“A time of crisis is not just a time of anxiety and worry. It gives a chance, an opportunity, to choose well or to choose badly”.
- Desmond Tutu
a long-time friend of mine, a naturopathic doctor, offers talks subject of "illness as an opportunity". He makes the point that illness provides the opportunity to look at ourselves and examine our attitudes and what relationship they may have to our illness and how we can use that as an opportunity for growth and healing.
A similar approach is offered by the Covid virus. More than 150 countries have imposed border restrictions to contain the spread of the virus. At least 99 states make no exception for people seeking asylum from persecution. At the same time, fear of COVID-19 has led to skyrocketing xenophobia, racism, and stigmatization.
Reimagining human mobility
Yet even as refugees and migrants face all these challenges, they are contributing heroically on the frontlines in essential work. About one in eight of all nurses globally, for example, are practicing in a country different from where they were born. Perhaps the COVID-19 crisis is an opportunity to reimagine human mobility.
Several opportunities for societal change present themselves. First, the exclusion is costly and inclusion pays. Inclusive public health and socio-economic response will help suppress the virus, restart our economies and advance sustainable development goals.
Respecting human rights
Second, we must uphold human dignity in the face of the pandemic and learn from the handful of countries that have shown how to implement travel restrictions and border controls while fully respecting human rights and international refugee protection principles
Third, no one is safe until everyone is safe. Diagnostics, treatment, and vaccines must be accessible to all.
Fourth and finally, people on the move may be part of the solution, at the moment, that may be too difficult to imagine, let us remove unwarranted barriers, explore models to regularize pathways for migrants, and reduce transaction costs for remittances.
. No country can fight the pandemic or manage migration alone. But together, we can contain the spread of the virus, buffer its impact on the most vulnerable, and recover better for the benefit of all.
More Changes Lie Ahead
The covid-19 pandemic has unleashed changes that seemed unthinkable just a few months ago. In February, it seemed unthinkable the entire white-collar workforce of many countries would soon be working solely from home. It seemed unthinkable air travel would plummet by 96%, or millions of migrant workers in India would be forced to undertake a herculean exodus, walking thousands of miles to their home villages. Of course, Covid-19 and the extraordinary response were not really unthinkable. Epidemiologists had long warned it was only a matter of time before such a disaster struck. And though the crisis seems to have been with us forever, the reality is the pandemic is still in the early days. More unthinkable changes await.
Leaders expect far-reaching changes, but, critically, see an opportunity to shape the world for the better. We are also challenged to imagine the unthinkable and consider key questions for a better working world.
A rebalanced global order
The balance of power and influence will be realigned as US-China relations become even more fraught. The pandemic is further eroding multinational institutions, creating a vacuum of global leadership. This could cause a return to multipolarity, with an expanded role for Europe or for smaller countries whose prestige was enhanced by their effective pandemic response.
Will Work Come to You?
Covid-19 may also facilitate the backlash against globalization. Witness the sharpest reduction in international flows (e.g., trade, investment, people) in modern history. With vulnerabilities in supply chains exposed, we can expect redundancy and resilience to be built into them at the expense of efficiency. Manufacturing will come closer to home markets, boosting the trend toward regionalization and re-localization.
Labor mobility has fallen sharply since the start of the pandemic, as governments have clamped down on travel and immigration. But even as the pandemic reduces the flow of people, it enables a different concept of labor mobility. If people can’t relocate for work, work will relocate for people.
Could we see the US dollar displaced as the world's reserve currency?
Re-imagining Safety Nets
Covid-19 laid bare weaknesses in social safety nets and will likely force a reckoning with growing inequality. Social disparities between the political left and right, old and young, rich and poor, have widened. Workers are demanding better health safeguards, benefits, and pay. Government reforms in response could include recognizing undocumented workers, investing in healthcare capacity or even introducing universal basic incomes.
Sustained protests against systemic racism have swept across the US, with echoes in other countries. .It is no coincidence this is happening during the pandemic: People experiencing a systemic reset may also be more inclined to think about correcting systemic racism. The expanding Black Lives Matter movement may be a harbinger of increased action on issues of social justice.
Covid-19 will fundamentally reshape cities. Health concerns will drive big city residents to suburbs and small towns, while remote work will make moving out of expensive city centers increasingly feasible. These shifts have profound implications, affecting everything from tax revenues to urban planning and education.
Remote work is here to stay, accelerating the arrival of a long-anticipated trend: the delinking of talent from the place. Companies will recruit talent globally, convening the best teams for projects rather than maintaining a standing headcount. New talent metrics and rewards will be needed—from onboarding to succession planning—with emphasis on empathy and soft skills. Since maintaining corporate culture becomes even harder with a removed workforce, companies may need to appoint chief culture officers.
