Lessons from COVID-19: Towards the "new norm."

9th May 2020

Companies are assessing how they should change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. GMT Media has been facilitating conversations about what it might mean to be part of a “new norm”.

COVID has highlighted the need to react quickly and flexibly in a world which is changing in unpredictable ways. One useful exercise has been to return to the last strategic review before the pandemic. Such a review often shows that the priorities remain the same but there is now a much greater sense of urgency in addressing them.

For instance, most companies were already looking at new ways of harnessing the power of mobile technology and the web before the pandemic. Now, those who will survive will be the ones who are smartest and quickest in pursuing this aim.

Before the pandemic, many companies already had some degree of flexible working and allowed people to work from home – at least part of the time. Now that working remotely has been a necessity, more people understand the advantages that come with not being tied to an office. In the future, far more companies will make much better and productive use of remote working, embedding video conferencing in to the way they communicate and adopting systems that enable this to happen – so SLACK and ZOOM and GOTOMeetings are all gaining favour.

For companies operating internationally, more regular strategic conversations via video conferencing will be the norm. Management Boards with members based in different countries only have to meet face to face twice a year, saving time and helping meet climate objectives. In between those face to face meetings and routine management meetings, a new space can open up to drive the big strategic vision that so often gets neglected – or happens at a snail’s pace.  

COVID is adding new urgency to the need to drive longer term, more fundamental change. Just as killing the virus requires global co-operation and pooled resources, so many international companies will actively be asking their regional offices to think globally. In many cases, this was already an objective but global often got trumped by local considerations. Now both are equally important. Remaining sensitive to differences in culture and traditions remains important but there is a new and urgent impetus to think across geographical boundaries, work at scale on big opportunities that can deliver results globally, generating much greater impact and profit.

This is not a conclusion that necessarily sits comfortably alongside the recent revival of patriotic or nationalist sentiment or indeed among those who think COVID means we should grow and eat our own vegetables. It is however, a conclusion that is grounded in a realistic assessment of the inevitable impact of digital technology, which defies traditional borders and divisions.  

The companies that succeed in the new norm will be the ones who can think globally but act in a highly localised and effective way – networking across boundaries; thinking flexibly; acting swiftly as circumstances change and new opportunities present themselves.

The phrase “Think Globally, Act Locally” was inspired by Patrick Gedes, an environmentalist who expressed the sentiment back at the beginning of the 20th century. COVID may inadvertently bring the great benefit of getting all companies to adopt that approach and finally allow environmental principles to have a central role in strategic planning.

Jerry Timmins

Managing Director GMT Media Ltd


Think Globally, Act Locally