COVID-19 infections are in the rise in more than 20 US states, and at least a dozen have experienced new record rates of infections. And the US isn’t alone; China and Brazil are experiencing a rise, too. Officials say the chance of a second wave is high. Over the last few months, we’ve been providing advice on preparing for, ongoing management of, and the eventual recovery from the pandemic. It’s worthwhile to highlight some of our key recommendations and the lessons we’ve already learned:
- Don’t pin your hopes on an imminent vaccine; prepare for a long duration. It will take months, even years, for a vaccine to be widely available, and you need to assume the pandemic crisis will last for the next 18 to 24 months. Governments and the private sector will continue to improve pandemic management protocols (PMPs) and medical care, but it will be important to readjust business strategies, marketing and tech budgets, and essential tech priorities for the realities of an economic downturn, a remote workforce, and new customer expectations.
- Take a staged, cautious approach to reopening and recovery. At the beginning of the pandemic outbreak, firms were quick to cancel events, implement travel bans and restrictions, send employees home to work, etc. Take the same approach to reopening physical locations. It’s best to lag official reopening guidelines for as long as you can without too much economic pain. You don’t want to bring too many employees back to work at once and risk their health.
- Develop extensive PMPs for individual health and the safety of your physical locations. Bring employees back in a phased approach and have employees work in shifts to support social distancing. Rethink the physical layout of your corporate offices and other facilities as well as the technology that you need to enhance productivity and safety. Determine how you will apply these same concepts to your customer-facing locations. Customers have become more patient during this time, but experience is still critical.
- Prepare for a hybrid workforce. Most clients we’ve spoken with plan to permanently leave 20% to 30% of the workforce remote; some are even targeting 50%. There are a lot of reasons why employees don’t want to return to work: fear of infection, a loved one with a compromised immune system, childcare, etc. Now is the time to make the technology and infrastructure upgrades necessary to make remote working reliable, scalable, and secure.
- Avoid legal and regulatory minefields today by prioritizing employee experience and trust. Failure to protect individuals can result in regulatory action and civil lawsuits, but even well-meaning efforts can lead to privacy violations, charges of discrimination, and other brand-damaging headlines. Constantly monitor the rapidly changing legal and regulatory COVID-19 landscape, and you can avoid the most egregious issues by prioritizing employee experience and trust above all else.
- Use this time to accelerate innovation and new digital experiences. With or without a vaccine, as the virus lingers and spreads, it will become less virulent. And there will be permanent shifts in customer expectations and behaviors but also in how we work, how we source inventory and supplies, how we design buildings and products, etc. All this will drive new technology requirements and priorities. Everything you put in place today, from the automation of paper processes to the automation of plants to virtual events, must be with an eye to making the company more flexible, resilient, and differentiated.