Coronavirus has changed globalization’s trajectory - comment

On March 16, Nordstrom’s 380 stores in the US and Canada bustled with typical Monday activity. Just one day later, all of those stores went dark.

The EU has been and is at the avant-garde of globalization. (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
The EU has been and is at the avant-garde of globalization.
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
In March 2020, companies in Israel and across the world abruptly shuttered their offices and instructed employees to work from home indefinitely as a result of the pandemic. At first, many thought the shutdowns would last a few months. But over a year later, millions of people are still working remotely. It has forced the global workforce to go through a remote-work experiment on a scale never seen before, and our business habits have taken on an unusual trajectory since.
In the span of just a couple of weeks, business interactions have gone from a freely-operating global community to a scattergun offering of makeshift Zoom interactions. Where before the pandemic, the majority of business interaction – even in an increasingly globalized landscape – took place face to face, with occasional remote and digital engagements; COVID-19 turned those same digital exchanges into the central tenet of meetings with clients, teams, and potential employees.
Where remote interaction was once an optional luxury, it now became a commercial lifeline. That lifeline, however, didn’t save businesses for just one or two days, a month, or several in crisis mode. It lasted for more than a year. At this point, remote interaction in the business world has become a structural part of the global economy, and as globalization pushes past the COVID-19 speed bump, entrepreneurs will have to navigate a brand new landscape.
On March 16, Nordstrom’s 380 stores in the US and Canada bustled with typical Monday activity. Just one day later, all of those stores went dark. Flights were canceled, businesses meetings upended, and decision makers forced to reevaluate how they could best navigate what lay in front of them.
Israel went into all-out lockdown, as its citizenry went into an all-too-familiar crisis mode. The focus quickly changed from expanding reach and global engagement to survival and damage control. Face-to-face business meetings with international clients were exchanged with emergency makeshift interactions within the local ecosystem. Within just a few weeks, companies were scrambling to redirect their efforts into how they could maintain operations and relationships most effectively.
Through their effort to navigate the crisis, many companies discovered remote work – or hybrid work – actually holds long-term advantages. While the retail and service industries undoubtedly can’t survive without physical presence, tech start-ups, communications offices, and consulting firms understood they could save money on rent by letting employees work remotely at no cost to productivity.
Remote solutions, too, flourished over the past year. The health industry, for example, experienced a significant shake-up, with telehealth making huge strides since the onset of the pandemic. Though many remote solutions were created in response to social distancing, their tangible value has helped to attract an avalanche of previously hesitant users to remote means. Now that the world is gradually opening back up, the rise in remote solutions will only continue.
Before the pandemic, business giants began looking to the stars as humankind’s next frontier. The feeling was that we’ve mastered nature, free of the shackles of the pandemics and natural events that defeated our forefathers. Where we once considered that we and our businesses were untouchable from the elements around us, a global pandemic has induced a sense of vulnerability among business strategists. A focus on sustainability, for instance, will have taken on a whole new meaning with decision-makers now more than fully aware of potential consequences.
Entrepreneurs will have to be more environmentally aware, and businesses will require better sanitation. Climate change, perhaps the biggest threat to humankind, was ignored for far too long. When COVID-19 struck, nature forced us into global lockdowns and carbon emissions dropped. Successful businesses understand that can’t be a temporary trend going forward.
Zoom won’t fully replace physical meetings. Hundreds of thousands of small business owners – yoga and piano instructors, therapists, accountants, and others – this year alone, have maintained and even grown operations using video such as Zoom to connect with customers. Face-to-face interaction holds unfathomable value in facilitating collaboration, building relationships, solving complex challenges, and generating ideas. But while video meetings have certainly shrunk the need for physical get-togethers, there is little chance endless Zoom calls can replace the depth and quality of in-person human interaction entirely. For complex projects, virtual meetings are more challenging than a physical get-together to brainstorm.
Humans simply form and sustain business bonds most effectively in-person, expressing verbal and nonverbal communication in ways that convey understanding, empathy and shared concern.
Many companies were unprepared for what turned into an open-ended remote-work arrangement. But we’ve learned many lessons as a result. Business meetings aren’t always necessary, working a standard eight-hour shift may not be the best schedule for everyone, sitting at a desk doesn’t always mean you’re being productive, and perhaps, you miss your coworkers more than you thought you would. Therefore, our “new normal” represents a great opportunity to enhance how we work and interact most effectively in the future.
It’s why, in addition to the ability to cut costs, many companies have even done away with traditional offices and instead run their businesses out of coworking spaces to accommodate their largely remote workforces. By removing the need for expensive office space (or satellite offices), businesses adopting a remote working policy can reduce costs while allowing workers the freedom to create their own schedules and work from wherever they please.
As Jeremy Stein, a managing director who commissioned a report on the future of the workplace as a result of the pandemic, put it, “One of the key themes seen is that the office of the future will act as a hub where teams can get together to build team culture, cohesion, collaborate and integrate new team members.”
The days of old aren’t coming back, but globalization pushes forward and entrepreneurs will have to capitalize on the new landscape to thrive, and even survive.