At Dubai-based Majid Al Futtaim (MAF), attendance at movie theaters fell (as a result of government-mandated closures) while demand for its online supermarket soared; in two days, the company retrained 1,000 ushers and ticket sellers to work for the online grocer. Without the crisis, that speed and magnitude of reskilling to leverage talent across MAF’s portfolio of companies would never have been contemplated. Best Buy, which had spent months testing curbside pickup at a handful of stores, rolled it out to every store in just two days. In four days, Unilever converted factory lines that were making deodorants into ones making hand sanitizer. Life insurers have wrestled ingeniously with a unique COVID-19-related problem, says Jennifer Fitzgerald, CEO of Policygenius, an online insurance broker: “Some consumers don’t want the examiner in their house. We’ve seen a lot of flexibility from carriers. Some have moved quickly on the electronic medical-record side. We’ve also seen carriers increase the face amount that they’re willing to underwrite using data instead of the medical exam.. Overall, I think this has pushed the industry to adopt some changes much more quickly than it otherwise would have.” In a week, companies went from having 100,000 people working in offices to having 100,000 people working from home—a shift requiring systems and policy transformation that under normal circumstances might have taken years.
Of course, the unprecedented scale and speed of the pandemic have created “burning platform” impetus for these feats, but it is still remarkable that organizations have been able to make it happen. These achievements have come partly from people working faster and harder, although this is not the whole story, and many CEOs are taking the long-term view. Says Guardian CEO Deanna Mulligan, “We’ve been worried about our broader team in general because they’ve been working very hard. We’ve found that people are substituting their commuting time with working. Our IT guys are telling us that they’re getting three extra hours a day out of the coders. We’re mandating across the whole company that they can’t work after a certain hour at night or that they have to take a vacation because nobody’s taking their vacation days; they don’t want to waste their time off hanging around at home. But it’s going to be this way for a while, and we don’t want them to go a whole year working at this pace without a break.”