A year into the pandemic, what’s next? Olin experts weigh in

  • March 17, 2021
  • By Guest Blogger
  • 5 minute read

Where do we go from here, in the second year in these times of coronavirus? As we pass the one-year anniversary of the World Health Organization declaring a global COVID-19 pandemic, Washington University in St. Louis experts, including from Olin, look both back and ahead. Here are excerpts from a comprehensive post in The Source.

Innovating=problem solving

“During the pandemic, problems were suddenly appearing everywhere. And the race to innovate and solve those problems was the most rapid I’ve seen since the initial dot.com craze in the late ’90s. Solving acute, short-term problems feels good … but it is not a long-term strategy, and it certainly doesn’t lead to eventual sustainability for your organization. The opportunity now is to call a timeout and reassess all you’ve been doing recently to decide which of your new solutions are simply acute versus ones that can set your customers and you up for long-term success.”

– Doug Villhard, professor of practice in entrepreneurship and academic director for entrepreneurship, Olin

How long have you been waiting for your exercise bike?

“As the summer came, and most of us got used to a life with limited or no access to dining services, sports venues and other entertainment, we fell in love with our own houses, kitchens, in-home entertainment devices, exercise equipment, power tools, furniture, cars and boats. The demand for those products came back at a speed of recovery and level nobody expected. By persisting for six months or so, such conditions unleashed a ‘bullwhip’ that pained these supply chains as never before. The ripple effect wasn’t a 10-20% increase down the line to manufacturers and raw-material suppliers, but rather reached 50-100% levels. Shortages followed — exacerbated by shortages in semiconductors and one essential of supply-chain transportation, shipping containers. …

“In the current, (ab)normal state of the world, with highly changed consumer behaviors, the demand peaks are higher and longer persisting, and our forecasts even more erratic. The logistics bottlenecks in ports, ocean and air cargo are still limiting global flows and severely elongating lead-times — so how long have you been waiting for your exercise bike?”

– Panos Kouvelis, PhD, director of The Boeing Center for Supply Chain Innovation and Emerson Distinguished Professor of Operations and Manufacturing Management, Olin

Emergency vaccine supply chain must become long-term strategy

“While countries around the world are still on their learning curves of rolling out the first vaccines, new coronavirus variants continue to emerge. What has been pulled off as an emergency response needs to be developed into a sustainable, systematic, long-term strategy to fight against the virus, which is likely to persist for the foreseeable future.”

“A vital part of this long-term strategy is to build reliable and responsive vaccine supply chains: 1) Each stage is adequately equipped to ensure safe and fast vaccine distribution. 2) The end-to-end supply chain visibility provides valuable data to inform vaccine R&D, manufacturing and distribution planning. 3) It also can facilitate the timely, cross-region, supply-demand rebalance and efficient planning of local events where vaccines are administered. And 4) that end-to-end visibility directs proper intervention in underserved regions.”

– Lingxiu Dong, PhD, professor of operations and manufacturing management, Olin Business School

Ending mask mandates could hurt economy

Several states easing mask restrictions in March not only goes against the advice of federal health officials, it also contradicts the findings of Olin researchers who found mask mandates boost the economy.

“Our research shows that mask mandates help increase consumer spending. The issue with the economy has always been that customers are hesitant to go out and shop, and having a mask mandate tends to increase consumer spending by about 4%. Thus, cutting the mask mandate is certainly unlikely to help the economy. …

“While COVID-19 cases are trending down, and people are rapidly getting vaccinated, having people interact more directly, inside and without masks does give the COVID-19 virus more of an opportunity to evolve to another form that might be resistant to the current vaccines. If such a variant comes into being, that will have huge costs on both people’s health and the economy. 

– Raphael Thomadsen, PhD, professor of marketing and study co-author, Olin Business School

Working from home is here to stay

“Some surveys show a sizeable majority of organizations plan to give workers the option of working from home between one to four days per week. So, although most companies aren’t planning to remain fully virtual, they are planning to adopt a hybrid mode of working to retain some of the flexibility of a work-from-home model.”

recent Pew Research Center study found nearly 90% of people who have been working from home during the pandemic do not want to return to the office full-time.

“Companies are also making this decision because it will save money on real estate and facilities. In a recent KPMG survey, more than two-thirds of CEOs reported that they are planning to downsize office space. In my view, this is the strongest indicator that some form of work-from-home will stay — CEOs are putting their money where their mouths are.” 

– Andrew Knight, PhD, professor of organizational behavior, Olin Business School

WFH2.0: Spontaneity and flexible coordination

“Amongst many things, this past year generated a massive experiment in what it meant to run our businesses/non-profits/schools with the talent working from home (WFH). So, what did we learn?

“On the one hand, turning any spare bedroom into a home office has made us nimble in disconnecting the ability to get things done from any particular physical site. It turns out that pulling back on co-worker distractions and adding an ability to take breaks when the mind requires rest has helped many of us settle into a new productivity groove. On the other hand, dislocation from co-workers has made generating innovative, out-of-the-box initiatives much more difficult.

“While I am hopeful this year has helped leaders realize that many can be quite productive with a greater level of autonomy, individuals and organizations need a new set of skills and processes to generate ideas in a world where collaboration has become overly structured into hour-long Zoom calls and spontaneity correspondingly squeezed. With companies running the gamut from saying you can WFH forever to others suggesting this past year was a blip on the radar, I hope more organizations find a way to strike a balance between autonomy and coordination.”

– Peter Boumgarden, PhD, director of the Koch Family Center for Family Enterprise and academic director of the Center for Experiential Learning, Olin

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