficiency measures, and even in businesses that haven’t been hurt by the crisis - or even benefited from it - inefficient employees were let go. Many pregnant women were also fired. Cinemas and theaters closed, and we’ve stopped consuming culture in the ways we did until the pandemic. Gyms and pools closed, and touch-based alternative medicine disappeared. We learned what social distancing and quarantining are, and many were surprised to “discover” their homes. We learned how to live with the uncertainty of lockdowns and ever-changing regulations
And this is only a partial list, that shows how substantial the change is.

What Has the Coronavirus Taught Us?

I think the main thing we’ve learned from the Coronavirus crisis is that nothing is truly permanent or certain. We can and should rely only on ourselves and our ability to adjust and adapt to a fast changing reality.
From here everything else will follow.

What Have We Learned and Implemented Up to Now?

Necessity is the mother of all invention, and businesses which managed to survive found creative solutions to the challenges posed by the crisis. Let’s look at a few such solutions.

Restaurants and Cafes

Many restaurants and cafes had to close, temporarily or permanently. There is little room to maneuver within the regulations, and yet some resourceful owners found ways to continue.
See the photo below, of a food truck that appeared one day at a junction near my home. Before the pandemic, the owner catered private events with his food truck. When this was no longer possible, he had to look for alternatives. And so, after a few months, he turned up at this junction. At first, he was hesitant, came alone. The public, hungry for restaurants, flocked to him, and quickly he added three employees to serve clients. He invested in infrastructure - a paved area and a few heavy wooden tables - and everyone is enjoying themselves. The food truck is there five days a week, while during the weekend its place is taken up by another set of entrepreneurs - selling pitas, Druz food, and fruit. In the adjacent bus stop, someone else sells food on the weekend - but that has been happening since before the pandemic. Shopping centers are closed, and our junction (like many others) has become a small food center.
I personally don’t eat meat, so haven't tried the offered cuisine, but I appreciate the resourcefulness displayed.
Not everyone can set up medical or technological startups, but the resilience of recovering from the shock of the crisis and changing your marketing focus is laudable. In fact, every type of business should do so. Even successful businesses should always consider additional markets, and more on this soon.

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Those Who Profit from the Pandemic, and Those Who Don’t

The first wave of the pandemic caused widespread panic, and the world split in two:

  1. Those who make protective gear (masks, protective suits, life support machines) or who are in the business of diagnosing, treating, or preventing the disease - or those who could adapt their business accordingly - saw increased demand, alongside difficulty manufacturing due to lockdowns and quarantines.
  2. Everyone else faced, at the start of the pandemic, a complete or near-complete stop in business. As the pandemic continued, business slowly picked up again, but small orders became the norm, as people realized that the future isn’t certain, and stock of any kind increases risks to the company’s survival.
    This second type of businesses had to change their approach and develop more efficient production methods, work in small batches, with quick setups and very low depreciation.

Keep Employees or Layoff?

All companies, even those not directly hit by the pandemic, had to deal with new aspects of employee retention. The crisis offered a golden opportunity for employers to get their employees invested in company goals, but not all companies took advantage of it.
Some companies, hurt by the crisis, chose to or had to furlough employees. Other companies, looking ahead, chose to keep employees and found creative ways to afford work costs in times of decreased sales.
Almost all tech companies switched to working from home, and remote employees became less committed to their employers.
Either way, employers had to invest in supporting employees during a time of uncertainty regarding employment, and health concerns.
Some employers developed tools for maintaining contact with furloughed or remote employees (as discussed in our second webinar [in Hebrew]). Companies who don’t pay attention to employee retention suffer a twofold loss: the opportunity to get employees invested and engaged with company goals, and a possible increased turnover in the future.

Handling Problems in the Supply Chain

Anyone buying products, materials, or parts from China suddenly found themselves without their supplier. This was, indeed, a problem of short duration, because the Chinese were the first to recover, but taught everyone not to rely on only one supplier, in China or anywhere else. Here, too, some companies found creative solutions, although others were quick to forget the lesson and went back to using only their former Chinese suppliers.

What Is the Most Important Lesson We Must Remember?

As I wrote in the beginning, the Coronavirus hit us like an apocalyptic vision.
The vaccines give hope that within a year the world will stabilize to a large degree, and will return to a routine, even one that will be “a new normal”.
You might want to relax a little, but it will be a mistake to take more than a few moments' break.
Because the most important thing the pandemic has taught us is that nothing is certain - the question must be, how do we prepare for the future?
If the next surprise is another pandemic, it will require effort, but we’ll be able to use methods and tools we developed in response to this pandemic.
But, if the next surprise is a version of this one - it wouldn’t be a surprise. Thinking this way means we haven’t learned anything.
We must prepare for a completely different event. Something that will disrupt all familiar patterns and systems in a new way.
This isn’t to say that such an event is sure to happen. But it’s possible. Just as possible as a global pandemic. And we must prepare for it.

Which Tools and Methods Should We Develop?

