The Coronavirus Pandemic Will Change This Forever

Early in our response to the coronavirus pandemic, the Australian government fast-tracked the use of “telemedicine” – that is, doctors and other health professionals doing online consultations rather than meeting patients in person.

I predict telemedicine will continue even when in-person consultations become as safe as before. This is not a difficult prediction to make because for many patients and doctors, it’s better. It won’t completely replace in-person consultations, but it’s now an additional option.

In fact, patients would have used it years ago.

In 2015, I spoke to doctors at a large healthcare group in Australia, and I dug up some of my slides and research from that presentation. When talking about telemedicine, I shared some Deloitte research that asked patients about being comfortable with online interactions – for example:

  • Getting images (like x-rays) sent to you online? More than half said yes.
  • Getting video consultations instead of making an appointment? 60%
  • Choosing a treatment online based on advice sent to you by your medical professionals? About 70%
  • Doing email and SMS consultations? Almost 75%

At around the same time, PwC asked doctors why they didn’t include these services in their practices. You can see their responses here, ranging from privacy concerns (fair enough), no billing system, lack of information, and changes to their current workflow:

This doesn’t mean doctors were wrong to resist telemedicine, even though their patients wanted it. It simply means they had other priorities – until a pandemic came along.

This is just one example where the coronavirus pandemic has turned priorities on their head and forced a positive change. The same could be true in your industry.

Here are five other areas where we’ve seen forced change, and that change is likely to remain in the long term.

1. Working from home

This is the most obvious example because it has affected so many office workers. Organisations were forced to move fast to allow their people to work from home, and they quickly developed the legal, IT, security, and other processes to make it happen.

That genie is out of the bottle now, and the research already shows most people who experienced it want it to continue. Even after offices open again, we’ll see a demand for more flexible workplace options – not necessarily full-time working from home, but myriad other alternatives to the 9-to-5 Monday-to-Friday office routine.

2. Cashless payments

Even before the pandemic, Australia was already the 6th most cashless economy in the world, with predictions that cash would only make up 2% of payments by 2022. The pandemic has increased our concerns about handling coins and notes, forcing many people to use cashless payments for the first time. That trend will continue post-pandemic, and some of those people won’t ever revert to cash, or will only use it as a backup option.

3. Omnichannel retail

Some businesses were already delivering an omnichannel experience to customers – with some combination of physical store, online shopping, “click and collect”, and whatever else was appropriate for their industry. The pandemic forced many others to come on board, because they were forced to close their retail presence, compete with online-only providers, or match existing competitors who were already providing these services. That gave customers more options, and – guess what? – many customers loved it.

4. Supply chain continuity

Many organisations who relied on globalisation, just-in-time inventory management, and (increasingly) artificial intelligence to optimise their supply chain found themselves exposed when the pandemic disrupted their lean, low-friction, finely-tuned processes. For example, in March, Australia couldn’t get enough coronavirus testing swabs because they came from Milan, one of the worst-affected areas at the time.

As a result, many organisations scrambled to find alternative suppliers, so they could keep providing their products and services to customers. After the pandemic, they might return to their old supply chain, but would be wise to have alternative suppliers for “just in case” scenarios.

5. Planning for massive disruption

Not surprisingly, most leaders weren’t expecting a global pandemic when they created their strategic plans at the start of 2020, so they weren’t ready for the massive disruption it created. But the smart leaders have learned their lesson, and will consider similar disruptions in the future.

Take climate change for example, which can cause fast, dramatic, and unexpected disruptions (such as our recent bushfires). Leaders should now include climate risk in their strategic planning, regardless of their own position on the causes of climate change or the responsibility to fix it. To be fair, KPMG’s annual survey of Australian CEOs last year showed – for the first time – climate change among their top 10 issues. That’s a good start, and living through a pandemic should galvanise other leaders as well.

How will the coronavirus permanently change YOUR organisation?

As part of your planning for the future, ask yourself (and your leadership team) these three questions:

  1. What changes has the pandemic forced us to make?
  2. Which of these changes should we keep, even if we don’t have to, because they offer more options to our customers, staff, and other stakeholders?
  3. What are we doing that’s vulnerable to other major disruptions in the future?


What Next?

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