How businesses are adapting to a coronavirus pandemic economy
Small acts of resilience as businesses navigate new pressures during a pandemic.
In just a few weeks, the novel coronavirus outbreak has changed the way thousands of companies operate in an unprecedented manner. As business owners and employees navigate the new normal, here are some of the ways they have adapted to stay operating amid a global pandemic.
The COVID-19 outbreak has delivered an indiscriminate blow to businesses as everything from small restaurants to multinational corporations have been forced to change how they do work amid a series of shutdown orders to help stem the tide of the virus. They have also had to implement these massive organizational changes in just a matter of weeks to attempt to stay afloat -- with many companies shifting to full-scale working from home plans and others going all in on delivery.
"I’ve done a couple of webinars with groups of companies. As of about a week and a half ago they weren’t doing anything, there wasn’t anything different," Peter Cappelli, a professor of management at the Wharton School of the University of Pennsylvania, and the director of Wharton's Center for Human Resources, told ABC News.
While many companies have adapted to the new realities of a pandemic economy, Cappelli predicts, "the big test will come when it goes on for more than a couple of weeks."
Some industries, like airlines, have not been able to find their footing as ridership has plummeted amid the crisis, leading them to project massive losses. And millions of workers have already filed for unemployment, even as companies scramble to hire workers to accommodate the new realities of the socially distanced and increasingly delivery economy.
"Right now, I think companies are getting a lot out of the good citizenship of their employees," he added.
Moreover, in recent months, Cappelli said there has been a shift in the way employers regard their workers, and it has been in vogue for business leaders to refer to employees as "stakeholders" not just workers. Cappelli predicts this health crisis is one of the first obstacles to put that to the test.
So far, "we’ve seen more companies carrying employees for longer than expected if this had been a financial downturn versus a health-related one," he said.
Teleworking takes over everything from meetings to yoga classes
Social-distancing measures and government-mandated stay-in-place orders have led to entire companies moving their workforce to working from home, leading to a skyrocketing demand for video conferencing software such as Zoom.
"The world is not going to be the same as it was in December," Janine Pelosi, Zoom's chief marketing officer, told ABC News. "Where that levels out, none of us really know. But working remotely, and using video conferencing, is not going to go away. If anything, I think it will speed up the adoption of these technologies."
In addition to being used for meetings, workers in the health and fitness sector have also used the software to stream live workout or yoga classes. Teachers have also turned to the platform for remote learning lessons.
Amy Smith, a yoga instructor at Laughing Buddha Hot Yoga in West Deptford, New Jersey, said she is doing live, online yoga classes seven days a week amid the outbreak.
"I do them on Zoom then upload them on YouTube then link them to MINDBODY to get to as many platforms as we can get on," she told local ABC News affiliate WPVI.
While she expressed worry for the fate of her business, she said she is currently doing her classes online for free.
"I will not charge for this and I want people to have access to this now more than ever," Smith said. "People don't have money to do yoga, they may be struggling to get money for dinner."
Pelosi said she has heard of the platform being used "for weddings, funerals and bar mitzvahs" in the aftermath of many "shelter-in-place" ordinances.
Restaurants and delivery
The same new directives that are forcing thousands to work from home have led to a sharp uptick in demand for delivery services, especially in the food and grocery sector.
While the coronavirus-induced economic crisis has led to skyrocketing unemployment numbers, we've seen "delivery companies booming," Cappelli said. Many also announced they are hiring hundreds of thousands of workers while other companies are facing mass lay-offs.
Instacart announced late last week it plans to hire a whopping 300,000 additional full-time shoppers over the next three months to meet the increased demand.
Amazon similarly said it will hire 100,000 full and part-time positions at fulfillment centers and delivery networks across the U.S. Pizza delivery giants Pizza Hut, Domino's and Papa John's also said they are hiring.
A handful of places including New York City have also mandated restaurants and other gathering-places such as bars only do take-out services for the time being.
Dawn Kelly, a small-business owner who runs the Nourish Spot restaurant in Queens, said everything about how they do business has changed amid the outbreak.
"I'm not letting people in," she told ABC News. "We’re serving people pretty much at the door."
"We keep the door locked, we go to the door and we give them their food from behind the door with gloves on," she added. "Same thing with our delivery app drivers, we’re not letting them in, they are showing us their phone through the window."
Photos of business across the country setting out social distancing rules for takeout customers with signs or chalk have also inundated social media.
It's not just in urban areas. In western Pennsylvania, demand for a delivery "milkman" has come back, according to one local dairy farmer.
"It's been a crazy uptick in interest," said Jeff Brunton, of Brunton Dairy in Aliquippa, Pennsylvania, told local ABC News affiliate WTAE, describing the new demand as "like a tidal wave."
"It allows you to stay in-home or in your neighborhood, and not have to worry about being amongst the crowds and touching dirty shopping carts," he added.
He said he even teamed up with other local businesses to help deliver beef, bacon, butter and more as social-distancing becomes the norm.
Grocery and retail
As grocery and retail stores also adjust to the new reality, some have also made major changes amid the health crisis.
Dollar General, Target, Walmart, Whole Foods and more have announced special hours for older shoppers, the most at-risk group to serious complications from COVID-19.
Walmart's executive vice president of corporate affairs, Dan Bartlett, said the biggest impact on the outbreak to their more than 4,800 stores has been "how our associates are coming together and doing heroic work."
"The care they're putting into serving our communities is amazing," he said.
But it's no longer business-as-usual.
As for how business has changed, Bartlett said they have reduced hours to allow for deep-cleanings of the store, upped the availability of hand sanitizer and disinfectant-wipe stations and installed new "sneeze-guard" glass at pharmacy and checkout and more.
"Associates clean carts with cleaning kits as well," he added. "We're installing clear plexiglass, sometimes there called sneeze guards. Buffets use them a lot, to prevent the spread of germs. We're rolling them out in pharmacy lanes and checkout lanes."
Bartlett says they currently do not have a maximum occupancy limit for shoppers entering the stores, but said, "We're installing signage to all of the stores to promote social distancing."
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