COVID-19 will likely change our world view as citizens, consumers, and leaders. There are a variety of things we need to be concerned with as we move through steady state response into a recovery kind of situation. The following are a list of policy and personal recommendations that are likely more prognostications than anything else. Will these things happen? It depends on how much political malfeasance the population will want to accept. I start with a few questions. Though I touch on politics I am very politically agnostic. Second, and even more important we’re in the middle of the “thing” and can’t possibly know the outcomes of the “thing”. That is for historians to write about. If we are leaders and we’re thinking strategically we can look at the “thing” and come up with ways to move past the “thing” and have good or better outcomes. Now on to the task at hand.
How would we change our ideas of what recovery looks like given the scenario that this last a couple more months and there are subsequent waves of the virus without a vaccine?
- Masks are here to stay. We need to invest in highly resilient, quality, self cleaning masks and breathing protection as soon as possible. Masks should be functional fashion accessories more ubiquitous than the wrist watch. There needs to be an agreed industry rating for the masks and our social acceptance of masks has to increase. This will be interesting to watch in high crime neighborhoods and environments that ban masks or face obscurantism of any kind (like helmets, burkas, baklava’s, and such at gas stations and convenience stores). Hand sanitizer and self cleaning door handles should be the new normal entering and exiting stores.
- Halving the number people allowed into establishments such as found in fire codes is a must. We have spent a lot of money on creating high density environments to maximize profit per square foot (see next item for additional). It might be even better to go to a third the current space allowance. Companies should consider delivery a standard part of our life from now on and parking for patrons on site should be restricted to increase the desire to seek delivery.
- It is not assured that airlines will make it through this event. Should they exist when this is all over business travel is not going to recover quickly. People who travel for meetings are already figuring out other mechanisms. With austerity measures from government, likely an increased tax burden on business, and the risks of executive travel the recovery will be slow. Add to that the requirement that airlines have no less than 60 or 90 inches of room between seats and basically half the number of seats. For the cost they will require to accomplish this it will be a first class ticket. Expect this to be a huge issue as airlines are masters of high density service with little mitigation for viruses.
- Similarly office space under OSHA rules is very dense. When you add spread of a virus as a possibility office space density should be a half to a third what we have now. Occupation rates of offices should be set to create desired outcomes of virtual workers and health and safety of high density work environments. This will drive a lot of office restructuring and be a significant cost.
- Fuel pumps, ATMs and other devices should be configured for controlled or touch-less service and government should set a requirement for this kind of interaction as a primary. For example when paying you can use Apple Pay or a RFID chip enabled fob to activate a gas pump. This is already happening. Secondarily things like gas pumps should have handi-wipes at the gas pump to clean the nozzle. ATM’s should be app enabled.
- Having everybody go back to the office sounds simple but will likely causes a new wave of infections. Strategies for those who are returning like off day return, shift return, or rolling return of partial work force should be considered. Don’t just declare victory and kill off a bunch of people with a new wave of viruses.
- Immune compromised individuals or those with breathing issues likely have never identified as special cases in HR documentation and suddenly find themselves needing ADA level compliance. Worse for business to accept is anybody who is married to, or has children likely needs to be handled as an ADA level compliance requirement. Business will fight this and try and weasel out of it and it has to be a best faith effort from all involved. Businesses who do comply and work out virtual work for immune compromised should get an insurance credit because they are reducing risk for the insurance carrier.
- The requirements for sanitization of hotels, conference centers, cruise ships (special case see next item) should be required to be ACTUALLY cleaned versus surface cleaned. This will increase cost to the business but liability claims will escalate rapidly when a known risk is not mitigated. It may seem trivial to withstand a claim but a few claims will cascade rapidly and be almost impossible to fight.
- The cruise ship flag of convenience has to end. It doesn’t work in the new world and it was a stupid idea in the first place. To save a small percentage point of profit the level of crime, and risks to passengers was allowed to fester. If you want to run a cruise ship out of a port in the United States you have to be flagged in the United States and that is just that. That will break all kinds of things in the cruise ship industry but the floating plague boats with no home to return to is testament to the broken system. Never let that ever happen again.
