Stay at home. Shelter in place. Instructions from public health officials globally are designed to prevent the spread of coronavirus and slow transmission rates. People sent home from work or from school to practise social distancing are spending more time with entertainment and distractions on the internet. Online travel videos and virtual tour websites are popular, including live camera images from the International Space Station that carry extraordinary, real-time images of our planet from space.
It is said that astronauts who have gone to the moon, orbited the earth or spent extended time in space return to Earth profoundly changed. The phenomenon is called the Overview Effect. Seeing the planet whole – as a living biosphere and a borderless home for all humanity – creates an altered sense of the world and everything, and everyone, here.
For individual citizens, employees of small and large businesses, and corporate and political leaders, coronavirus may induce its own kind of Overview Effect. Reacting to the pandemic forces us to examine the intensely local impacts of the virus itself but also invites us to grapple with the broad scope, scale and depth of our global networks, as well as our social, economic, environmental, political, military and technological systems.
This viewpoint verges on the philosophical – but from a business point of view it is also simultaneously strategic and tactical. Companies in crisis response mode are addressing the immediate needs of customers and employees; managing health and safety risks; focusing on cost reduction; collecting receivables; preserving cash; and fortifying credit lines. The tactical goal is to get the current business model running again.
At the same time (or some time soon), boards of directors, executive committees and business unit leaders will also have to address larger, strategic business issues, including any geopolitical changes that emerge from this pandemic. Coronavirus has put a magnifying glass on issues such as international travel, global sourcing, managed trade, economic nationalism, risk stratification, industry clusters and concentrations, and corporate location diversification.
New operating models will doubtless emerge, but not easily. Corporate balance sheets will take time to recover. Trillions in public debt will need to be repaid. Not all companies or countries will have the capacity to recover quickly, or at all. And long-term priorities for the environment and international economic and social development will be in jeopardy.
Coronavirus may narrow or it may broaden our view of critical global issues. The role that business leaders choose to play will be a mighty test of character and perspective.
Gregg Wassmansdorf is senior managing director, consulting, at Newmark Knight Frank, a global real estate services firm. He is a member of the Site Selectors Guild. E-mail: email@example.com
This article first appeared in the April-June edition of fDi Magazine. The full digital version of the magazine is available here.