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Life during the COVID-19 outbreak is changing our lives in ways we hadn’t contemplated before now. There are a lot of questions that only time will answer, with one looming above all others: When will things get back to the way they were?

Nobody can really answer that right now. But maybe some things won’t get back to the way they were. And for businesses, that can be a good thing.

When this crisis has passed – and it will pass – we will have learned a lot about ourselves, our government, and the best ways to prepare for and manage a crisis. In fact, we are already learning from this outbreak and our experiences from recent weeks are putting us all in a better position to defeat COVID-19 and prevent similar threats in the future.

1. We must all work together.

That’s not really breaking news, but COVID-19 is making clear just how vital cooperation, compromise and flexibility are in a crisis, particularly in combating the spread of a serious illness. In the business community, our collective first priority must be the well-being of the people we serve. Self-interest – even at a corporate level – is self-defeating.

Businesses have to put consumers first, ahead of what might be good for a company in the short run. How can we cooperate to help North Carolinians stay safe and healthy? How can we ease some of their anxieties during these uncertain times? How can we put our employees in a position to continue being productive? Let’s find our common purpose and see how we can support each other on behalf of our state.  

In health care, insurers and providers are collaborating to put people at the center of our system. The COVID-19 threat is presenting our industry with countless ways to work more closely than ever before, from sharing data and analytics to breaking through procedural barriers so innovations can be adopted quickly.

With no time to lose, cooperation is a necessity. Once the crisis has passed, we can carry this spirit forward as we move toward a truly value-based health care system.

2. We can be productive while working from home.

Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina embraced flexible work policies several years ago, making investments in technology and creating a work culture where productivity isn’t dependent on geography. For companies that hadn’t explored remote work options until recently, the COVID-19 crisis will put in place new policies that could remain permanent as both employers and employees become more comfortable with working from home.

The bulk of Blue Cross NC’s employees – like most other working Americans – are doing their jobs remotely, using equal parts technology and creativity to continue serving our members. As long as North Carolina needs us, we’ll keep working, wherever we can.

3. There’s no substitute for a good crisis plan.

In the business world, a crisis can come in many forms. Sometimes the crisis affects only one business or one industry. A pandemic, on the other hand, is by definition universal. All businesses – and the entire global economy – are feeling significant impacts from COVID-19.

Many businesses have had to design new policies and procedures as this episode unfolds, while others are putting their already-developed crisis plans to the test. Blue Cross NC has had a plan in place for many years, updating it with new insights after each time the plan was put into effect. As we adapt to the COVID-19 landscape, we’re already improving our crisis plan to reflect what we’re learning. Next time we face a crisis, we’ll put those new lessons into action.

4. Communication is key.

At the heart of any crisis response is communication, both internally and externally. As a business, your employees need to know what’s happening and why.

At Blue Cross NC, our people are staying connected to each other using phones, emails, texts, Skype, and any means available to maintain communication while working remotely. Different areas of the company are holding daily Skype meetings to stay informed and map out the many proactive steps we’re taking to maintain – and improve – our daily work.

As a health care company, Blue Cross NC must protect the personal health information of our members. That’s not negotiable. But we do have a role in sharing information that will update North Carolinians about how they can minimize the spread of COVID-19, communicating changes in insurance coverage to encourage telehealth consultations with doctors, and providing peace of mind in difficult times.

More broadly, health care providers and their patients are embracing telehealth as a viable alternative to in-person visits – and feedback so far has been strongly positive. When the crisis has passed, perhaps more health care can be delivered this way on a routine basis.

5. Businesses must be nimble.

Predictability is a key ingredient to business success. And predictability went straight out the window with the arrival of COVID-19.

Plans for meetings and public events have been drastically altered, with many events being canceled. This is surely disappointing, and in some cases, costly. But public health must come first.

The pandemic is a test of just how nimble a business can be. Corporate leaders in many industries are having to accept a degree of uncertainty as a fact of daily life. Much of long-term planning is being paused as companies put all hands on deck to deal with the here and now.

None of this is particularly easy, but being nimble means doing what’s necessary to meet customer needs today and positioning a business for recovery and success tomorrow.

All of us will remember this period for the rest of our lives. But memories are for later. Today, we are inventing and innovating – learning – how to keep North Carolina safe and healthy during a serious health crisis. And we are applying those lessons every day to the way we work. Together, we will emerge from this stronger and wiser than before.  

Gerald Petkau

About Gerald Petkau

Gerald Petkau is SVP, Chief Operating Officer at Blue Cross and Blue Shield of North Carolina.