How should we adapt our thinking towards return to “normal”?
- The Department of Homeland Security needs to be disbanded. It was woefully unprepared. Many of it’s leadership positions were empty or filled by interim, or acting incumbents. It is an entire waste of resources and as it stands now the cohesive response strategy that was the reason for setting it up is completely a mess. If anything coordination between federal agencies is now worse than it was before 9/11. A significant amount of the blame is laid at the feet of the President of the United States desire to drain the swamp and replace it with high school students and family members instead of experts who believe in reality. What we have now is a façade of fractured agencies with nearly zero leadership or strategic insight.
- The relationship in the United States between the states and federal government has to be fixed. The federal government failure to act and the patronage model espoused by the President himself is testament to the reality the states should consider themselves to be on their own. You can’t plan short term for this kind of abandonment. With the spring tornado and Midwest flood season on our doorstep, to be followed by the hurricane season, and western wild fire season. Each of the governors needs to break off some brain trust in their states immediately and figure out how to act without federal assistance. It isn’t going to come. Citizens need to realize help is not coming in the future. See next item for why.
- With a multi-trillion dollar bailout in the United States and across the world and financial markets wagging the dog. Remember the market is not the economy it is a factor within the economy. The level of government services and social economy that any government can afford is going to shrink orders of magnitude. At the end of COVID-19 will be a period of governmental austerity measures that will have to impact social programs previously thought to be untouchable. The economy of a few months ago was unable to sustain the kind of expenditures just put into place. No economy could sustain that kind of unplanned expenditure and the government was ready to run out of money again. The other option is to fix taxation and corporatist influence that created tax loopholes. The corporate entities currently sheltering money off shore and using strange loopholes that they enjoy will have to simply end.
- The idea that companies will have to have much reduced staffs working in office and significant space between staff will work well with virtual workers. If done correctly a resurgence in ruralism and return to small towns can create a much more resilient social fabric. For companies that have manufacturing placing rotating shifts into place and staff rotations within hourly function will help alleviate risk. As will engaging in the use and adaption of viral protection masks with other forms of personal protective equipment. Manufacturing is not dead (see next item).
- The idea of just in time inventory and long lead supply chains has been challenged by the multi-national lockdowns stopping people and supplies from moving. A widget in X country is built by a company that is considered non-essential. However, in Y country that widget is used in a piece of highly critical equipment. A stop in one place has detrimental effect in another place. At the state level we saw this with doctors crossing state lines, trucks trying to get into some states, and how we reacted to quarantining hot zones. Companies should be looking at their supply chains and on-shoring their buying and stocking for long delays whenever on-shoring isn’t possible. So far we’ve gotten lucky. When a third of the truckers are down with an illness at any one time and the illness lasts 3 weeks you’d better have a plan. Your widget isn’t going to be moving when food is needed.
- The old idea from the Department of Homeland Security that you should have 96 hours, a week, or even two weeks of food on hand has to be expanded to TWO MONTHS. Just accept it.
- The United States is going to have to adopt universal health care of some kind. Simply put when the numbers are all in. If the United States has a higher mortality rate per capita than any other place on the planet the populist shift will likely be monumental. At some point a commission is going to come back with statements of fact and that political struggle over the word “fact” will cause even more strife.
What are the kinds of opportunities that might arise from this that we can use to meet business objectives?
- The businesses that thrive will be the ones that figure out how to achieve stakeholder satisfaction while increasing productivity and profit. Even with high unemployment once you take people to zero their options increase. High density employers or “often touch” activities will have the hardest return as those workers will wield a lot of “walk off” power and not a lot of risk of quitting. Labor relations will have taken a huge hit and those that do well during the epidemic will come out leaders.
- Manufacturing and supply line recovery will be a niche that big industry can fill quickly. Think of it this way. A huge number of people are likely not going into the work place ever again or will be limited in their return. That is a lot less cars being built. Unemployment may take decades to recover that is a lot less cars being built. If you are building cars what is the executive team talking about? Building cars or transition?
What are other things society can do and make part of our culture so these kinds of things don’t happen again? What are the opportunities for citizens, business and government to grow and prosper in a world where a pandemic is known to be a possibility?