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Frontline heroes to business pivots: Inspiring stories of the health crisis

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At the start of 2020, the entire world watched on as China went into lockdown in attempts to control the novel coronavirus. What was then the start of an unprecedented pandemic, COVID-19 has infected the globe, shutting down the economy.

Over the course of the year, PWC predicts Australia’s GDP could result in a loss of US$22,437 million while China’s GDP loss could be US$111,261 million, the US at US$267,700 million with the largest GPD loss in the EU at US$290,315 million.

For many weeks, a third of the global population has experienced some form of coronavirus lockdown with the largest currently in India, the US and Europe, according to Statista.

Businesses have been forced to pivot or continue to operate as essential services. For the millions who have been stood down, others have been faced with the daunting task of working through a lockdown.

From heroic healthcare workers on the front line to family business owners, The CEO Magazine finds out how some of the world’s most inspiring figures are working smarter in today’s pandemic.

Working on the front line

The world will be eternally grateful to the health workers on the front line of the COVID-19 outbreak, who have risked their lives to serve their community during this pandemic.

Every day, they have a markedly higher risk of becoming infected with the coronavirus, especially if they are exposed to a high volume of sick patients, such as in the emergency room or the intensive care unit.

This is exacerbated by extended working hours, psychological distress, fatigue, occupational burnout, stigma, and physical and psychological violence.

While consistent use of personal protective equipment (PPE) reduces the risk of becoming infected with coronavirus, it has been in short supply in many places.

"We have called it the ‘new normal’ previously – variations of increased police presence, helicopters over the city day and night, changes to our daily routines, and product and services being unavailable."

An administration worker in the Emergency Department at Christchurch Hospital described her experience living and working in New Zealand, a country that experienced one of the earliest and strictest lockdowns in the world.

"People in Christchurch felt unsafe during the earthquakes and, again, after the mosque shootings. The world around us had changed, and there’s a similar feeling now.

"We have called it the ‘new normal’ previously – variations of increased police presence, helicopters over the city day and night, changes to our daily routines, and product and services being unavailable.

"In some people, this has created resilience. In others, more anxiety."

On 23 March, nearly a month after the country had recorded its first case, New Zealand committed to an elimination strategy.

A few days later, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern announced a strict national lockdown when it only had 102 cases and zero deaths. Her swift decision-making won international praise and, to date, the country has had just 1,147 confirmed cases, 1,398 recovered patients and 21 deaths.

"At the hospital, we have security personnel on our doors, we have an external area where patients check in via an intercom (no personal contact) and are directed to an appropriate area," the NZ administration worker says.

"There is an intensity to our everyday tasks and interactions that is quite draining – sterilising desktops, keyboards and phones, wearing masks and constantly being aware of what we touch and how close we are to others.

"We have no contact with patients or anything they bring in with them. Patients attending for complaints unrelated to coronavirus are quite anxious and fearful to be in the hospital."

Running a winery

They may have planted their first Australian vineyard in the 1980s, but the Cassegrain family has been winemaking in France since 1643.

Marrying traditional French techniques with modern Australian technology, Cassegrain Wines produce a unique, innovative portfolio of full-bodied yet elegant wine.

Like many companies, the virus forced the winery to embrace technology and transform the traditional day-to-day tasks of manufacturing bottles of beloved drops.

"We are fortunate we are an essential service – of course, wine is essential," Philippe Cassegrain says. "Not being able to travel gives me more hands-on time at the winery at large and to actively participate in the business to support everyone."

With a rich family heritage spanning centuries, Philippe, son of founders John and Eva Cassegrain, is confident the pandemic will make the business stronger than ever.

Transforming business during a global health crisis

"It has forced my family and our loyal and long-serving staff and management team to adjust to a different workflow," Philippe says. "We are innovating as much as possible to adapt to the new environment, as are many others in our industry.

"Export sales have completely collapsed, which is a huge part of our business, and until the full cellar door experience is allowed, restaurants reopen and hotels become full again, we are left to rely upon off-premise bottle shops, our wine club and online sales."

Staying productive during uncertain times

"Staying productive is relatively simple due to the different work environment," Philippe says. "All the staff have needed to band together to achieve the reset goals and hold each other accountable to ensure we stay on the right track."

Lessons learned from the unprecedented experience

"A major learning for me has been the importance of keeping things simple for the customer," he says. "With many people needing to work from home and isolating themselves, a quick and easy way to order and receive wines from Cassegrain has been the most welcomed change."

The biggest challenge

"One of the best things about wine is the nuances in the different varieties, regions, and winemakers for that matter," he says. "Educating just in writing doesn’t always have the same effect, but we are looking at some online and interactive options for our wine club and doing more with all of the social apps that are springing up everywhere."

Future of hospitality post-pandemic

As life begins to reset and restrictions are eased, life beyond a world of COVID-19 will be remarkably different to what we’re used to.

Global tourism is one of the most effected industries, where travel restrictions and new guidelines will change the way we see the world.

The decline in global tourism as countries closed their borders is just one of the challenges Swire Hotels has faced since the initial outbreak in China last year.

Like millions of companies, Swire Hotels Managing Director Toby Smith implemented working from home policies for staff as a safety precaution.

"As a result, everyone has had to adapt quickly to working remotely," he says. "We had to act fast to adapt to the current situation and be able to continue serving our guests during these challenging times."

The new normal

"Our top priority is to provide a safe and comfortable environment for our guests and colleagues," he says. "We have introduced a number of prevention and control measures such as increasing the frequency of our deep-cleaning and disinfecting procedures, conducting regular temperature and travel history checks for all guests and team members upon arrival, as well as adjusting our restaurant business hours."

Pivoting the hotel industry

"We are not looking to change the direction of our business on a large scale, but rather to focus on adapting to the evolving situation," Toby explains. "In the early stages, we implemented measures such as reducing work schedules and adjusting our restaurant business hours to reduce costs and help contain the virus. We then added delivery services from our restaurants and bottled cocktails from our bars.

"We have also shared recipes and wellness tips on our social media channels, launched delivery wine packages along with tasting videos from our sommeliers so our guests can enjoy and learn at home."

Maintaining focus during a crisis

"Exercise is key," he says. "Working from home requires a certain discipline, which didn’t come easily at the beginning, but you soon get into a productive rhythm.

"The unprecedented nature of the downturn, and the impact that it is having on the hospitality industry, means there is no option except to be fully focused to ensure that Swire Hotels comes out of this crisis in as good a shape as possible and ready to welcome back our guests."

Silver linings of a pandemic

"We have been taking advantage of the downtime to accelerate some planned projects for this year, both in terms of rooms and restaurant enhancements or system developments," he says. "We have been providing our team members with additional training so that we are not only able to uphold the level of service that we are known for, but also to continue to improve and innovate.

"We have also embarked on an expansion plan to grow both our brands – The House Collective and EAST – through management contracts throughout Asia–Pacific. The work for this continues despite the current reduction in business at our existing hotels."

Back to business

"Now that the situation is starting to stabilise here in Asia, we are working on welcoming back our guests – focusing first on the domestic markets with the reopening of our restaurants and spas, as well as offering a variety of accommodation packages for local guests," he explains.

This story is part of our Life in Isolation series.

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Inspiring The Business World