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The global pandemic that began in December 2019 was caused by a flu-like zoonotic coronavirus that jumped from animals to humans and appeared to have originated in Wuhan, China. At the time of writing, COVID-19 had a fatality rate around 10 times higher than that of the normal flu and there was no cure or vaccine. As infection rates and deaths climbed, healthcare systems were overwhelmed with patients and a lack of beds, personal protective equipment for hospital staff, and equipment such as ventilators to treat respiratory problems. Doctors and nurses also caught the disease, further reducing hospital capacity.
The main strategy for slowing the spread of the virus was lockdown. Countries closed their borders, airlines grounded planes, and cruise ships were not allowed to dock. These measures were stricter in some countries than in others. Typically, the public was told to stay indoors, to go out only for shopping and exercise, and to keep 6 feet â€œsocial distanceâ€ from others. Shops, offices, construction sites, public houses, and restaurants closed. Factories making food and medical supplies stayed open. Although there were few shortages, shoppers were panic-buying and stockpiling, and queues outside supermarkets became the new norm. The only exceptions to the â€œstay indoorsâ€ rule were key workers, in healthcare, emergency services, and food production and distribution. Those who could not work from home were out of a job and had to depend on employer support (if available) or state aid. Work for many freelancers in the â€œgig economyâ€ dried up.
What were the implications for organizational change? More people started working from home, if their jobs allowed. Restrictions on travel made videoconferencing popular. Shoppers made more online purchases. Some businesses repurposed their premises: For example, some local bars and restaurants (which were shut) sold groceries and snacks (open for food distribution), and some manufacturers switched to making medical equipment. This raised several questions. Would employees who had become accustomed to working from home want to go back to the office? Would shoppers who had become accustomed to online purchasing and home delivery want to go back to brick-and-mortar stores? Would companies that created new business models go back to their previous ways of working or develop their new approaches?
Choose an organization whose operations were affected by this pandemicâ€”not necessarily your current employerâ€”or choose an affected sector in which you have an interest.
Identify the changes that this organization or sector implemented because of the COVID-19 pandemic, in working practices, customer relationships, and core business models. Which changes were mandatory, and which did it implement on its own initiative?
Assess which of these changes were temporary, for the duration of the pandemic, and which would be long lasting.
Why is the human resource management function critical in this context?