Strategic Thoughts from the Age of COVID

There is a lot of tactical discussion about COVID. Who comes to work? Who gets laid off. What relief do we offer the afflicted. I wanted to take a few moments to look at this from strategic view, instead. To establish a few baselines for what good strategic planning might consider.

Step 1: Establish Priorities.

Every business is saying that the health and welfare of their customers and employees is the number one priority. This is complete bullshit. We know this. They know this. We just don’t say it in the group meetings. If it were the top priority, we’d send everyone home, sell off the assets, and fund people to stay home for 2 years. That’s not happening.

A realistic priority is establishing a minimum threshold of business activity to keep a business viable, while minimizing risk to the people dependent on the business, both owners and employees.

“What about the customers, though?”, you ask from the back of the room. As a business we must treat customers as a part of our environment. Our actions impact how they react to us, but we don’t control their choices. We can’t, for instance, convince them that masks are in their interest. The best we could manage is probably discouraging the most reckless from visiting, foregoing their business to provide greater safety for staff.

Step 2: Face Facts.

My understanding of this disease is incomplete, and it may prove to be laughably wrong in short order. As it stands right now, though, COVID is transmitted by breathing in the virus as it rides in the respiratory vapor of the infected. It’s not generally contact transferred by surfaces, and it’s not spreading in the wind like a mold spore. It’s a ‘warm breath’ disease. When you exhale, your breath swirls around you. If I’m nearby, I immediately breath that in. If we’re inside, and wearing masks, it takes longer before I’m breathing your breath, depending on ventilation. What does that mean for 6ft and wear a mask? That’s just a delaying factor. Mask or not, if we spend all day together, we’re sharing our lung expirations.

There are only two defense strategies that are viable.
Control social exposure– Keep people working from home, if possible. Work in bubble teams that share the risk and isolate from other teams.
Control physical exposure– Put up plexiglass and AV systems to separate staff and customers, and provide frontline staff respirators and decontamination equipment.

Step 3: Recognize Risk.

We are not at the new normal. We (in the USA) are not ‘past phase 1’. We’re going back to work because the people with the money are demanding it. We’re hostage to our own broken economic system. Let’s not sugar coat it. I spent 10 years accepting the risks of serving in the military. No one tried to tell me that it was safe. No one tried to tell me it was easy.

Just like military service, this is risky thing we have to do to get by, provide, and protect our families. Let’s be honest with each other about, and make the best of a bad situation without lying to ourselves about it.

It would be great if we had national leadership. It would be great if we had universal healthcare, and a social safety net. We don’t, and it’s going to kill a lot of us. I hope we learn from this, and fix these things, which brings me to the final step.