Lessons from China: How Coronavirus Has Changed Global Trade Forever


The new strategies that companies are introducing will not bring life back to normal, according to business leaders and experts. Instead, they say the crisis could permanently change the way we work, shop and manage our businesses.

“This is the new standard,” said Alain Benichou, CEO of IBM China. “There are many alarm clocks that we are currently working on. “

Here’s a look at how the future of the business has changed – and how China is giving us insight.

Our way of working

For Despina Katsikakis, the average workplace is already starting to be very different.

Katsikakis, a London-based partner who focuses on innovation and emerging practices in a commercial real estate company Cushman & Wakefield ((CWK), has advised businesses around the world on return to work.

In China, the company has already helped return more than a million workers to offices. According to Katsikakis, the crisis has accelerated the future of work for almost a decade.

The firm hopes to capitalize on this shift, starting with a visual guide for its customers called the “Six Feet Office”. The concept, a “living laboratory” in Cushman & Wakefield’s Amsterdam office, was based on its take-out from China and other feedback from workers and customers around the world.

Commercial real estate company Cushman & amp; Wakefield built a prototype called

“This is a prototype that is basically there to get people to think about solutions, how to put social distancing at stake, prepare the building appropriately and really push people towards behaviors different, “said Katsikakis.

In this new standard, the offices are, not surprisingly, spaced six feet apart. Health officials around the world have for months advised people to keep this distance from each other to avoid the spread the virus.

Workers are encouraged to walk “one way” – clockwise – throughout the office to avoid crossing paths and spreading more germs. Katsikakis said the advice was based on consultations with health care experts, who shared how doctors navigate hospitals.

One of the biggest takeaways that the firm has won from China, she said, is that “we need to make sure we trust that we are going back to a healthy environment.”

Over the next few years, she plans to use sensors to replace most of the shared surfaces we used to touch. Instead of swiping your entry card to get inside, for example, you could face a facial recognition camera or display a QR code on your phone.

Businesses should also invest more in office air filtration systems to reduce contaminants (Volkswagen, for example, has adjusted its air conditioning units to the maximum in Wolfsburg). Some may even install plexiglass sneeze guards on desks, said Katsikakis. To avoid contaminating surfaces, his company suggests placing a block of paper on your workstation and replacing it daily.

Since the unveiling of the “Six Feet Office” prototype, the company has been inundated with requests every day – if not “every hour”, joked the partner. “We have done daily briefings with some of our biggest clients in the world to help them and their real estate teams see how they can take these ideas and how we can co-create with them. “

Although the concept requires more space, it doesn’t necessarily mean that having an office will be more expensive. If there is one thing the situation has shown, it is that remote working is effective – and largely here to stay, said Katsikakis. This means that fewer people will use the same space as before the pandemic.

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The way we communicate at work has also changed. The increase in demand for enterprise software, such as Microsoft Teams, is “unprecedented,” said Jared Spataro, vice president of Microsoft 365.

He said Thursday the messaging and video conferencing program now has 75 million daily users, up 70% from last month.

“We have a time machine as countries like China and South Korea return to work and school, and team usage continues to grow,” Spataro told CNN Business.

Our way of shopping

In some ways, now is the time for brands to recruit new customers and build lasting relationships, said Deborah Weinswig, CEO of Coresight Research, a consulting and research company specializing in retail and technology.

As millions of people take refuge in their homes, they are forced to create new routines and new lifestyles, she noted.

“They always say it takes 21 days to change a habit,” said Weinswig. “We are changing our buying habits, and some of them will be quite sticky. “

Nike, for example, rotated so well that it “could change the curve [it’s] for many years to come, “she said. (Coresight previously worked on research projects for Nike.)

A pedestrian walking through a Nike store in Shanghai in March.

As the company promoted online shopping before the outbreak, Weinswig said business has “really picked up” in recent months. The sportswear giant posted solid profits in March, in part because it quickly accelerated its online business in China. Digital sales in Greater China increased by more than 30% in the last quarter, while weekly active users for its activity apps soared 80%, CEO John Donahoe told investors.

The company’s flagship application has been crucial to its success. The platform was launched in China during this period and encouraged users to train at home through a virtual “training club,” according to Coresight. Weinswig noted that the app was free, which was “essential” for users.

The company has also launched more products online, including limited edition sneakers such as Air Jordans.

Speed ​​was also crucial. Nike competes in an overcrowded space, but was one of the first brands to look to customers staying at home, Weinswig noted.

“They were very early to adapt,” she said.

The way we manage our supply chains

The pandemic could also force a reinvention of the global supply chain.

Typically, consumer goods supply chains are “designed to focus on efficiency over flexibility and resilience,” wrote John Knapp, partner and general manager of the Boston Consulting Group, in a recent blog post. .

But in recent months, “shortages of critical raw materials and supplies, as well as the specter of increased worker absenteeism, have exposed the underlying risks,” he noted.

This forces companies to rethink the way they ship or send their goods.

“The things we used to take for granted no longer exist,” said William Ma, managing director of Kerry Logistics, a Hong Kong-based company that helps companies around the world manage their supply chains.

“Right now, we can see all of these disruptions in almost every segment of freight transportation to and from China. Or enter Europe – I can’t make the truck cross the border. “

Goods inspected in a foreign trade warehouse in Jiangsu Province, China, in March.

Before the outbreak, companies were planning for “day” outages, Ma added. Now they’re looking at “weeks.”

IBM hopes to save the day. Tech giant offering AI-based supply chain management says it has seen “significant” increase in demand as more and more customers seek predictive modeling against the next crisis. The company refused to share specific figures.

The pandemic has been a “wake-up call” for many companies, said Benichou, managing director of IBM China.

” What we want [do] is clearly helping with the problems we discovered with the Covid-19. Supply chain optimization, we just discovered, so we have to deal with that. ”

Even governments enter the law. Last month, Japan announced a plan to help companies relocate production, said Andrew Staples, Global Editorial Director of the Economist Corporate Network. The network is an advisory service to the Economist’s Intelligence Unit, providing resources to business leaders.

“I think it will continue,” he said.

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The epidemic also revealed cracks in the supply chain that most companies weren’t even aware of, according to IBM researchers.

The company recently discovered that 90% of Fortune 1000 companies have secondary suppliers in Wuhan, the central city in China where the epidemic started, but “many had little or no interaction with them,” said the company. said Jonathan Wright, an IBM executive, during a corporate webcast. last month.

At the same time, it may be too early for companies to tackle this problem, said Ma.

He noted that rebuilding supply chains takes a lot of time and capital – two things most businesses are currently missing.

“Growing cash is more important to them. If your business cannot be sold, you cannot pay your suppliers, suppliers cannot pay their suppliers, ”he said. ” [We] i just want to overcome this ASAP. ”


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