Earlier this year I discussed, on the Risk and Resilience Hub, the emergence of Covid-19 and the affects it might have on the resilience profession. I had hoped to have seen the worst of this disease before the start of winter but that is obviously not the case. It has, however, been interesting to see how the primary players in what is starting to emerge as the core resilience disciplines have stepped up to the plate, thus making ongoing operations possible.
When the crisis began there was limited medical knowledge of the disease and a certain naivety in our expectations that everyone would be pulling together in the same direction. This was always tenuous in the US as tensions between the White House and State Governors surfaced fairly quickly. In most European countries the political truce held considerably longer but it gradually broke down. Earlier lock-downs in spring were understood as necessary by almost everyone, more recent attempts at less severe lockdowns are being resisted by many as disproportionate to the risk. Alternatives such as screening the old and vulnerable whilst allowing everything else to continue as normal are widely discussed in reputable media as the disastrous economic costs of lockdowns have become impossible to ignore.
Some even suggest that until a vaccine arrives there is nothing meaningful anyone can do so let the virus run its course until community resilience is achieved. This is a suggestion that no democratic government can contemplate even if there are plausible theoretical arguments in its favor. In modern times, people always expect (usually unrealistically) their governments to protect them from any harm – whether from pandemics, terrorism, street violence or financial hardship. From this standpoint, the scope of any government to make entirely rational decisions about highly emotional issues is very limited. On this basis they normally hide behind advice from experts. Depending on the type of crisis, these experts will be either economists or scientists. For Covid-19 the advice appears to have come entirely from scientists who have been appointed by their governments. Contradictory but independent scientific views from leading academic and medical professors around the world have been dismissed out of hand.
So we are far from where we wanted to be and although vaccines seem to be coming closer they will only be able to mitigate, not eliminate, this deadly disease. We will eventually have to learn to live the virus. Historically we have done this with many other infectious diseases that have killed or maimed large numbers of people until cures (antibiotics) or preventatives (vaccines) have been discovered.
For the resilience profession we are in for a long haul. All of the measures that have made relative business continuity possible for many companies during the crisis period have been technical solutions. These were all originally part of corporate disaster recovery and business continuity plans and had been partially implemented into normal business operations. The most obvious of these were working from home (WFH) and teleconferencing. “Zoom” moved from a clever technical option to a global institution almost overnight.
So in many ways the resilience profession, and its obsession with planning for the worst, has already saved the business world from total collapse.
For many of us, beyond the public health emergency and keeping safe, we are asking how permanent these Covid inspired business changes will be. My view is that regardless of a vaccine, many of the earlier working restrictions will be eased as we learn more about the virus and how to cope with it.
Now that many businesses have realized the potential money saving from home working (called by some “tele-commuting”) they will be eager to continue with it and further develop this method of working. Whether or not this will lead to more satisfying careers is very questionable, but ultimately businesses are profit making machines and staff morale is only an important factor while it improves productivity and overall financial performance.
I asked a number of colleagues who work in companies that have successfully adopted WFH their views of its long-term viability. In general they felt that the WFH strategy has been reasonably successful because most individuals had in-person contacts and working relationships with their colleagues before the pandemic. The strategy may not be totally sustainable long-term as businesses need to expand and new relationships have to be formed. It would seem impossible for new starters, particularly those who are young and inexperienced, to gain the essential inter-personal skills needed to progress in business without more direct contact with their peers and managers. It seems likely that most sectors will work towards a hybrid approach with some WFH combined with hot desking on traditional office days.
Will this lead to more understanding of and respect for resilience professionals? It certainly should but I suspect the wrong lessons will be learned. Expect to see a large increase in pandemic planners as a speciality position and pandemic training as a boom consultancy service.
Predictably companies will fight the last battle rather than prepare for the unknown ones ahead. This happened after 9/11, the financial crisis of 2008 and the high profile data security scandals of recent years. This time, the pandemic is so wide-scale that I fear it will take all management attention and resources for long after it ceases to be the main threat to business survival.Recommended1 recommendationPublished in