The most important tool is flexible thinking. Be flexible in how you operate, market, manage. If we used to think that best practice was to focus on core products - today it’s clear that it’s important to diversify.
If you focus on a single product, or a narrow range of products that fits your core abilities, or sell to only one big client, or a small niche market - you’re at very high risk.
Even if the risk is low, the result can be fatal, such that would ruin you. Our desire to stay inside our familiar comfort zone was criticized even before the current crisis - nowadays it’s clear that it isn’t a viable option at all.
Business development must aim at a field totally different from what you know. The CEO should look around to find a person able to develop such a field, and often recruit new people for the job. Either from outside the company or within it, but new leaders.
Even a market-stall owner must ask themselves constantly - what else can I do? This is what the food-truck owner from the above example did, and that’s what has made it possible for his business to survive the current crisis. Everyone should take this approach.
This is true for the CEOs of large companies and for small business-owners alike - all must look at the world in new ways, and be open to other ideas and opinions.

How to Create Flexible Thinking?

In an article I published 8 months ago (when panic over the pandemic was at its height), Sales and Marketing During and After the Coronavirus Crisis, I laid out a five step plan for discovering new opportunities.

I recommend you read the above article, and I’ll summarize the suggested plan here:

  1. Appoint a team to map the company’s abilities, even those not currently utilized.
  2. A different team should map needs in the market.
  3. Then compare both lists, and match needs with abilities. Consider developing new abilities to answer needs with significant potential.
  4. Identify the markets for the needs you’ve mapped and estimate their size, possible competitors, and advantages you can develop. I recommend you use the Lean Canvas method - it’s a very important tool.
  5. Prioritize the new opportunities and create a detailed work plan.

At medium sized companies and bigger, the process is simpler. There is, in the company, a variety of opinions, and you can easily assemble brainstorming teams made up of employees, from low ranking up to executives. All the CEO needs to do is expand the circle of people who are heard in a structured and organized way.
The smaller the company is, the less opinions it contains, and the less ideas. And if in a large company, there’s the challenge of management being set in their ways, in smaller companies there’s the added challenge that the CEO often doesn’t have anyone to ask for advice within the company. This is of course even more of a challenge for entrepreneurs and one-person operations. But the suggested method is always possible, especially if you use outside experts.

A Few More Rules

  1. Encourage different opinions. Even those completely unlike your own. Don’t suppress different opinions with the power of authority. People who think differently and speak up can hinder quick decision making and annoy you, but they could also have the breakthrough you need.
  2. Constantly measure your efficiency and look for ways to improve.
  3. Don’t keep managers or employees that don’t contribute to the company. Every employee should bring added value and contribute to goals.
  4. Set every manager measurable goals that advance the company. Monitor your own progress as well as everyone else’s.
  5. Don’t wait for the next crisis to dare fire non-contributing employees. The above rule should make sure everyone contributes, so you shouldn’t need to fire anyone.

Look for New Global Signs

We used to think of the world as a global village. That hasn’t changed. A local event in a faraway province in China can paralyze the world.
Look for similar events. Be open to the next surprise. The more you prepare ahead of time, the better off you’ll be.

And One More Thing for Anyone Preferring to Bide the Time in Furlough until June

Many people report they’d rather stay at home, furloughed or on unemployment.
I think that’s a very big mistake. To think that in this day and age the future is guaranteed and you’ll find a job, or continue receiving unemployment, months from now - is a mistake of people refusing to accept the uncertainty of the future.
The main risk is that if and when unemployment payments will be cut back, it’ll be much harder to find a job. Especially one that will interest and support you.
One of the main lessons I take from the crisis is that we can only rely on ourselves, and not on promises or routines that depend on other people.

Summary and Recommendation

The pandemic taught us that we should expect anything, even the most unexpected event could happen. The Coronavirus might not disappear completely, or maybe we’ll get used to a new kind of normal. But we must be prepared for the next unexpected crisis. The next surprise, like all surprises, will be unfamiliar and unknown, and so we must develop tools to help us survive the next crisis, which won’t necessarily resemble the current one.
I presented above a five steps method to prepare for the future, and a few additional rules which should be followed. The most important one is to develop and maintain a variety of capabilities and directions, so that the next crisis won’t spell the end of your company.
Listen to other opinions and ideas, and always give due consideration to any new idea that could advance your business.

Focused and Fast Coaching and Consulting Services for CEOs and Companies during the Coronavirus Crisis

The Business Excellence team can help you build, within 2-4 working days, a plan to survive this financial crisis, or to achieve your goals, as we’ve explained in our first webinar from August 2020 [in Hebrew].

Our experts have a wide and diverse experience of over 100 years combined managing companies and consulting to CEOs – so we will be able to identify the unique needs of each company, and find the safest and fastest way for you to approach the new challenges presented by the crisis, and to ensure your company’s resilience.

If you are interested in my professional help, personally or for your company, the best way to contact me is to send a request through the Get in Touch form here.

Other Articles Dealing with the Coronavirus Crisis

  1. The Coronavirus Benefited Some Businesses – How to Leverage Good Luck, And Bad Luck
  2. How to Initiate Change and Deal with Objections
  3. The Cost of Work-From-Home and Zoom Meetings
  4. Sales and Marketing During and After the Coronavirus Crisis
  5. The Coronavirus Crisis is a Great Opportunity to Engage Employees with Company Goals

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