One thing is certain: the post-COVID-19 world will not be back to business as usual. Entire economic sectors have been disrupted. Organizations have had to adapt and transform their business models on short notice. The pandemic has challenged the notion that, as more people entered the global economy and an interconnected world became a reality, globalization could only intensify its course. In the post-COVID-19 world, the globalization momentum will be slowed down by a wave of protectionism and market fragmentation. 

The pandemic underscored the weaknesses of a globalized world as countries competed for access to a shortage of needed equipment, such as masks and respiratory devices. International organizations like the WHO were criticized for their slow or timid response to the unfolding pandemic. Each country implemented a different strategy to stop the progress of the virus. Closures of frontiers and entire lockdowns were implemented at different times and places. The pandemic is leaving a trail of personal and economic tragedies, unemployment, and massive government debts. Firms have had to redesign their strategies. A new geopolitical map has emerged where collaboration (for developing a vaccine) and protectionism (for encouraging domestic production) sit next to each other. Human contact and travel have been dramatically reduced. Online work became the norm at many organizations, and digitalization rose to become a key priority in the strategic agenda.

Business schools responded to the crisis with great agility. Face-to-face classes were quickly transformed into online classes. By and large, both faculty and students adapted well to this new situation. To remain competitive and thrive, business schools need to ensure that the lessons learned during the crisis remain after the pandemic is over. Three core pillars enabled them to adapt quickly during the crisis: technology, collaboration, and culture. 

The use of Zoom and Microsoft Teams became widespread during the crisis, not only for online learning but also for admissions interviews, career services, and faculty meetings. New technologies are being designed to improve the delivery of digital learning. A number of new software products to enable competency-based, adaptive, and personalized learning have become available, including Knewton, Smart Sparrow, Open Learning Initiative (OLI), and LoudCloud. 

During the lockdown periods collaboration among faculty, academic departments, and staff continued and, in some cases, increased. As transport time was eliminated, working hours at home extended. Faculty were able to communicate more frequently, discuss research projects, and share online learning experiences. Collaboration among business schools also increased as faculty and administrators exchanged ideas on online delivery modes, how to make better use of resources, and how to reach a wider audience. 

A culture of continuous innovation will be instrumental for the post-COVID-19 business school. The pandemic demonstrated the importance of being more adaptive and open to change. Business schools will need to revisit their business models and pivot quickly. Just as the 2008 financial crisis placed GSR considerations at the center of the curriculum, the current crisis is calling for a reappraisal of sectors such as big pharma, medical, and transport. The crisis is also encouraging the redesign of course syllabi to include, for example, the analysis of government-financed schemes to alleviate distressed companies or the importance of embracing a more inclusive vision of society. The goal to foster a business community capable of offering solutions to societal issues is consistent with the idea of “Stakeholders for a Cohesive and Sustainable World,” which was the central theme of the World Economic Forum annual meeting that took place in Davos in January of this year. 

In this new context, the idea of a traditional business school campus will need to be rethought. As travel restrictions ease, students will still need to meet in a physical space where to exchange ideas, network, and meet their professors. With the introduction of more online courses, hybrid, and flipped-classroom approaches, the brick-and-mortar school will become less relevant. The time designated for physical classes on campus will be reduced, freeing up time for on-campus activities such as practice-oriented courses, group work, creativity workshops, interdisciplinary projects, and exchanges with business leaders. History tells us that pandemics do not go away in one year; unfortunately, they keep coming back in waves, slowly disappearing once a vaccine is found or herd immunity is reached. The silver lining is that the race towards finding a vaccine is nearing an end. In the disrupted post-COVID-19 future, the survival of organizations will depend on their capacity to transform themselves. The faster they implement creative and innovative mechanisms, the better equipped they will be to face those challenges. 

This article originally appeared in ISM's 2020 Annual Newsletter.

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