Mon Mar 16 2020 Michael McQueen

We find ourselves this week amidst one of the most unprecedented challenges the world has seen: a pandemic, declared by the World Health Organisation as a global public health emergency. Had we told ourselves just two months ago at the start of the year, when we were all optimistically organising our 2020 plans and resolutions, that a surprise like this was on its way, we would not have believed it.

The virus comes with many bleak consequences, in terms of mortality rates and economic issues, not to mention the levels of stress and panic it is bringing. Despite all this, like any unprecedented challenge, the lessons it is forcing us to learn will be highly beneficial moving forward.

Here are a few of those lessons:

1. When it comes to disruption, expect the unexpected. There are few disruptions that have matched this one in its pure element of surprise. From what seemed to be a minor concern for some groups in society, this has grown into a global emergency with drastic ramifications across all industries. It has left nothing untouched – trade, economy, retail, education, social relations and workplaces.

If this exemplifies anything, it is that the biggest and most serious disruptions often come out of nowhere, shocking the systems in place. Businesses are in the midst of a test that will prove either their adaptability or their vulnerability.

The best prepared businesses for this crisis may not have been fully equipped with a lifetime supply of hand sanitiser and masks, but they have been flexible, agile and proactive in adapting standing systems to new and unparalleled challenges.

While the nature of the crises to come may remain unpredictable, their existence is certain and the learning of this lesson will be paramount in handling them.

2. Technology is readily available and accessible. Despite that fact that technology is abundant in our time, it has taken a disruption like coronavirus to shock our businesses and institutions into a more effective and efficient utilisation of it. With programs like Zoom and Skype, live-streaming and online forums being easily accessible existing technologies, the challenge of working from home really does not need to be a challenge.

Businesses are quickly discovering that there are many meetings that can be summarised in emails or Skype calls, and though we like to complain about technology like this, more often than not, it does the job and does it well.

While it may not be sustainable moving forward to transfer all work online and all meetings to Skype, businesses would do well to consider how they can continue to make the most of the available technology and save time, money and effort in doing so.

3. Working from home comes with its own problems to solve.

Working from home is a practice that has become increasingly common in recent years with the technological developments that have made it possible. The outbreak of coronavirus has merely boosted this already existing trend. However, with the number of individuals who are suddenly working from home, previously unconsidered questions are coming to the fore. Questions of insurance have been raised – if you are working from home, how does workplace health and safety apply? Who is responsible if you are injured at home when on the job?[1]

It seems that the questions of work-life balance we have until now only been applying to social life and mental health are now expanding into the economic realm as well.

Regarding more practical issues, levels of productivity and efficiency can suffer without the discipline of a formal workplace. These, however, are problems that are more simple to solve. Setting up a regular workspace, routines, rituals and dress-code, similar to that of your normal workplace, are simple but effective ways of maintaining control and boosting productivity in the inevitable circumstance of working from home.

These are questions and lessons that already needed to be addressed with the way our society is rapidly adopting the work-from-home paradigm – coronavirus is simply forcing us to get there more quickly.

4. The impacts of waste are not just environmental. For the current generations, the historic tales of rationing and frugality seem distant and irrelevant. However, the toilet-paper fuelled hysteria and hoarding that has dominated the news recently suggests that these ideas are perhaps not as irrelevant as we thought.

While Millennials are highly aware of the environmental impacts of waste, limiting waste and acting with prudence within the home is an idea that is less familiar. For most of us, we have never had to question if we will have enough bread and milk to last the week, and if the shops will be able to supply it when we need it.

Add to this social impact of the wealthy hoarding everyday goods which others may not have the capacity to access, it is reminding us of an ethic which we risked losing in our age of abundance – that of prudence and of generosity.

5. Creative collaboration is an essential ingredient for a thriving society. I’m sure I am not the only one who saw the profoundly heart-warming videos of the residents of Italy who, even under the country’s heavy lockdown, found a way to sing together from their balconies.

Times like these are known to bring out the worst in people, but they are also known to bring out the best.

Rather than panic, divide and attack, it is times of crisis that most need the power of creativity and collaboration – this idea has been totally embodied by the Italians. It is also essential for businesses who intend to survive this disruption and the many ones to come. Finding new ways to stay afloat in the unprecedented and increasingly complex challenges of the modern world can only be achieved through creative thinking among collaborating individuals, and nothing has proved that better than our current ailments, which have literally gone viral.

In the words of Winston Churchill, ‘Never let a good crisis go to waste.’ While the coronavirus has brought about some horrific ramifications, it is teaching us some lessons that will be increasingly valuable in the years to come. Being alert to these lessons is the most productive and helpful way we can respond to it.


Michael McQueen is a trends forecaster, business strategist and award-winning conference speaker.

He features regularly as a commentator on TV and radio and is a bestselling author of 8 books. To order Michael's latest book "The Case for Character", click here.

To see Michael speaking live, click here and for more information on Michael's speaking topics,


[1] 2020, ‘If you're working from home during the coronavirus outbreak, who's responsible for your safety?’ ABC Health, 16 March.