Virtual Reality will Surge
Covid-19 also accelerated two trends driving change in business models: digital transformation and the corporate shift to long-term value. With virtual and digital replacing physical, the adoption of automation, artificial intelligence, and augmented reality/virtual reality will surge. Effectively deploying computing power, bandwidth, cloud, and cybersecurity will define winners. The pandemic has also put human welfare and sustainability front and center. Consumers will prioritize businesses demonstrating a long-term value agenda in culture, purpose, and actions.
Imagine the unthinkable: Could corporate campuses and central business districts be hollowed out? How might they be repurposed?
Changed individual and household behavior
Amid social distancing, people are relying on social media more than ever. If they stay within their filter bubbles this could worsen polarization and diminish societal trust. As confidence in government decays because of mismanaged pandemic responses, trust will likely shift to the local level.
More mindful Consumption
Consumption has declined sharply amid the pandemic, thanks to a deep recession and historic unemployment. Households are engaging in more mindful consumption, focusing on sustainable and essential purchases—likely an enduring shift.
The long-term toll on the mental health of social isolation, remote work, and economic insecurity could have impacts akin to post-traumatic stress disorder; yet, the new focus on mental health may reduce stigma and increase the availability of support services.
Imagine the unthinkable: Will health certificates be required for residence in certain communities?
Challenges for leaders
The pandemic has unleashed a world of uncertainty. It can feel challenging to envision what the next month will bring, let alone the next year. How do you proceed? We believe a few guiding principles can help leaders chart their path through the pandemic and beyond:
Plan for the unthinkable. “Unthinkable” scenarios are no longer dismissible; they should be a core part of your strategic planning process.
Scan—and wait. We will likely see huge swings in public-health outcomes, economic recoveries, investor sentiment, political stability, public policy responses, and more. Continuously monitor the situation and scan widely, identifying the important metrics and tipping points for your organization.
Be flexible—and move quickly. The challenge is to build flexibility, so you can move quickly when the time is right. Changes catalyzed by the crisis should facilitate this, whether the move from physical to virtual or the creation of more flexible supply chains. Adopting these shifts will not only help you weather the crisis; it might also give you more flexibility to respond quickly in the world that lies ahead,
The coronavirus pandemic has a lot of dark sides. Around the world, people get ill and die, schools close, the healthcare system is overloaded, employees lose their jobs, companies face bankruptcy, stock markets collapse and countries have to spend billions on bailouts and medical aid. And for everyone, whether directly hurt or not, Covid-19 is a huge stressor shaking up our psyche, triggering our fears and uncertainties.
No matter how serious and sad all of this is, there are upsides as well. Therefore, along with the Monty Python song “Always look on the bright side of life” let’s not forget those and make the best of what the crisis gives us. As the good old SWOT analysis tells us, there are not only threats but also opportunities. With opportunities, I don’t mean that the crisis provides extra business for companies like Zoom and Go to Webinar that enable virtual meetings, or for Amazon, which is planning to hire another 100,000 employees. The latter is probably more a threat than an opportunity for most, especially for the mom & pop stores that go through difficult times already.
With opportunities, I mean general opportunities that are available for most people affected by the crisis. The current crisis offers at least seven of them:
Opportunity 1: More time
In today’s overheated economy time is often seen as the most valuable and sparse thing we have. Covid-19 shows why: because we have stacked our week with social gatherings and entertainment such as going to the theater, birthdays, cinema, restaurant, bar, sports club, gym, music, festivals, concerts, and what is more. Suddenly, all of that is canceled or forbidden, giving us significant amounts of extra time. And still, life goes on. This shows us how easy it is to clear our calendars. Obviously, this doesn’t apply to the healthcare sector and other crucial sectors, but beyond those, it applies to a large majority of sectors.
The opportunity is that we can spend this time on other things—or even better, on nothing and enjoy the free time. Looking at the crowded parks, waste collection points, garden centersand DIY stores in the last week, many people seem to have a hard time with the latter. Instead of enjoying the extra free time, they fill it immediately with other activities. To seize this first opportunity though, re-arranging how you spend your time and reserving time for nothingness is key. Not just during the crisis, but also after it. The advice in my previous article on the Covid-19 crisis could help in realizing this.
Opportunity 2: Reflect and reconsider
The fact that the coronavirus disrupts our day-t0-day lives provides an opportunity to reflect on things and to reconsider what we do, how we do it, and why we do it. Things we took for granted—like going to the gym—are suddenly not possible anymore. Furthermore, many people have had to change their mode of working and work from home instead of at the office. This means that a lot of our routines are interrupted.
