When we last put fingers to keyboard to fill this space on Feb. 18, 2020, we knew that writing about the coronavirus crisis was a calculated risk. A monthly column often does not mesh well with a story that’s changing so fast that last hour’s news looks like ancient history.
At that time, we pointed to Feb. 18 as a watershed date in the media coverage of the coronavirus outbreak, noting that news outlets were beginning to cover the story from a business—not just a global health—perspective. We went on to predict that we’d soon see a steady stream of stories on the economic fallout of the virus. In this regard, we were right.
In that column, we also expressed cautious optimism that the world might be getting ahead of the scourge. In that regard, we were wrong.
Now, on March 18, 2020, as these fingers work to fill this space again, the narrative has veered off in a whole new direction. Any hopes of containing the virus have gone out the window—at last count, 145 countries had been affected. Our focus has shifted to mitigating the damage. For business leaders, that means addressing the question of how to maintain business continuity while still protecting the health and safety of team members.
That question became very real for our own company leaders as the Modex trade show approached last month. By that time, the Covid-19 alarm had been sounded, causing both exhibitors and attendees to withdraw from what is widely considered the most important domestic logistics trade show of the year. After much deliberation and after seeking input from every member of our team, we opted to proceed with our plans to cover the show.
At our final pre-Modex staff meeting, our publisher, Gary Master, set the tone for the event as a leader should. “This show is always important to us and the industry,” he told us. “This year, even more so. We have to approach Modex with all the same passion and enthusiasm we always do. But this year, we have to work even harder. This may be our last opportunity for several weeks, if not months, to be face-to-face with key players in our market.”
The team rose to the challenge. On the editorial side alone, our 10-member Modex news team cranked out 61 news stories; produced a dozen video reports; covered four, and moderated two, main-stage keynote addresses; published four “Show Daily” e-newsletters; and conducted over 100 interviews.
What they discovered in the course of their reporting is that the coronavirus is reshaping the practice of logistics and supply chain management—largely by accelerating trends that were already in play.
The most obvious example, of course, is e-commerce. With more and more Americans sheltering in their homes, the demand for home delivery has never been higher. In mid-March, as the crisis deepened, Amazon announced it was seeking to hire up to 100,000 workers to deal with the crush of online orders. In the eyes of consumers, e-commerce is no longer just a convenience; it’s a necessity.
It’s a similar story with the digital platforms for remote work and customer engagement. We’ve all known these solutions existed, and most of us have used them to some degree. But now, their use is not optional. And as we collectively become more comfortable with the technology, we’re betting companies will decide that for many working remotely just makes sense, whether mandated by current events or not.
Finally, there’s the renewed case for robotics and automation. Although these technologies have been around for a while, their adoption will certainly be accelerated as companies look to lessen their reliance on human workers who are subject to illness or quarantines.
Again, these trend lines existed long before we ever heard the term “Covid-19.” Our hope is that when we look back on this time a year from now, we’ll see evidence all around us that the logistics world has leveraged what it learned in a crisis and made it a part of its everyday routine.