Pandemics Threaten Business, But They Could Also Make It More Efficient

Back in 2006, Jeffrey Staples wrote in the Harvard Business Review that pandemics were the single greatest threat to business continuity. His words came on the back of various bird flu and coronavirus that shook the Far East in the run-up to the financial crisis. But despite the very real evidence that epidemics were already underway around the world, the business community didn’t listen. In the west, the idea of a disease outbreak of the magnitude of the nineteenth century just seemed hopeless anachronistic. We live in the modern age of medicine and hygiene. How could a disease possibly derail business?

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In the intervening years, companies built their business models without a single thought to concepts such as physical proximity. Who cared if customers were packed together on aircraft or stuffed, cheek by jowl in fast-food restaurants? It didn’t make the slightest bit of difference.

Of course, now we know better. Staples was right. Pandemics are the biggest single threat to business continuity. Companies that assumed that physical proximity was necessary found themselves amid a rude awakening in March 2020.

All is not lost, though. The pandemic has rip sawed through the economy, but it hasn’t merely left destruction in its wake. Instead, it has revealed to companies that there are cheaper and more efficient ways of doing business. And many, including famous names like Facebook, will never return to the old way of doing things.

Growth is coming thick and fast to any company involved in the storage and distribution of goods. With the brick-and-mortar store model appearing increasingly dangerous, we’re seeing a shift to online delivery models and the need for additional warehousing. Companies are also investigating the concept of designing a self storage facility that allows them to be more flexible in their operations. When pandemics are raging, they can store away any goods no longer required. And then, when the event is over, they can retrieve and redeploy them rapidly without worrying about looting or other threats.

Anyone involved with the cloud and IT is also in for a treat. New work-from-home realities mean that the old office model probably isn’t coming back. Bosses now realize that the costs simply aren’t worth it, and it makes a lot more sense to get people working remotely, communicating via chat apps. The surge in the need for cloud services is reaching an all-time high. And as the broader economy adapts and adjusts to new realities, demand will continue to peak.

The pandemic, therefore, could make the economy more efficient, ironically boosting material standards of living. No longer do companies have to compensate workers for their commute implicitly. And no longer do individuals have to spend vast chunks of their day traveling. All that time and resources can now go back into the production process itself. And that can only be a good thing.

So yes, pandemics are the greatest continuity threat. But that’s okay in a world that desperately needs change to move forward and evolve. The logic seems odd, but it works.

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