This offers a great opportunity to rethink our habits and routines and make changes. Now that you haven’t been able to go to the restaurant twice a week, commute 2 hours per day, hang out with your friends or go to a party every weekend, you can reflect on whether you really want to continue doing so after the crisis. The virus forces you to make changes to your daily life that you might actually want to keep also after the crisis.
Opportunity 3: Speed and innovation
Many organizations suffer from slow procedures, complex bureaucracies, and rigid hierarchies making organizational life less than pleasant. The coronavirus has forced many of them to break through these rigid systems and act instantly. Suddenly procedures can be skipped or accelerated, rules can be side-tracked and decisions can be made more autonomously without formal approval. And suddenly employees are allowed to work from home without direct supervision.
Covid-19 shows that, as soon as there is a strong enough stimulus, things can change. This leads to remarkable innovations. Not being allowed to open their doors, restaurants, for example, are shifting to delivery mode. And schools suddenly do much of the teaching and even some of the testing online. This brings the opportunity to create innovations now that can be maintained after the crisis. And it also can help to keep the current speed and innovation mode afterward.
Opportunity 4: Better meetings
As referred to in an earlier article, people spend up to 23 hours per week in meetings, half of which are considered a failure or waste of time. The current crisis has forced us to rethink how we deal with meetings. Because in many countries it is not allowed anymore to meet with a group of persons, many meetings are canceled. And when they still take place they are mostly virtual and shorter.
As such, it provides an excellent opportunity for resolving one of the most disliked parts of organizational life. The technology for this is already present and mature for a couple of years, but the coronavirus triggers a sudden need for it. The real opportunity here is to make systematic changes so that meetings will be more effective, also after the crisis.
Opportunity 5: Reconnect and help
Challenging times offer a great opportunity for social bonding and other ways of connecting to and helping people. Of course, not being able to visit friends or family has increased isolation and feelings of loneliness in some cases. But the feeling of “we’re in this together” has also triggered interesting ways of connecting. Some of those have gone viral—such as Italians singing together from their windows and balconies—but there are many small, local initiatives too to connect and help people who need it.
In the individualized societies, many of us live in, this provides opportunities to reconnect and create more social coherence. Not only during the crisis but also afterward. This opportunity comes with a big caveat though. Parallel to these nice initiatives we also witness how far people go to protect themselves and their families. People hoard food, medicine, toilet paper, and guns without thinking a second of others. However, while it triggers self-serving egocentric behavior too, the Covid-19 crisis does provide us the opportunity to reconnect and show our social side.
Opportunity 6: A cleaner environment
The virus caused a shutdown or dramatic decrease in industrial activities. Factories are closed or operate far below their capacity, road traffic has reduced radically and air traffic collapsed, and the lack of tourism has emptied the streets in overcrowded cities like Venice, Amsterdam, and New York. While this may be bad news for most people and especially those working in the affected industries, this is also good news for our planet. Covid-19 causes a significant reduction in greenhouse gasses and other air, water and land polluting outputs. In Venice, this has allegedly led to dolphins returning after just a couple of weeks (although some argued this to be a hoax).
Whether the particular example is a hoax or not is not so relevant. The fact is that the shutdown and lockdown of large parts of our economy is good for nature—at least on the short term. The opportunity this provides is to keep parts of this in place also after the crisis to make long-term improvements. Along the line of the previous opportunities, the current crisis provides us an opportunity to reconsider our lives and reorganize it in a way that has less impact on our planet.
Opportunity 7: Modesty and acceptance
The final opportunity that the Covid-19 crisis offers, is a chance to create awareness for the moderate role we play on this planet and accept that things cannot always go as we want them to go. The Covid-19 pandemic is a global crisis that is unprecedented in modern peacetime. We had other pandemics like SARS, but their impact was less substantial. And we had the 1973 oil crisis, but that was a man-made crisis. The coronavirus is not man-made and yet disrupts lives across the planet.
As such, the virus shows us that, no matter how well-planned and organized we are and no matter how much we live in the Anthropocene—the era characterized by significant human impact—we are not in control. One simple virus is disrupting everything. This offers a great opportunity. In almost every aspect of life we want to be in control. Whether it is health, airline safety or our calendars, we live in the illusion that full control is possible. The virus can help us create awareness that this is not the case. It provides an opportunity to take a more modest role and accept that many things are simply beyond our control.
Once again, the Covid-19 crisis has a large dark side. But as these seven opportunities show, it has positive sides as well. Since all seven opportunities require a fundamental change in how we approach the world, seizing them can take substantial time. In that sense, and if we keep on looking at the brighter sides of life, the longer the crisis lasts, the larger the opportunities are and the bigger the chances are of actually making changes to our deeply rooted habits and convictions.