How the COVID-19 crisis is leading to lasting change

By Jennifer Wilson

Everywhere you turn, you hear the very real and also very bad news coming from the COVID-19 pandemic. The crisis 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.

1. 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.  

2. 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.

3. 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.

4. Remote work is happening. Remote work offers many benefits — 10 of which were shared in my March 23 article for CPA Insider. 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 access to child care, and if we could leave our homes at the end 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.  

5. 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.

6. 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. Right now, we can’t approach our clients like 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 related to the services we were engaged for or not.

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.

7. 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.

8. 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.

9. The 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.

10. 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.

11. 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.

Visit the AICPA Coronavirus Resource Center for information and resources related to the pandemic.

For more news and reporting on the coronavirus and how CPAs can handle challenges related to the pandemic, visit the JofA’s coronavirus resources page.

Jennifer Wilson is a partner and co-founder of ConvergenceCoaching LLC, a leadership and management consulting and coaching firm that helps leaders achieve success. 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.

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