We will look back on 2020 with some nostalgia as a year when life was challenging but simple. The strategy was Hope and Cope, and this would all be over soon. That myth will evaporate in 2021.
At one level, the twelve months ahead looks like a straightforward journey with obvious steps to take in each of the four quarters:
Q1: we find out what far reaching damage has been done to hospitals and healthcare; we discover what’s required to deliver vaccinations at scale, and how many people will have them and when; we also will find out about mutations and what their implications are.
Q2: we will start to see what the real impact is of vaccines, both good and bad
Q3: will be a mad scramble to do all we can to avoid next winter being anything like this one
Q4: is next winter
All that looks straightforward, or at least uncomplicated on the surface, but lift back the covers and an angry mob of issues emerges that has been caused by Covid-19. Most have been obvious for some time but have been overlooked because there’s been a pervading sense that the pandemic is an event that will be over soon, and the strategy has been Hope and Cope until then.
The issues Coronavirus has created, and we have caused by our responses, are not unique to any one country, even if the profile, severity and timings are. Culture is the biggest influence on the differences between one country and another but all face substantially the same issues.
At the end of the day, these are issues for people, even if there are attempts to sub-contract them to politicians. Business decision makers must get to grips with them too, and it pays to think about them well in advance. Some are singular but most are interconnected and interdependent; some will emerge quickly and others will become apparent only over time. All will come to the fore, including such things as these:
What must we do to cope with a world of multiple and multiplying mutations of a surreptitious, chameleon virus?
How can we unravel the financial support for individuals and businesses that was short, became long, and is definitely unsustainable?
What are the real, imaginary, and contrived ramifications for people and their employers, of the illnesses, the vaccines and the rest?
What must we deal with while we rebuld a shattered healthcare service and its people, and overcome the backlog and legacy of implications for all those who have needed and will need healthcare of any significant kind?
What about markets, customers, team members, working practices and business models should we decide has been changed forever, what do we decide will change again, what will return to some degree to the way it was, and what do we do about all that and when?
How will restrictions be unravelled and when, and what will be the effects that we’ll have to manage with the potential for further outbreaks, uncertainty and disruption, never mind unrest and freedom envy?
Taxation, which is support for some taxpayers by other taxpayers, present and future?
Social and political instability as some come to terms with realities, and opportunists seek to profit from them?
This will turn out to have been only a partial list, and not all will have played out completely by year end. These and more should be in the minds of decision makers, shaping the thinking and choices as we journey through 2021.
If we think of the pandemic as having ended when we go through a whole 24 hours without thinking of the virus, it has a long, long way to go.
Just as we are discovering the implications of relaxing the standards usually imposed on new tenants of 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue, so we will find out much about the future implications of past pandemic decisions. Both will have caused angry mobs, but the difference between the two situations is that we knew nothing about the virus. Both will have long lasting effects whatever we do now.
Peter is chairman of Flexiion and has a number of other business interests. (c) 2020, Peter Osborn