23 March 2020

To suggest that we’re in unchartered territory at the moment would be a statement of the bleeding obvious.

In what would more plausibly be the handiwork of a Hollywood screenwriter, the world finds itself in the grip of a pandemic; and panic.

And while the medical community prepares for peak infection and our most vulnerable develop their own plans for segregation and avoiding the contagion, the business community is strategizing a course towards survival.

Not since the GFC has the corporate world been exposed to such a grand stage to watch the practical application of Darwinist theory.

In the current climate, human frailty and survival instinct is being tested on a daily basis – from the impulse to fill the trolley with six-packs of toilet paper that we don’t really need, to the sense of anxiety that overwhelms because the stranger next to you dry coughed or sneezed.

But for those of us in business or the professions, now is not the time to succumb to our innate sense of fear. We need to be objective, rational and above all, fair.

Employers: we need to be mindful of our duty of care and the risks to our staff. Hygiene controls and social distancing are obvious measures – but be open to new ways of delivering our products and services. There’s a real opportunity to test the viability of those ideas that we once dismissed as too risky to attempt – like split shifts, working remotely and virtual meetings.

Landlords: tenants will be doing it tough and some might not survive. Temporary rent reductions might hurt in the short term, but isn’t it better to have a stable tenant on a long term basis?

Workers: never before has there been a need to focus on the need of the organization to be competitive, efficient and profitable. Going the extra mile might help keep the business afloat and also keep others in the team in a job!

Financiers: isn’t it better to get principal and interest back later rather than shut down a cashflow poor debtor now?

Consumers: it’s tempting to hoard cash (alongside toilet paper, soap, tinned food and hand wash) but history tells us that events like this occur but recovery is just a matter of time. Sensible spending will help to keep heads above water.

Politicians: now it not the time for point scoring and gamesmanship. Put politics aside and lets work together in the National interest! Please.

Kids: you might not be in a high-risk category but you can be carriers and infect the most vulnerable. Please wash your hands regularly, avoid close contact with the elderly or ill and avoid touching your face and mouth!

Charities: will be doing it tougher than ever before. Event income has been lost, corporate budgets exhausted after the bushfire appeals and inevitably there will be an adverse impact on the frontline services they can offer. Sadly, it will be the most vulnerable members of our community who will suffer the most as charitable services reduce to the homeless, the sick, the victims of domestic violence and those in unforeseen need of emergency aero-medical services. We need to give where we can so these charities still exist when there is once again some light at the end of the proverbial tunnel.

This contagion is one which will be devastating for families, business and individuals. But if we can resist the urge to be self-interested or focus on short term outcomes, we can collectively pull through this situation in pretty good shape and use the didactic lessons learned from the enforced adaptions to drive new efficient practices for the future.

On the up-side, finance costs are now lower and barriers to innovation have been reduced. Will we languish in the mire of negative thought or dust ourselves off, adapt and strategize our way to future prosperity?

But above all let’s not put personal self-interest above the communal good. Common sense, laced with a small dose of empathy, is just what the doctor ordered right now.