COVID-19 has had a profound effect on all of us. But, like other crises before it, it has produced innovations that will benefit us long after it passes. The same way an individual health scare can show a person the path to better health, this crisis has brought about some welcome improvements to our collective way of life.
From enhanced robotics to dolphins in the Venetian canals to a long-awaited “Office” reunion, we have compiled a sampling of the silver linings that have emerged during COVID-19.
Shifting Gears, and Saving Lives
Early on in COVID-19’s spread through the U.S., state health departments reported shortages of the medical materials necessary for testing. Similarly, resources we previously didn’t give much thought to—hand sanitizer, face masks, ventilators—suddenly became essential. As in World War II, when companies retooled their factories to support the effort overseas, American ingenuity caused many to rethink their businesses and reallocate their resources.
Very quickly, fashion companies stepped in. Ralph Lauren pledged $10 million to COVID-19 relief efforts, and followed it up by producing 250,000 face masks and 25,000 isolation gowns for healthcare workers. Likewise, Gucci produced 1.1 million masks and 55,000 medical over-alls. Many others, including MAC Cosmetics, Tory Burch, Prada and Bulgari, also chipped in, via donations, crowdfunding campaigns, protective wear and more.
With restaurants and bars shuttered for months on end, breweries found themselves with a lot of excess beer on their hands. SanTan Brewing Company of Chandler, Arizona was able to convert over 16,000 gallons of undelivered draft beer into medical-grade hand sanitizer. From Tallahassee to San Diego, countless others followed suit, providing people with much-needed alternatives to a depleting supply of Purell.
In response to an increased need for ventilators, Ford converted a Michigan auto plant to a ventilator plant, promising to produce 50,000 for the U.S. government. Tesla, General Motors and Toyota all announced similar plans. “We have to do this,” said Jeffery Hess, GM’s corporate medical director. “This is vitally important to the American people, and those who are sick.”
There’s no way to estimate the life-saving impact of these organizations stepping up and delivering in unplanned-for ways. Suffice it to say, the resources were all around us, it unfortunately just took a crisis to see exactly how magnanimous we could be.
Strength and Innovation in the Face of Adversity
Braced with a broad set of unforeseeable challenges, organizations of all kinds had to adapt— often in quick, complex, high-level ways. What has resulted is a new, and arguably improved, normal.
Pre-pandemic, the jury was out on whether working from home was effective. But COVID-19 forced a grand experiment, and in many cases, it worked. Zoom suddenly was on everyone’s tongue because it made meetings effortlessly possible. Facebook announced that its employees would be permitted to work from home throughout 2020. Twitter and Square announced that employees will have the option to work from home “forever.” Having observed the viability of remote offices, many companies will likely prefer this low-overhead structure going forward. Those who do return to conference rooms and cubicles will likely see updated safety protocols, like touchless elevators and wider corridors, to reduce the chance of infection.
In lieu of layoffs, many executives took pay cuts and bonus deferrals to help balance their companies’ budgets. Notably, Lyft co-founders John Zimmer and Logan Green pledged to donate their salaries to COVID-19 relief efforts through June. Doing them one better, Marriott CEO Arne Sorenson said he “will not be taking any salary for the balance of 2020.” These changes may help usher in a new philosophy on pay parity among the different tiers of an organization.
In many different industries, robotics teams have worked to make all kinds of transactions safer. Dishcraft Robotics has created a cleaning service that will help restaurants stay sanitary and reduce waste. Collaborating with company Optimus Ride, Washington real estate firm Brookfield Properties will use self-driving cars to deliver food to people in need. In Denmark, Lifeline Robotics’s swabbing system has reduced the chance of transmission in disease test-ing.
With the possible exception of executive pay cuts, most of these innovations won’t go away when COVID-19 does. Undoubtedly, the post-COVID world will be a more sanitary one, as restaurants, hotels and more institute new cleanliness guidelines. Working from home could cause many people to spend much less time commuting, freeing up time for families to stay close, and keeping the ozone freer of noxious gas. Even greater emphasis on ecommerce will encourage retailers like Walmart (who saw a 74% Q1 jump in U.S. ecommerce sales) to shore up their digital operations.
While certain industries have seen business fall off, others have had to contend with unprecedented levels of volume. With many homeowners concerned about mortgage payments, TMS was able to add about 50 Careologists to our team, allowing us to provide timely assistance to our customers in need.
Through the various clear and educational connection points with its customers, TMS has remained below the market average of loans in forbearance. As of late June, about 6% Mortgage Bankers Association (MBA) GSE loans were in forbearance, compared to about 2% of TMS Serviced GSE loans. At the same time, about 11% of MBA GNMA loans were in forbearance, vs. about 9% of TMS Serviced GNMA loans. Because of how informed we keep our customers and our subservicing clients, we’ve been able to help the right customers in need at the right time. (Not to toot our own horn, but we’re pretty proud of that.)
Rediscovering the Human Element
For businesses lucky enough to have enough resources to weather the storm, this is an opportunity to display renewed commitment to customers on a human level. In one now famous example, Brooklyn landlord Mario Salerno canceled April rent in 18 buildings he owns, forgoing an estimated hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue so that his renters could rest easy.
Similarly, major news publications including the Wall Street Journal, the New York Times and Bloomberg all took down paywalls so that people could access Covid-19-related content for free. Even restaurants—among the most hard-hit businesses—have chipped in, adding personalized notes to takeout orders, thanking customers for their support.
Interacting with the natural world has reminded many of us of the beauty lurking behind layers of pollution. With global emissions plummeting by as much as 55 percent in major cities, the air is clearer, the sky is bluer, and dolphins are swimming through the once-filthy waterways of Venice. The resurgence of natural beauty is an apt symbol of what we had been forgetting.
Accentuate the Positive
With no choice other than to act fast, we’ve had to take a good look at who we are, how we can adapt and how we can be better going forward. Undoubtedly, COVID-19 crisis has shaken our society to our core. But, as with any crisis, the only useful response is to keep on keep-ing on: determining what we can control, working toward improvement. From business innovations, to opportunities to improve upon our weaknesses, to a renewed emphasis on humanity, Covid-19 has provided us all an opportunity to better understand ourselves in relation to our world. Day-to-day life may never look or feel the same again, but in many respects, that may not be so bad.
For a truly inspiring list of COVID-era creativity, check out CovidInnovations.com.