What if the pandemic never ends?

How would your business respond if the “new normal” of COVID-19 was just normal?

From the pages of In Business magazine.

While I write this in early May, we’re still under a safer-at-home order originally issued in March by Gov. Tony Evers and then extended in April through May 26. By now, maybe that order has been tossed out by the Wisconsin Supreme Court, maybe it remained through the end of May, or maybe it’s been extended even further as the far-reaching implications of COVID-19, along with science and common sense, lead us to put protecting public health above the economy. After all, businesses can be brought back from the dead; people can’t.

Right now though, nobody knows what the next day will hold, let alone the next week, month, or beyond. That level of uncertainty is not a state most of us are used to operating in for long, and certainly not for more than two months. Change is great, but consistency is what allows us all to get our jobs done and done well.

“We may never experience another COVID-19 in our lifetimes, but there are sure to be recessions, wars, and other disruptive events that we cannot control.”

While an optimist might hopefully suggest that by the time you read this we could be through the worst of the COVID-19 pandemic if everything breaks right, my pragmatism says that’s unlikely. Even in the best-case scenarios, the effects of COVID-19 won’t soon be over.

Assuming, however, that things might be moving on a trajectory back toward whatever qualifies as normal by the time the page on the calendar flips to June, I think it’s still beneficial to look with a critical eye at the way we’ve responded as professionals over the past two-plus months and conduct a little thought experiment. Imagine that you’re no longer in response mode, doing what you have to do just to get things done, all with an eye to the day when things get back to normal. What would you do if there wasn’t an end in sight, if safer-at-home didn’t come with an expiration date but instead was going to be our way of life for the foreseeable future?

No one likes to plan for disasters, but there’s a reason we do it. If your entire staff had to work remotely all of the time, what would your company do differently than it’s doing right now to create a productive environment for everyone? How would you support your workers with young children who no longer have access to day care or school during “normal” work hours, and need to work more flexibly long-term so they can assist with schoolwork?

What would you do with the money you might be saving by not maintaining a regular brick-and-mortar office space? Would you invest that in better infrastructure and equipment to enhance your employees’ remote work experience or pour those resources into other areas? What if your business was deemed nonessential and you had to figure
out a permanent way to take your physical operation online?

Maybe none of these questions will matter in a month’s time, but wouldn’t it be better to consider them now in the event that this pandemic lasts deep into 2020 or beyond? We may never experience another COVID-19 in our lifetimes, but there are sure to be recessions, wars, and other disruptive events that we cannot control that greatly impact the way we do business. Let’s not waste the opportunity we’re living through now to better prepare for the next time our world gets turned upside down.

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