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The brighter side of COVID-19

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John Pyror

Someone quipped recently, “When you work at a bank and two guys with masks come in, they’re just robbing the place!” Whether good or bad humor, a COVID-19 joke can be inappropriate! Our current pandemic is a serious, deadly event.

Yet, COVID-19 represents but a fraction of deaths during the Spanish Flu pandemic in 1918 with 45,000,000 deaths worldwide and 675,000 in the U.S. As of Sept. 4, COVID-19 has tragically sustained over 870,000 deaths globally and 187,000 in the U.S. Over 80 percent have been ages 65 or older and, in most cases, retired. This latter perspective is important to keep in mind in our business segment.

Deaths aside, there can be a brighter side to the pandemic for business owners. Their innovations to eliminate or at least mitigate this virus are proving to have long-term value even after the pandemic becomes history.

Most obvious is the convenience and lower cost of group meetings on Zoom and similar virtual communication programs. This is especially true where face-to-face meetings require extensive travel by participants to attend. Major costs and travel time can be avoided altogether!

I recall being invited by a major Los Angeles TV station to be interviewed about the insurance propositions in 1988. I was state president of California’s insurance brokers at the time. I drove two hours to L.A. to meet at the station with our then-California Insurance Commissioner Chuck Quackenbush for the on-air interview. We were waiting in the “green room” when we were advised a major news event had pre-empted us. Today, virtual TV interviews are commonplace. A cancellation while I’m still at home would have been much easier to accept.

Face-to-face meetings should still predominate. Yet, it can make good sense to meet electronically. Even legal system depositions work effectively, I’m told, when legal counsel for one side — or even both sides — are from offices hundreds of miles away from the deposition site.

Working from home has been an ”eye-opener” where employees previously performed from a central location alongside other team members. The sudden change was difficult for some, yet most adapted quickly. All now see the value of working from home in the future on either a full-time or part-time basis, whichever makes sense, of course.

Why not continue these virtual practices after the pandemic is behind us?

Restaurants have needed to be especially innovative. Outdoor dining on a portion of a restaurant’s parking lot,plus “pick-up and delivery” systems, have proven helpful in sustaining revenue and retaining staff. These alternative “product delivery” systems can be beneficial well after the pandemic has ended.

Another “eye opener” is the renewed importance of sanitation in restaurants, grocery stores, manufacturing and food processing plants where such systems have long been a high priority. They have taken on expanded importance in offices, schools, shopping centers, plus countless other places where people congregate (yes, church congregations, too).

The overall topic of computer systems comes into play early on. Innovation continues to be experienced throughout overall IT operations. Space is too limited here to comment except to say how important it is to work closely with your IT team who can help you identify new programs and capabilities discovered during the pandemic that can be of value for you long-term.

Will AI (artificial intelligence) become available for “Main Street” business?

These experiences also help us better understand the mindset (and the hearts) of our Founding Fathers. They were abundantly clear about their disdain for unlimited governmental powers and their overwhelming approval of individual rights of citizens. We witnessed over-reaction by many (but not all) politicians in shutdown mandates. They may have been well-intended (but even that is suspect) yet such questionable mandates nearly destroyed local, regional and national economies!

Effective risk mitigation works best at the local level with personal responsibility without loss of personal liberties.

Professional development (training and education) is high priority for organizations of all sizes and types. It usually has been accessed in the past by booking a flight to a distant city to attend a conference, stay in a hotel, rent a car, etc. Now this same education and training can be accessed electronically – live – with Q&A opportunities – or viewed later with the Q&A of the live version. Missing would be interfacing with others. A hybrid option may make good sense for the producers of programs to offer individual registrants a choice to attend or simply watch live.

I’m confident there are many, many more innovative ideas business owners will create. 

Solomon said in the Book of Ecclesiastes, “There is nothing new under the sun” — counsel that is valid in many respects but not in this context. Even Solomon’s father, David, in the Book of Proverbs, seems to contradict his 10th son on this otherwise valid admonition. 

American ingenuity and creativity surely will continue to discover innovative opportunities from the constraints of this major catastrophe. 

Of course, that includes you as a source of the next great idea created and nurtured out of this pandemic. Such ideas should pay dividends for you long after the pandemic is but an unpleasant memory.

John Pryor, CPCU, ARM, AAI, AIS, is a risk management and general management consultant for CSUB’s Small Business Development Center. He is past president of our local Chamber of Commerce, Kern Leadership Alliance, Kern Community Foundation, CSUB Executive Advisory Council to School of Business, Stockdale Country Club and other organizations. He is the author of “Quality Risk Management Fieldbook,” a convergence of quality management and risk management published by International Risk Management Institute in Dallas.

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