A novel response to a novel virus

Barry Vorster Partner, PwC South Africa April 01, 2020

Estimated reading time: 3 minutes

Series edition 1/2

In addition to the recommendations made in "Seven key actions business can take to mitigate the effects of COVID-19", what would the possible impact be on organisations globally? 

This is it.  It is not a C-suite or focus group discussion.

It has happened. It is a reality. And nobody knows how the script will unfold. People reach for help to help manage the crisis. The questions cover a wide array of topics, prompting us to share some thoughts and tips to help you navigate the next few weeks and months.

The coronavirus impacts individuals, teams and organisations in (almost) unimaginable ways. It is understandable that, with the global nature of this pandemic, there are reactions from various sources in an attempt to make sense of the pandemic, as well as to mitigate the effect and risks. The rapid spread of COVID-19 and the fact that it is potentially life threatening emphasises the seriousness of this matter.


PwC’s Melanie Butler and Kristen Rivera have looked at seven actions organisations can take to mitigate the effect of COVID-19 in group discussion. It is reality. THAT organisations respond is almost as important as HOW they respond. The only choice organisations do not have is not to respond at all.

COVID-19 will bring significant, irreversible change.

Industries that rely on large numbers of people being present in one place (e.g. sports events) or that rely on an influx of people at certain premises (e.g. hospitality) will be profoundly affected. It may already impact education or at least disrupt it significantly. We might lose an entire term. Already, some entertainers resort to streaming their concerts. Some popular holiday destinations are repositioning themselves to remain economically viable. And this is due to something as simple as where people find themselves, how long they stay and how often they move. 

A virus, not a bot. 

Even though we were (partially) prepared for digitisation, we did not expect a virus to change the nature of work so profoundly, so quickly. As already mentioned, the nature of the coronavirus is restricting the movement of people. This necessitates the need for working remotely and may cause a spike in demand on the technology infrastructure of countries. It could also cause job losses, as some industries rely on employees performing work at specific locations such as factories, for example.

PwC employee working from home amid the COVID-19 pandemic outbreak

What are the key concerns for organisations? 

  • People. It is time for empathetic leadership. The most important part of our organisations is directly affected and vulnerable. How can you provide guide rails for the people in your organisations to help them cope and navigate? 
  • Our messages need to be authentic and caring. A recent message from a CEO focused on “How do I work and manage my kids at the same time”, with practical advice on how the children and pets can join their corporate family, showing understanding and empathy.
  • We need to allow other people to lead where a person is a better fit to help solve the problem, as Josh Bersin recently said - we need to “unboss”.
  • Technology. A sudden need for technology and connectivity to ensure survival. Have you prepared your people? If not, find some problems to solve and help your people with practical advice.
  • Work. Jobs are at risk, which could negatively impact the global economy if we do not seize the chance to re-engineer and rethink the way we work. Put some thought into opportunities to upskill and cross skill your people.
  • Sustainability. Organisations have to make important choices in order to remain relevant and to remain profitable, even after the current situation is under control.


In our next article, we will have a look at another very important question: how could COVID-19 change the way teams function? 

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Contact us

Barry Vorster

Barry Vorster

Partner, PwC South Africa

Tel: +27 (0) 11 797 4864

Maura   Jarvis

Maura Jarvis

Associate Director, PwC South Africa

Tel: +27 (0) 41 391 4563