Sun shining through tall glass buildings

What happens when we hit the play button?

  • Gary Reader, Leadership |

Headlines across the world have played out like a science fiction movie—just like the Hollywood thrillers many of us have binge-watched on streaming services very recently. Unfortunately, global business activity wasn’t built with a pause button or a play button in mind.

Right now, while many of us are turning our thoughts to how we recover, most of the world is still in the reactionary stages of dealing with COVID-19. Businesses have dusted-off and scrambled to implement contingency planning to build resilience, knowing that all companies, even those that seemed unstoppable, face existential questions. Some have already fallen, while the fortunate and shrewd have streamlined decision-making and begun a rapid transformation that was unthinkable just a few months ago. At KPMG we’ve deployed and adopted new technologies and platforms at speeds we could only have dreamt of before the crisis began. We’ve accelerated cross-border collaboration much quicker than we could fly people around the world.

This journey from reaction to resilience has defined business endeavors for the past few weeks. Companies have turned to remote working when they can, accompanied by a surge in use of collaboration technology, while being smart about how they manage their digital infrastructure and protecting themselves against multiplying cyber threats. These first reactionary measures were quickly followed by analysis and implementation of financial, operational and commercial resilience protocols. Are we liquid? How can we modify our supply chain? How are our clients and customers? Questions that can only be answered by asking business partners, clients and other stakeholders.

Businesses that have kept the lights on are being flexible and adaptable while making sure their people are safe, their supply chains secure, and their clients informed (if they are open). But soon, in the coming days, weeks and months, many of the world’s major economies will start to hit play—some in phases, some all at once. It’s a sneak peek of our new reality.

This new stage, recovery, will expose certain permanencies of this pandemic. Businesses will start to see how consumers react in the long-term, whether adoption of contactless commerce will accelerate or if digital delivery of public services will take hold, for example. We will begin to see if longstanding concerns about the environment remain at the top of our agenda and whether sustainable solutions are front and center. And we will understand the effect of massive governmental aid packages to fast-track recovery, hoping to ensure that when the play button is hit, it sticks.

The recovery could take many shapes, from a quick upward V to a long slow-burning U or a rollercoaster W. No matter the conclusion, these phases—reaction, resilience and recovery— will lead to a new reality for all of us and we are about to find out what that truly means.

Ultimately, a model is only as good as its assumptions, and so far, many best-case scenarios have already come and gone. Straightforward momentum for a quick recovery seems unlikely, even as many of us hope it may happen. Unfortunately, we still don’t know enough about the virus, nor the totality of its impact. As a society, we’ve never hit pause on basic human interaction and economic activity like we needed to during this pandemic.

Yet, despite all this uncertainty, one thing has proven true—we are more connected than ever, even today in isolation. From our business partners, our clients, our people, all of them matter. And when we hit play, the solution will be in our ability to work together, to collaborate, to make this recovery work and define the new reality for all—across all levels of society, public and private, and across borders. That has always been the best strategy.