drowning clock; leaders have limited time to prepare for the second wave of COVID-19


By Josh Williams, Ph.D.

​“Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me twice, shame on me.” – Proverb
“And I get on my knees and pray. We won’t get fooled again.” – The Who

It’s difficult to even consider preparing for a second wave of COVID-19 in the fall. We are collectively dazed and confused with the tidal wave of chaos brought on by the CoronaVirus. Lives have been lost, jobs have evaporated, and we continue to worry about friends and loved ones. We’re just starting to see some light at the end of the tunnel as the first bits of good news trickle in with some curve flattening in select areas. For organizational leaders, the immediate focus should be on sound preparations when local regions begin easing social distancing. This includes new protocols for reorganizing workplace schedules and layouts, implementing more stringent cleaning requirements and inspections, and optimizing systems for remote work.  ​

However, we also need to keep an eye on the next potential wave of COVID-19.

It’s worth remembering that the 1918 pandemic came in several waves and the second wave in the fall was far more devastating than the first one in the Spring. Nearly 200,000 Americans were killed in October alone as the virus mutated (see diagram to right; Contingency planning for another potential wave is a must. 

Mitigation efforts like antibody testing will help us moving forward but the reality is we won’t be safe from COVID-19 until a vaccine is produced. It is also likely that society will begin efforts to return to normalcy long before the CDC or WHO declares the pandemic over ( One of the best ways to prepare for a second wave of the virus is to critically assess how well you responded to the first one. This includes understanding weaknesses in your business systems that were exposed by the pandemic.

Specific questions to ask yourself as leaders include:

  • What were unexpected pain points with supply chains, investors, customers, contractors, and virtual offices?
  • What policies, procedures, and regulations were missing? 
  • Was the contingency plan sufficient? This includes governance, delegation of authority, communicating critical information and updates, and IT infrastructure. 
  • What were unexpected challenges with extended teleworking? What IT resources failed for employees working from home? What additional software and programs would have been useful? Are people working from home prepared for cyberattacks?
  • Were you effective balancing the needs of various internal and external stakeholders?

Taking time to answer these questions will help you, as leaders, prepare for a second wave of this pandemic or other man-made or natural disasters on the horizon. The world has changed. Business resilience is more important now than ever. Leaders need to ensure they’re positioned to deliver on mission critical processes in the face of a second COVID-19 wave. This includes replenishing inventories and maintaining surpluses in the future, updating insurance plans to cover future emergencies, developing plans to vaccinate employees when a vaccine is ready, and creating a dedicated team (with legitimate authority and clearly defined roles) to effectively lead when the next crisis hits. 

It also includes learning from the past to prepare for the future. In this era of fear and uncertainty, leaders are in a critical position of navigating organizations out of the current crisis while simultaneously steeling up for the next one. 

At Propulo, our focus has always been on safety culture and operational excellence.


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