Frankfurt 2020

How it started

It is probably much too early to try to take lessons out of the COVID-19 pandemic.

While you will read this article, many things may have changed compared to the time I am writing these lines.

In France, Switzerland and Germany, and probably many other European countries, there was actually not much attention to the outbreak that started in Wuhan, China last December.

Until the end of January, we really had business as usual here. Just last January, I flew to 20 different places across Europe without any restriction or specific concern.

It was just noticeable in that particular month that the number of travelers wearing face masks at Frankfurt, Heathrow, Charles de Gaulle, Kloten and Cointrin airports was suddenly significantly growing.

And then suddenly, in the following weeks, we were badly hit. From my father in the west suburbs of Paris to my highly appreciated President of Europe Marco, based in Milan, to my business partners in Switzerland, Germany and Spain, we all suddenly were caught by containment measures, “confinement” (France), “Versammlungsverbot” (Germany) and other strange local restrictions applied by national authorities.

And suddenly all borders inside and outside the EEC were closed again and hundreds of thousands of cross border workers and families were experiencing the unexpected.

“This is the end, my friend,” singer Jim Morrison would have said. But it actually just was the beginning.

Looking back, how COVID affected us – an example

Work from Home

One of the most remarkable early effects of the pandemic mitigation was the “Work from Home” (WFH) or home office wave. While Peter Drucker is reported as one of the most prominent early gurus questioning the daily office commuting, and this a long time ago, there apparently had been some reluctancy to effectively implement such models in the business community. There probably were multiple reasons for this; for instance, work law limitations or technical constraints such as missing external access to corporate systems through VPN, et al.

I was recently involved in discussions with European regulatory bodies who mentioned that WFH may not be just an option in the future but will shortly become an undisputable right as per work law for many positions.

If you have a look at recent job ads, you will notice that most of them include the statement “Home Office”, which would have been inconceivable just a couple of months ago. This will undoubtedly have significant impact on HR practices and processes including recruitment and monitoring methods.

Will COVID have sustainable positive side effects?

The COVID spread, just as any human disaster, will be infamous in the future for the terrible human loss it has caused. These days, we are seeing more lockdowns in Europe in many regions.

Interestingly, there are undisputable positive side effects. German motorways are suddenly empty, French boulevards quiet, the sky in Frankfurt, Heathrow and other cities suddenly blue and plane-less and not surprisingly at the same time, the number of pollution peak alarms in large cities significantly decreased.

As already mentioned, the WFH will probably soon be anchored in work regulations, so Peter Drucker’s dream of reducing commuting time will probably come true. But there was also a mind change in many other domains:

  • Home schooling, home learning, distance learning. Many students today are involved in multinational initiatives so why should location matter?
  • Internet and video conference service providers have significantly increased capacity and reach over the last couple of months. This was actually a long-awaited improvement in many regions and domains and will definitely enable a pervasive and sustainable digitalization.
  •  The COVID crisis led many organizations to reconsider cloud as a very valid and much safer option to manage or run their applications.
  • And last but not least, large companies with huge presence in expensive business areas are now starting to consider converting their now oversized business space into residential areas, thus bringing new positive concepts for mixed business/residential areas, from La Défense to Eschborn.

As mentioned by Ms. Irina Bokowa, UNESCO’s General Director in the preface of Sebastião Salgado’s wonderful Genesis, “Sustainability is the great challenge of the 21st century”.

Bottomline: Will we learn from COVID?

“I am an optimist. It does not seem too much use being anything else.” This is attributed by some sources to Sir Winston Churchill and I could not say it better.

We had rabies, we got Louis Pasteur. We had anthrax, we got Robert Koch. And we faced many other crises of many types. We had WWII, we got Europe (which for my humble self, being half French and half German is indeed more than noticeable).

In the financial world, we had Barings and others, we got Basel II. We had CDS & Lehman crisis, we got Basel III and then Basel IV. And then and then …

What we have today: Lufthansa, one of the most brilliant companies in Germany’s top exchange index DAX, suddenly forced to leave this index due to huge market value loss and announcing layoffs of 26,000 employees. The French government carefully mentioned an initial estimate of 800,000+ losing their jobs due to COVID.

But there was some good news:

  • The German government announced an unprecedented $120+ billion EUR recovery investments and at the EU level of $800+ billion EUR.
  • Many companies and organizations have adjusted their operating model in order to accommodate the “new order”. 
  •  Some of them were actually extremely successful at doing this.

So, the answer is yes. Our world is already turning into what I would call “Resilience Management”. And it is fairly clear that safety belts, regulations and other controls will be put in place over the next couple of months to ensure a COVID-like crisis does not happen again.

We are still not able to fully complete a full root cause analysis of the pandemic. It has not only affected our habits, our work and private lives but also our Operational Risk Management, our Business Continuity and Crisis Management, our Third party Management, and many other domains. COVID will be a sustainable change enabler so let’s tackle the new challenges together! Dear friends, wherever you are, please stay safe and healthy!

About the author:

Chris Lesieur brings over 30 years’ experience in the design, implementation, management and monitoring of Governance, Risk and Compliance systems and solutions - gathered across multiple domains and industries - Banking, Insurance, Retail, Chemical, Pharmaceutical, Manufacturing, CPG, Aerospace, Automotive, Utilities & Military.