The COVID-19 pandemic is not the first time the world has experienced a health crisis, nor does it mark the first time the business industry has been affected by an epidemic. From the Spanish Flu to SARS, we have had to shift with changing times due to a health crisis, and have learned several business lessons that are still applicable today (and to the current pandemic.) Let’s take a look at previous epidemics, some business lessons learned, and pandemic inventions and startups that are still in business today.
The 1918 Spanish Flu
The 1918 Spanish Flu pandemic devastated the world, infecting about 500 million people worldwide and claiming 50 million lives including 675,000 Americans. While there was mass suffrage, this pandemic offered entrepreneurs and businesses ways to create impact for their societies. The Spanish Flu shared a vital business lesson: provide solutions to the world’s current needs. During this time of distress, Walter and Lydia Deubener of New York City recognized a need for a durable way to carry groceries as the “cash and carry” method began to grow in grocery sales. In 1918, the grocery bag was invented.
SARS, or severe acute respiratory syndrome, caused by one of seven COVID-19, spread to 26 countries and infected over 8,000 people worldwide between 2002 and 2003. Although short-lived, the SARS pandemic sent shock waves into businesses, disrupted the travel industry, work, and the economy. The 2003 SARS pandemic shared a sharp reminder and lesson for companies: ensure emergency preparedness. Proactive communication is a large part of emergency response, as well as internal communications.
2009 Swine Flu
In 2008, a new influenza emerged, infecting approximately 60.8 million people in the United States. Although the Swine Flu created a shock wave across the world, it came to us during the digital age and transformed the way we track and combat the Flu through the use of technology at our fingertips. The 2009 Swine Flu pandemic shared with us this great insight: think locally and act globally. Collaboration and information sharing not only served us well in combating the epidemic but also within business. Despite the economic recession, Uber, a ride-sharing company built on real-time collaboration and digital technology, was founded in 2009.
Business isn’t doomed during health crises, and not all pandemics lead to recessions. With critical learning from history, and the rapid advancement of technology, nimble startups and companies can navigate the current landscape to achieve success. Be sure to keep in mind now and for the future, “Those that cannot remember the past are condemned to repeat it.” – George Santayana
Since March 2020, we have been learning more about COVID-19 every day. Now that the economy has begun to open up, businesses everywhere are following precautionary measures to keep their staff and customers safe while still receiving services. Below are four essential tips to consider that will help support customers, staff, and partners as your business reopens.
Prepare and Maintain a Response Plan
To succeed as the economy enters its second quarter of the COVID-19 pandemic, businesses in all industries and of all sizes must have an action plan to address the specific challenges created by the outbreak. The outbreak is impacting how companies operate, their clientele, their employees, and even hours of operation. Knowing how to navigate these dynamic changes and having a flexible plan in place is the first step in adjusting the business strategy.
Effectively Communicate Consistently
In every relationship, communication is vital, and business relationships are no different. Having transparency in your business operations and response plan will help your business increase the level of trust with customers and partners. Utilize the guidance from federal, state, and local agencies to prepare recommendations and resources for your employees and office visitors to follow. These instructions will create an environment where they know what to expect and can better understand the precautionary measures taken to help prevent the spread of the outbreak. Potential strategies to increase effective communication include instituting an email outreach plan to directly address the COVID-19 pandemic, establishing a customer care hotline for digital and online businesses, and even sending “old school” postcards to your customers with helpful information.
Be Financially Nimble
The pandemic abruptly interrupted many lives without warning, including their finances. One way to alleviate some financial stress is by helping customers and partners out in creative ways during difficult times. If your business has the financial flexibility, consider establishing temporary relief aid – whether providing “payment holidays,” offering discounts to make products and services more affordable, or giving customers credits to their accounts. These types of initiatives can enhance relationships and payoff in the long run.
Protect Your Employees
Your business is only as healthy as those helping you run it, and your employees will appreciate the measures you take to care for their needs. With over 60% of the U.S. workforce now working from home, mental wellness checks are crucial for maintaining a healthy work environment. Offering your employees a few paid days off to regroup, or providing employees with “thank you” gift cards, are just two examples of thoughtful ways to show your workforce that you value their efforts and health.
While these are not the only steps needed to reopen your business effectively, they represent a great start. There are also many excellent resources online that can assist you, including The Guide to Reopening Your Business by the U.S. Chamber of Commerce.