Thought Leadership

Covid-19 Pandemic Thoughts - Workplace Response

As I sit here in my home under quarantine, my thoughts drift toward thinking about thousands of citizens who will be displaced as a result of this global Covid-19 Pandemic. In my lifetime I have lived through multiple recessions, including the global financial crisis of 2008 when the world experienced the worst financial collapse since the Great Depression. At the time, things looked really grim but we did recover and bounce back. The one thing I have learned during my long career journey is economic downturns are always temporary and short term. The economy eventually recovers and confidence is again restored. Life does return, but to a different normal.

The Covid-19 virus came on suddenly. Today, I'm living through my first ever-global pandemic; the world is temporarily locked down. Most of us are now quarantined until further notice. This is changing the way we live. Milestone moments will either be postponed or cancelled altogether. Its funny how things which were so important before no longer seem so important.

The positive jobs report we had in January with a historical low unemployment rate of 3.5% is a distant memory. According to the Department of Labor this was the lowest unemployment rate since 1969. How things changed in such a short window of time!

When we come out on the other side of this crisis, the workplace will look different and organizations will operate differently. Workplace norms and standards will forever change.

My first observation of note is the virtual workforce will expand. Organizations will realize that many jobs can be done virtual, without any disruption to their businesses. In fact, many employees prefer this arrangement. Remote workers will increasingly become a larger percentage of the workforce. As the industrial revolution of the early 19th century changed the occupational landscape, so will this crisis. We may not see it now, but in the years to come the change will be self-evident.

Second, the events we are witnessing today will force people to look at work differently. More individuals will think of ways to be more entrepreneurial. As jobs are lost in severely affected industries, professionals will need to be more enterprising, looking toward alternatives to traditional forms of employment. Individuals will realize their skills can be transferred into something new and different.

In particular, the hospitality and retail industries will be profoundly affected. Individuals working in these industries will be forced to pivot into different industries where their skills can be used. We have seen this scenario before. Thousands of financial services professionals who lost their jobs during the financial crisis found themselves working in other industries, knowing they may never work again in their chosen field. They survived this drama by being creative and open to new experiences and opportunities.

Lastly, I believe future jobs will be created in the health care field, new jobs in medical research, pandemic crisis planning and telemedicine. Jobs we don't even know about today. Recently, Dr. Jeff Geller, Chief of Orthopedic surgery at New York-Presbyterian was quoted, "The pandemic is going to change the way we practice medicine." New jobs in health care will create opportunity and be a transformational in the workplace.

As a nation, we need to better prepare for the next time, and there will be a next time. Innovation will lead the way. It wasn't that long ago when someone predicted that one day we would have robots conducting surgery on real patients, a reality today.

In the coming weeks and months unemployment will certainly rise. People will be out of work, some temporarily and others more long term. For those out of work seeking a new path, be creative. Don't let the negative thoughts and emotions resulting from being displaced get in the way of finding a new and different path.

I've just finished reading Erik Larson's new book The Splendid and the Vile, which chronicled Winston Churchill's challenges during the early days of German aerial assault on London during World War II. A fascinating read about living in fear and uncertainty. Churchill's message, "We will never give up hope, we will not surrender."

The challenges that lie ahead will be difficult, but not insurmountable. As Winston Churchill said, "Never give up hope."

Until next time...

Jim Ward