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For small businesses, the pandemic triggers a season of uncontrolled experiments

Editorial | August 1, 2020 | By:

If you read any business news, you can’t avoid the headlines ruminating on the long-term effects of the pandemic on industry and the workplace: “How has coronavirus changed consumer spending?” “Will the COVID-19 pandemic accelerate automation?” “Can we just work from home forever?” 

There are a lot of opinions out there—but not a lot of answers.  

In late May and early June, the Society for Human Resource Management conducted an online survey to gauge how small businesses are navigating the reopening and rebuilding of their operations. To be expected, there was plenty of bad news: 

  • 70 percent of respondents reported an overall decrease in revenue since the start of COVID-19. 
  • 46 percent anticipated a lack of customers going forward. 
  • 44 percent had laid off at least some employees permanently. 

Offsetting those statistics, the report revealed some hopeful signs. For example, the small business survey respondents were more hopeful about a quicker comeback than economists. In addition: 

  • 32 percent of respondents said they have found
    a new way to deliver an existing service.
  • 43 percent said they have started rethinking
    the way they do business.  
  • 75 percent agreed that if a crisis like COVID-19 were to occur again, their business would be better prepared to handle it.

The statistic that jumped out at me the most related to technology and innovation. Some 29 percent of respondents reported adopting new or novel technology processes because of the coronavirus. I would have expected that to be higher. However, of that 29 percent, 85 percent plan to make the innovation permanent. Companies that adopted new technologies were largely successful. 

Being focused on the specialty textile industry, I’ve come to expect that every successful company is always innovating—pandemic times or no. This issue of Review is filled with examples of companies finding ways to survive amid uncertainty. And now in every issue of Review, we are highlighting breakthrough innovations in advance textiles—see page 14 for yarn made from human cells, a less toxic water repellent, and an isolation unit that was conceived of during the Ebola outbreak and has come to fruition in the current pandemic.  

In this gigantic, forced, uncontrolled experiment, agile companies are finding new and better ways to do things. Some innovations have immediate impact. Others, we look forward to covering in Review in years to come.

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