The COVID-19 crisis has thrust organizations around the world into uncharted territories and forced them to face new risks – risks for which they were largely unprepared. There was no roadmap to guide a response and no past data to inform analytics or predictive models to help prepare for the future.

And as the news of the past few weeks has shown, the COVID-19 pandemic is like no other crisis we have found ourselves in: on one hand, large parts of the world are either in or heading for a second lockdown while, on the other, concrete progress has been made in developing an effective vaccine.

In Helping Organizations Chart a Course to The New Better, the organizations and their leaders with whom we have spoken have come to understand a key idea: Things cannot go back to the way they were. And what’s more, to face the perils that could hit them, organizations will need to step up their efforts to prepare for these new risks.

Organizations will need to prepare themselves for the risks posed by a volatile world and to not settle for a new normal but to instead strive to achieve a new better. And that means starting to think about not only today’s pandemic but the long-tail risks such as climate change, cyber threats and the health and wealth gap.

The conversations we have had across the global network of Work Travel and Convene Coalitions, together with the data and case studies we have brought together for this report, have shown us a new way of understanding what is happening and, through the use of surveys and data and analytics, begin to develop new predictive models and solutions to tackle challenges.

In a rapidly evolving crisis such as the one we all find ourselves, there is little success to be had in defining a sure-fire strategy for success. Instead leaders have identified a number of key changes in organizational behavior that have helped them lead their organizations more effectively:

  • Change the way they assess risk
    Business leaders have realized that the pandemic exposed new risks and vulnerabilities that would require a significant change in how they think about the future. As Helle Thorning-Schmidt, the former prime minister of Denmark, explained in her interview: “This crisis will steer us in the direction of looking at risks like climate change and recognizing that we need to be even more serious about this now, because in a few years, certain things will be beyond repair.”
  • Look at their organization charts in a new way
    The current crisis has pushed organizations to identify, develop and redeploy team members who could best help find a path to a new better. Through its management of the pandemic crisis, Merck KGaA has identified best practice that it is then planning to use in its future of work program. This example highlights how businesses have had to identify colleagues with the right skills and expertise to facilitate a new way of operating. In its case study, Accenture illustrated how it brought together teams that would not have ordinarily worked together to help the organization as whole prepare for rapid shifts in direction.
  • Establish new lines of communication
    As COVID-19 has forced companies to find new ways of decision-making, they have also had to look at the way they communicate – and build new bridges with competitors, across industries and between the public and private sector. The Irish food industry, which makes up about $15 billion of the country’s exports a year, was hit hard when COVID-19 forced the closure of restaurants around the world. The Irish food board, Bord Bia, had to quickly establish new supply relationships to help those producers find new ways to sell and distribute their goods. Meanwhile in the U.S., JLL worked with the mayor of the City of Chicago and Governor of Illinois to convert the largest convention center in North America into an alternative care facility.
  • Re-examine their compensation and staff wellness programs
    Virtually overnight, organizations around the world had to shift a new, remote, way of working. Having to set up an office at home has put new strains on employees. This, in turn, has meant that businesses have realized the importance of a resilient workforce and have begun to prioritize measures that can help motivate employees and, more importantly, safeguard their mental wellbeing. In the U.S., the workforce flexibility McDonald’s had already put in place before COVID-19 struck laid a strong foundation for shifts in working conditions. It also meant that the company could help managers meet the changing needs of their workers.

Many of the changes that companies are making today were forced on them – create a virtual office overnight, rethink talent management and take a new perspective on risk.

While it is expected there will continue to be spikes in infection rates and further restrictions in place throughout 2021, the pandemic will continue to force new decision-making choices.

For example, the progress being made in producing a COVID-19 vaccine has meant that organizations will soon be making choices over, for example, how to factor that into what a return-to-workplace plan looks like, and how or if to offer access to the vaccine to employees.  The acceleration in technological advancements will also factor into how employers manage and monitor things like health screenings and office access – for those that do return to a traditional office environment. And once those decisions have been made, and progress is made against the pandemic, more choices will be coming over how colleagues and customers choose to commute, travel and meet one another individually and in small and larger groups.

One thing is certain from our findings and conversations: How society works, travels and convenes has permanently changed as a result of the pandemic. The insights and expertise that the member organizations of the Work Travel and Convene Coalitions have shared – and will continue to share as meetings continue through 2021 – will prove invaluable in helping organizations not only move forward during the pandemic, but just as important will help them prepare for what comes next. The underlying principles that were identified as helping business leaders get through crisis – innovation, speed, risk strategy, collaboration – will be critical for the future. These principles will also be the path forward in achieving the result of a new better. 

Read the full report, Helping Organizations Chart a Course to The New Better, including defining moments of the pandemic, case studies of leading companies navigating change, key insights, and more.