The coronavirus crisis is an opportunity for companies to show how resilient and well prepared they are to manage risks and adapt to new circumstances. 

Faced with unprecedented tensions, organizations must question themselves about their purpose and how they operate. This is important, not only so they can thrive today, but so they can be prepared and anticipate the future challenges and crises climate change will bring globally.

This coronavirus crisis should then be seen as an opportunity to rethink corporate responsibility. How can organizations give back to stakeholders and to society while adapting their communication? How can they anticipate and manage risks? Here are 3 lessons that we can already learn from this period.

1 – CSR Compliance Is Not Enough. Far From It.

The first big lesson to be learned from this crisis is that CSR compliance is not enough for organizations to be prepared for the problems that can affect their operations and society in general. For years, companies have been comfortably playing with CSR and not putting much effort into it.

Some were forced to develop CSR policies and reports because of anti-corruption or other local/regional laws. Others did some kind of greenwashing, communicating basic initiatives far from the real impact that true, core changes and investments could have on both society and the environment. These are the so-called “cosmetic” CSR initiatives.

Ultimately, the paradigm “business as usual” didn’t change much. And we can clearly see it today, in the event of a more serious crisis, this is not enough. Even companies practicing what is called flexibility at work found it difficult to set up rapid and functional remote working mechanisms – regarding technical tools and working methodologies. Only a few have been able to anticipate the risks – some of which were nevertheless foreseeable – across their workforces and supply chains.

All this shows organizations need to go much further than what is advocated, recommended or dictated by the law. To truly prepare for the changes in our world (global warming, the biodiversity crisis, social, health or economic crises), they need to do more and to be prepared for greater impacts. It is crucial to allocate more resources to identify risks in supply chains, perhaps set up strategic stocks, better integrate local suppliers into global strategies…

It is necessary to have open and transparent discussions with all stakeholders and create a trust relationship. Companies also need to be more resilient and adaptable. This requires increased resources given to CSR departments, empowering them to develop projects related to the organization’s core business rather than cosmetic actions.

2 – Flexibility At Work Is Not Just An Employer Branding Argument

The other big lesson for corporate CSR is that focusing on flexibility at work, whenever possible, is not just a matter of attracting talent or having a good reputation. This was already seen in the United States in 2014-2015 when the extreme winter weather conditions in the Midwest prevented a good number of people from going to work. Obviously, the most flexible companies at the times were the ones responding better to this temporary crisis.

The same happened with the current coronavirus crisis. The companies best prepared for their employees to work from home were those that had previously encouraged their staff to work remotely and learned what worked best. Of course, this is not possible in all positions nor across all sectors. But it is clear that for many management and support positions, working remotely is not only possible but useful.

In the future, with climate crises, it is likely that these types of situations will be happening again. And above all, we see that currently, society is able to work without driving their cars to the workplace – and, therefore, without emitting huge amounts of CO2. If this continues after confinement, we would undoubtedly reduce our CO2 emissions, unclog transport, make daily travel easier, and improve the lives of millions of people who could thus have a better work-life balance.

3 – A Responsible Corporate Culture Is Not A Luxury

Thanks to the coronavirus, we were also able to measure the extent to which the corporate culture was fundamental in reacting to a crisis. In companies where employees were the most committed, reacting and adapting was easier than in others. The confidence to work remotely is more easily installed.

But that’s not all: a culture of responsibility seems all the more essential in these troubled times. It is obvious that in a company where the salary differences are 100 times higher (or more) between executives and employees, the company’s financial ability to secure the salaries of its people and make investments will hardly exist. Same if dividends are constantly withdrawn at the end of each fiscal year.

Engaging employees and other stakeholders, and thus creating a strong corporate culture is halfway through for a company to demonstrate the value withing its organizational ecosystem. Equity, salary justice, trust-based management practices are invaluable to craft this culture – one where usually everyone is more tolerant, inclusive, supportive and resilient.

It is clear today that such a culture is not a luxury – as the conscious capitalism movement has been preaching. CSR departments have a fundamental role to play because once the crisis is over, many companies will have to rethink the way they have been operating and create more responsible cultures. In order to prepare managers, define an ethics charter or to create fairer internal practices it will be necessary to rebuild organizations internally. And at the center of these changes, corporate responsibility departments will have an important role to play.