In China, a clothing factory normally humming with people and machinery is silent and empty. In Italy, a shoe store has seen its sales dry up because many of its customers aren’t visiting the country. A US automotive firm has refitted an assembly line to make surgical masks. And a French salesperson for a cosmetics firm wonders how he will make his sales quota after his company banned international travel for the next month.
As 2020 began, COVID-19, the official name of the novel coronavirus, was thought of as mostly a China-specific issue. If an organization didn’t have any China-based factories or customers, then from a business perspective, leaders didn’t have much to worry about. But by late February, people around the world were learning the meaning of pandemic and coming to grips with the potential health impacts of a virus that has spread to more than 50 different countries, sickened more than 80,000 people, and caused nearly 3,000 deaths to date.
The outbreak is making its way through the business world, as well. Already it has cost organizations billions of dollars in lost revenue (potentially up to $1.1 trillion by the end of this year, by one estimate). Goldman Sachs estimates that economic growth around the world will be zero in 2020 thanks to the virus. But COVID-19 is causing far more than just financial damage. Leaders are scrambling to secure supplies, keep fearful employees motivated to work, and, in some cases. keep bold strategic plans that have been years in the making from falling apart.