How the COVID-19 crisis is leading to lasting change

These 11 effects of the coronavirus pandemic may be here to stay.
By Jennifer Wilson

A health care worker outside Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York during the coronavirus pandemic on April 20.
A health care worker outside Elmhurst Hospital Center in New York during the coronavirus pandemic on April 20. (Photo by Noam Galai/Getty Images)

The COVID-19 pandemic has delivered painful and sobering impacts, starting with the loss of tens of thousands of lives in the United States and the grief associated with those deaths. People have also feared for their own safety and that of their loved ones; job losses and economic consequences; educational concerns for students; and the isolation brought about by stay-at-home orders.

Even with these terrible outcomes, the pandemic has also led to potentially lasting changes that may have positive impacts long after science brings the virus under control worldwide. Here are some of the effects of the pandemic that may be here to stay.

We're learning to reprioritize

COVID-19 has caused many of us to stop and reevaluate our personal and business priorities. For many of us, keeping our families safe has been job No. 1. The best business leaders also have put aside concerns about calendars, workflow, and day-to-day operations and focused first on the physical and emotional health and safety of their people. This crisis is helping us put first things first.

We have new heroes

Forgetting about sports figures, movie stars, and reality TV personalities, we've instead focused on the courage, generosity, and vulnerability of health care workers; cleaning company employees; police, fire, and ambulance first responders; grocery workers; garbage collectors; truck drivers; and all those on the front lines keeping us safe. Maybe our appreciation for their contributions will remain strong when the virus is gone.

We are witnessing countless generous acts and examples of teamwork across normal divides

People are pulling together to help their friends, neighbors, and communities. They are sewing masks and producing thousands of cheerful letters and emails to the elderly and at-risk who face terrible loneliness. The free sharing of entertainment, videoconference tools, and resources that might otherwise have been too cost-prohibitive has helped others pass the time and access each other remotely. This crisis is proving that selfish interests can be put aside for the greater good.

Remote work is happening

Remote work offers many benefits — 10 of which I shared in a recent CPA Insider article ("10 Real Reasons to Go (and Stay) Remote," CPA Insider, March 23, 2020). And this crisis has forced much of the world to launch a less-than-perfect, overnight remote-work pilot. And it's working. People are productive. They are communicating. Relationships are deepening. Clients are participating. Just think how much better it would be if we weren't afraid of illness, had our kids in school, or had access to child care — and if we could leave our homes at the end of the day for a change of scenery or to commune with others. There will be a new way of conducting business going forward because there is no reason to go back to the old "in-person-is-best norm" when this crisis passes.  

Technology skills are rising

Working remotely is providing many with a crash course in their firms' technology solutions. Those who previously relied on staff, administrators, or IT professionals for help with technology are having to "go it alone" at home. Remote work is causing everyone to up their technology game, making full use of the firm's various remote-access, workflow, and file-sharing solutions. And many are using different video chat platforms as we connect with one another personally. Some elderly shut-ins are learning to use smartphone apps to stay connected. On the other hand, young people who may have avoided laptop and desktop solutions in favor of apps are finding that some traditional platforms provide them more options. After COVID-19, people of all ages will have expanded their technology horizons.

The move toward advisory services is continuing

The profession is being called to a higher level of advisory thinking and communicating, and practitioners are going deeper with clients than ever before. To me, being advisory is practicing a holistic, relational, inquisitive, and solutions-oriented mindset (see "5 Advisory Traits to Succeed at Consulting," CPA Insider, June 17, 2019). Right now, we can't approach our clients like it's business as usual without appearing tone-deaf. Instead, we need to know how they are doing, how their families are, what they're doing to stay safe, what the impacts of this crisis have been on their work life, and where their most significant concerns lie. Then, we must look for ways that we can help, whether or not they are related to the services we were engaged for.

CPAs and consultants are helping clients with cash flow and funding options, reforecasts of budgets, technology assistance to support their remote work, and many other forms of assistance outside the compliance norm. We've said that one day disruption would require a more advisory approach with our clients, and the COVID-19 crisis is definitive proof.

Our relationship with team members is deepening

We are checking in on their personal well-being regularly and understanding their home life better. We're meeting their pets, children, significant others, and other housemates via videoconference. And, as leaders, we're having to share more, too. We're being humanized by our work-from-home persona. We're having to share details of our firm's emergency management plans and our firm's financial health and strategies to bolster it. And we're asking for assistance from our people to support the very survival of our businesses, which can be humbling, yet also inspiring. After this crisis, we can be our more human selves and enjoy a deeper level of connection with our team members than we had before.

Human ingenuity is in full throttle

While the crisis has impacted us all, many are channeling their energy into innovation. Examples abound. We've heard stories of individuals using 3-D printers to make otherwise unavailable parts; of manufacturers pivoting their production lines to produce ventilators, face masks, and other needed supplies; of religious institutions using podcasts and video to hold services; and of restaurants shifting to make-it-at-home menu options and new delivery channels. In the midst of a stalled economy, entrepreneurs continue to provide valuable contributions.

In the accounting profession, firms are putting together COVID-19 resources and services that clients need to survive the crisis. They are hosting webinars weekly to communicate the latest relief resources and survival strategies. They are finding new ways to deliver traditional services digitally and remotely. These innovations will last long after this crisis has passed.

Earth is getting a breather

Thanks to the elimination of most daily commutes globally, carbon emissions, fossil fuel use, pollution, and noise "vibrations" are down. While this may be temporary, it proves that it's possible to change our habits to more positively impact the environment. When the crisis clears, we may be more willing to make sacrifices to benefit our environment.

We're remembering the power of the human spirit

With people in Spain banging pots and pans to show appreciation to health care workers each night, balcony singers and musicians sharing their talent with others, and health care workers fatigued from long hours in harrowing conditions returning each day to give more, this crisis is revealing the human commitment to turn bad into good and illuminating the strength of spirit we all share. Our collective strength of spirit gives us all hope for an improved future after COVID-19.

We're remembering who is important to us

Safe at home with our shelter mates, with calendars cleared of almost all social, sports, or other obligations, many of us are blessed to have more time with our precious family members. And seeing so much loss reminds us of how important those closest to us are. Hopefully, when this crisis clears, we can make more time in our short lives for the people who matter most.

To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Jeff Drew, a JofA senior editor, at Jeff.Drew@aicpa-cima.com.


About the author

Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and management consulting and coaching firm.


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