Craig McDonald 06 April 2020 10:16:38 AEST 6 MIN READ

Facebook, Apple, Amazon, Tesla: What the world’s largest tech giants taught me about dealing with a pandemic

As the COVID-19 crisis continues to unfold, new reports showcasing the good, bad and ugly side of tech continue to emerge every day. The world applauded when mobile device monitoring was enlisted to enforce self-isolation, but it was also horrifying to see cybercriminals setting up fake websites offering fraudulent Coronavirus vaccines.  

All this made me wonder: How are the world’s biggest tech companies responding to the pandemic? What are the leadership and business decisions their CEOs are undertaking in this time of crisis – decisions that I, along with other tech leaders, could try to emulate in our individual capacities as we grapple with the social, economic and political consequences of this pandemic?  

Here are some lessons that I learnt: 

Facebook: It never hurts to be proactive 

Even before COVID-19 was declared a pandemic by the World Health Organization on March 11, Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg was actively leading initiatives to prevent the spread of the virus. On February 14, the company used its Menlo Park headquarters to host the World Health Organization and leaders from companies like Google, Amazon & Salesforce to discuss what the tech industry could do to work together on solutions to the coronavirus outbreak. The major topic of discussion was what the companies were doing to clamp down on the spread of misinformation. 

The very same day, media outlets also reported Facebook’s decision to cancel a 4,000-person conference in San Francisco because of Coronavirus fears.  

Facebook’s actions have been lauded by the media, specifically for the company’s fast and proactive response to help combat the spread of the virus - a good reminder for businesses to be alert to upcoming trends & conditions and act swiftly where advisable. 


Apple: The show must go on 

It may have closed all of its stores outside of Greater China in response to the COVID-19 crisis, but Apple is still introducing new devices and planning to unveil updated iPhones later this year. 

The company announced a new MacBook Air and iPad Pro, and increased the storage capacity for its Mac Mini desktop. The announcements were made despite Apple keeping retail stores outside of Greater China closed indefinitely.  

This is impressive considering it was reported that Apple, like several other business, was grappling with disruptions throughout its supply chain due to COVID-19.  

As always, only Apple knows the truth about how it’s keeping the momentum going—and it's not saying anything.  

But rather than focusing on how Apple is doing this, the lesson here is for us to focus on minimising the disruptions to our businesses as much as possible. While it’s impossible to expect productivity levels to remain the same during global health emergencies like this, we should, like Apple, take actions to ensure our business continuity plans are in place, and have all the tools and resources ready so we can hit our targets and goals 


Amazon: Adapt in accordance with the times  

As states & countries order strict lock-down measures, many now rely on e-commerce to supply their basic needs. It’s reported that Amazon, being the largest online retailer in the world, is stepping up to the challenge. 

 CEO Jeff Bezos has tweaked the e-commerce company’s supply chain to meet the soaring demand. In a letter to employees, Bezos wrote

“We’ve changed our logistics, transportation, supply chain, purchasing, and third-party seller processes to prioritize stocking and delivering essential items like household staples, sanitizers, baby formula, and medical supplies. We’re providing a vital service to people everywhere, especially to those, like the elderly, who are most vulnerable.” 

In Seattle, Amazon is also providing medical care to its employees and is picking up and delivering at-home testing kits as part of a new research effort. 

Bezos is also hiring 100,000 workers and giving hourly employees a rise in salaries. He’s doing this so that Amazon can continue fulfilling orders in these challenging times.  

The company’s decision to adapt its existing supply chain processes to deal with new demand levels goes back to a simple but very important business mantra that is especially relevant in the current climate – adapt or die. 


Tesla: Don’t be afraid to learn from mistakes 

This is a bit of a controversial one. Tesla CEO Elon Musk first made waves in the digital discourse on Coronavirus with a single tweet, declaring, “The coronavirus panic is dumb.” It was the most-liked tweet of the week on Twitter. 

A couple of days later, he continued to stir controversy by saying the fatality rate from the disease is “greatly overstated” because there are few tests.” The next day, he declared the market “was a bit high anyway” and “due for a correction.” 

Fast forward to now, and his actions are seeking to make up for these controversial remarks.  

Tesla has acquired 1,000 ventilators from China and delivered them to Los Angeles, an effort California Gov. Gavin Newsom described as “heroic.” Musk has also said that Tesla’s factory in Buffalo, New York, will reopen to produce ventilators “as soon as humanly possible” and promised to do “anything in our power to help the citizens of New York.” 

While Musk hasn’t outrightly apologised for his earlier remarks, his actions show a sincere willingness to help the world where he can. This is a good reminder for us all that as leaders, we can and do make mistakes at times. Business decisions may and will go wrong, but we should be able to remain flexible and change those decisions if the circumstances demand so. 

The power of collaboration 

As tech leaders, I believe the responsibility we hold in times like these is two-fold in nature. The first is to decide how to maximise the potential of the technological prowess we have at our disposal so we can help combat the spread & consequences of this global health emergency. The second is, like any other business leader, towards our employees and the wider economy as a whole, so we can minimize the economic implications of this disruptive pandemic.  

At MailGuard, we’ve implemented remote working to keep our employees safe during these turbulent times, and my team has stepped up efforts to intercept Coronavirus-themed email scams that have the potential to destroy businesses. 

Just like the companies I cited above, it’s too early to tell whether the decisions we’re all taking as business leaders are right or wrong, or whether they were implemented too early or too late. We’re all in this together, so let’s continue to share what we’re doing amidst these uncertain times and learn from one another.