What Will the New Normal Look Like?

The US – China trade war has already caused companies to re-examine their supply chains. In 2019 Retail was already under attack from Online and many famous names like Sears, Penny and Kmart were already in trouble. Then in 2020 Covid arrived.  Supply chains were halted and badly infected areas were “locked down”. Staff were asked to work from home. Many countries closed their borders. Many airlines were grounded.

With access to workplaces was limited, intercontinental airtravel travel almost halted and employees have had to learn how to work at home. But with schools closed and children at home for many employees working at home (in 350 sq ft flats) was very difficult with only basic home computers, in truth mostly Pads, which were set up for games and not linking to office systems and having poor quality internet connections.

Transitioning to a new normal will require a reduction in manual and repetitive roles and an increase in the need for staff with analytical and technical skills. The more advanced larger companies have started to use digital tools to communicate and collaborate with colleagues. But many small and medium enterprises are in survival mode and cannot raise the finance they require from banks as they lack the assets to secure loans to invest in more advanced digital technology

A change in the way of working will therefore require financial resources and a major program of reskilling with operations roles affected more than most.

Some companies have supplied staff with new higher powered laptops and set up remote learning and coaching programs. However the companies themselves are having to reconfigure their own systems to make them accessible while worrying about data security which is slowing down progress.  As business starts to recover organizations will need to significantly accelerate their reskilling programs to develop a workforce with the capabilities and connectivity needed to run their new-normal operations.

The recovery from the crisis will also be a catalyst for changes in how work is done as well as where it is work is done. The need for physical-distancing measures has caused manufacturers to re-examine their organisation and methods and have found that the new arrangements have improved productivity and required fewer staff!

Healthcare providers in the USA and Europe have been rolling out e-health services using new remote treatment systems to treat thousands of patients in their homes instead of medical centres

In consumer services we are seeing significant increases in the adoption of online and omnichannel delivery models. As leading banks reopen their retail operations, some are changing their branch networks to self service

Companies are reviewing product value chains to become more regionalized as companies reassess the risks of global networks and supply chains. For example, to cope with regional shutdowns, fashion retailers started to develop new supply sources closer to major markets, using local suppliers of crucial raw materials, outsourcing logistics and reducing dependency on Southeast Asia.

In consumer services there has already been a significant increase in the adoption of online and omnichannel delivery models. Retailers have applied advanced analytics to slim down product assortment, trim warehouses and logistics requirements through optimized planning and reducing procurement costs.

Companies with overseas manufacturing operations have delegated more responsibility closer the point of supply, introduced video reviews of production and quality and found that they do not need so many staff micro-managing from head offices!   As organizations master the challenge of managing physically distributed operations teams, they are having to adapt their operating models accordingly, with staff on the ground in local markets able to draw upon technical expertise either locally or remotely via digital connectivity tools.

This trend will continue – welcome to the new normal

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Countries led by a woman dealt with the COVID crisis better

A recent study from Liverpool University study shows that countries led by women were locked down earlier, “followed the science” more rigorously, and as a result have so far seen half as many COVID deaths.

The results clearly indicate that women leaders reacted more quickly and decisively in the face of potential fatalities. In almost all cases, they locked down earlier than male leaders in similar circumstances which has certainly helped these countries to save lives

The study combed data for 194 countries up to May 19, with 19 of them led by women. The study excluded Taiwan and Hong Kong – both led by women – because the World Bank (the study’s main source of consistently comparable macro data) covers neither. Had they been included – given that Hong Kong and Taiwan have been among the world’s most successful on containing the virus the study would have reached even stronger conclusions about the superior performance of women leaders during Covid-19.

The Liverpool University study confirmed the findings of studies from teams at Trinity College Dublin, and from the Westminster Foundation for Democracy at King’s College London, both undertaken in May. The Trinity College study of 35 countries found that women-led economies suffered six times fewer confirmed deaths, with more rapid “flattening of the curve” and caseload peaks six times lower than those in male-led countries.

It drew particular attention to Scandinavia, where female-led Denmark, Norway and Finland moved so much more effectively than male-led Sweden. Most women-led governments have also placed a stronger emphasis on social and environmental well-being, investing more in public health and reducing air pollution.

The Liverpool team confirmed this conclusion: “Nearest neighbour analysis clearly confirms that when women-led countries are compared to countries similar to them along a range of characteristics, they have performed better, experiencing fewer cases as well as fewer deaths”

From Montreal, a study using data from an annual World Economic Forum gender parity survey, credited the superior performance of women during the pandemic on common features: resilience, pragmatism, benevolence, trust in collective common sense, mutual aid and humility. Gender-balanced environments produced more robust decisions.

The Liverpool study challenged a widespread conventional wisdom that women leaders are more risk averse. Women leaders were risk averse with regard to lives and they were prepared to take significant risks with their economies by locking down early. Risk aversion may manifest differently in different domains, with women leaders being significantly more risk averse in the domain of human life, but more risk taking in the domain of the economy.

These studies seem to agree that male leaders have in general served their countries less well during the pandemic. With examples such as Donald Trump, Jair Bolsonaro and Boris Johnson, the view seems hard to challenge. In contrast, the steadiest and most trustworthy leaders in recent months have clearly been Angela Merkel of Germany and  Jacinda Ardern of New Zealand – and their steadiness has been rewarded with thousands of saved lives.

The authors are nevertheless anxious to emphasise that this is still an early stage in the development of the global pandemic and that their study was based on immediate reactions to the first wave. The study needs to be repeated when the final toll of the pandemic is measured – both in terms of lives and economic cost – perhaps more than a year from now.

Even at this early stage, certain conclusions seem clear: there are systemic and statistically measurable differences in the efficacy of policymaking when countries are led by women, that “gender-balanced” policymaking produces more robust decisions.  Qualities normally viewed as “female” – such as empathy, compassion, listening and collaboration – are hugely valuable not just in a pandemic or other health crises, but also on issues that demand close international cooperation, such as the climate crisis, environmental pollution, resource use, ageing, and skills shortages.

Differences in approaches to risk also seem important. The study noted that while both men and women are often overconfident, men are more overconfident of success in uncertain situations. Perhaps even more important when faced with negative experiences or setbacks men tend to react with anger, while women react with caution.

With women leading just 19 of the 194 countries studied, it will clearly be some time before there are enough women leaders – and women in positions of power in more general terms – to build an exact science around the difference that female leadership makes.

(Source: SCMP – David Dodwell, Executive Director of the Hong Kong-APEC Trade Policy Study Group)

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