FlyTitle: Schumpeter

Covid-19 is foisting change on business. Some of it may be for the better

新冠肺炎正在迫使企业做出改变。某些改变可能会成为利好

经济学人双语版-V计划 Plan V

IN FEBRUARY 2014 a strike on the London Underground offered management theorists a lesson in resilience and adaptation. Because the shutdown closed some but not all Tube lines, frustrated Londoners were forced to rethink their commutes to and from work. Researchers at Oxford and Cambridge universities subsequently found that around 5% of passengers stuck to their new itineraries even after normal service resumed. The long-term economic gains of one in 20 travellers adopting new and improved ways to get to work turned out to be greater than the short-term costs of the disruption.

二〇一四年二月,伦敦地铁工人罢工给管理学家们上了一堂关于抗冲击和适应性的课。由于罢工导致部分地铁线路停运,沮丧的伦敦人被迫重新考虑通勤方式。牛津大学和剑桥大学的研究人员随后发现,即使在地铁服务恢复正常之后,仍有大约5%的乘客继续按新路线出行。事实证明,每20名乘客中有1人采用经过新的改进的通勤路线所带来的长期经济收益要大于混乱造成的短期损失。

The global covid-19 outbreak presents a far greater challenge to the corporate world than striking transport workers. Profit warnings are spreading nearly as fast as the disease. Analysts at Goldman Sachs, a bank, estimate that earnings growth for firms in the S&P 500 index could grind to a halt. Gauges of business activity, such as purchasing managers’ indices, have cratered in Asia and are expected to weaken elsewhere as the coronavirus crosses more borders. Consumers are spending money on little except sanitary wipes, face masks and tins of Campbell’s Soup. Fears of a pandemic have wiped $7trn off the market value of listed firms worldwide in the past fortnight.

与运输工人罢工相比,全球爆发新冠疫情给企业界带来的挑战要大得多。眼下盈利预警的扩大几乎和疾病一样快。高盛的分析师估计,标普500指数成分股公司的收益增长可能会逐渐停止。采购经理人指数等衡量商业活动的指标在亚洲已经大幅下跌,随着病毒蔓延到更多国家,预计在其他地区也将减弱。除了购买消毒湿巾、口罩和金宝汤罐头外,消费者几乎不再花钱。过去两周里,对疫情全球大流行的担忧导致全球各地上市公司的市值蒸发了7万亿美元。

Some companies will, like most of London’s commuters, revert to autopilot once the threat recedes. But for others the interruption will have a lasting effect, accelerating trends in business organisation that were already under way. Two are particularly important. The next few months are set to be a giant experiment in whether new technologies can allow successful mass remote working for employees, speeding up the reinvention of the office. And for firms already worried about rickety supply chains amid a trade war, the virus gives another reason to reconfigure them.

一些公司会像伦敦的大多数通勤者那样,在威胁消退后恢复惯有模式。但对另一些公司来说,此次中断会产生持久的影响,加速商业组织形式中业已存在的趋势。其中有两点特别重要。未来几个月将是一场大规模的实验,看看新技术能否让员工成功开展大规模远程工作,加速办公室的再造。而对于那些在贸易战中就已经在担心供应链不稳定的公司来说,病毒又给了它们一个重新配置供应链的理由。

Take employees first. Companies have had to ask themselves whether to let employees travel, attend conferences or even come into the office. In all three cases the answer is increasingly “no”. Many big firms, including Amazon and JPMorgan Chase, have banned all non-essential excursions. Airlines and hotels are reporting steep falls in bookings. Corporate Travel Management, a listed Australian firm that organises business jaunts, has warned the impact could last up to six months. It has slashed its earnings forecast for the year by up to 16.5%. A survey by the Global Business Travel Association, an industry body, found that business travel, which costs companies over $1trn a year (and emits roughly as much carbon as Ukraine in flights alone), could fall by over a third while the epidemic rages.

先说员工。公司已经不得不自问,还要不要让员工出差、开会,甚至进办公室。对于这三个问题,越来越多的回答是“不要”。包括亚马逊和摩根大通在内的许多大公司都禁止了所有非必要的差旅。航空公司和酒店的预订量急剧下降。组织商务旅行的澳大利亚上市公司商旅管理公司(Corporate Travel Management)警告称,这种影响最长可能会持续六个月。该公司将今年的盈利预期下调了16.5%。行业组织全球商务旅行协会(Global Business Travel Association)的一项调查发现,企业的商务旅行成本每年超过1万亿美元(仅商旅航班的碳排放量就与乌克兰一国相当),随着疫情的蔓延,商务旅行可能会减少三分之一以上。

Large corporate events are being called off. The oil industry’s biggest annual jamboree in Houston and the Geneva motor show will not take place this month. Google and Facebook have given the term “teleconferencing” a whole new meaning by moving a few of their big shindigs partly or wholly online. With Milan and Paris fashion weeks curtailed, Armani streamed its autumn/winter show from behind closed doors. This is bad news for events firms such as Informa, whose share price is down by a fifth since the start of February, especially at a time when many high-profile industry powwows are already losing their lustre.

大型企业活动也被取消。本月,休斯顿将不会举行石油行业最大的年度盛会,日内瓦车展也将取消。谷歌和Facebook把自己的几个大型会议部分或全部转移到线上,赋予了“电话会议”一词全新的含义。米兰和巴黎时装周草草收场,阿玛尼关起门来在网上直播了今年的秋冬时装秀。这对Informa这样的活动策划公司来说是个坏消息,尤其是在许多知名的业界聚会本就已光彩渐失的情况下。自2月初以来,Informa的股价已经下跌了五分之一。

At the same time more companies are learning to love telecommuting. On March 3rd JPMorgan Chase told thousands of its bankers in America to work from home as it tests its contingency plans. Twitter has asked its 5,000 employees to do likewise. Sony went so far as to shut some of its European offices altogether, just in case. The affected workers are nonetheless expected to toil remotely.

与此同时,越来越多的公司开始喜欢远程办公。3月3日,摩根大通要求它在美国的数千名银行员工在家办公,以测试其应急计划。推特也已经要求它的5000名员工这样做。索尼甚至关闭了部分欧洲办事处以防万一,不过受影响的员工还是要远程工作。

As well as highlighting how bloated some travel budgets are, virus contingency plans may also reveal how inefficiently office space is used. Big British and American firms pay on average $5,000 per employee in annual rental costs. Just 40-50% of desks are actually used during working hours—often not very well. Last year two in five respondents to a survey of 600,000 desk-jockeys by Leesman, a data provider, said their office prevented them from working productively. If their managers now find that productivity does indeed rise—or at least doesn’t dip—as staff self-isolate at home, the case for teleworking may look irresistible. Investors are betting it will. In the past month the share prices of Slack, a corporate-messaging platform, and Zoom, which makes videoconferencing software, have shot up by 18% and 35%, respectively.

除了突显部分商旅预算有多庞大之外,病毒应急计划也许还揭示了办公空间的利用效率有多低下。英国和美国的大公司平均每年为每名员工支付5000美元的租金,而实际上在办公时间内只有四五成办公桌被使用,通常还不是充分使用。去年数据供应商Leesman对60万名办公室职员展开调查,五分之二的受访者表示,办公室妨碍了他们高效工作。如果他们的主管现在发现员工在家自我隔离时工作效率真的提高了,或者至少没有下降,那么远程办公也许看起来就愈发诱人。投资者下注远程办公会成功。上个月,企业通讯平台Slack和视频会议软件公司Zoom的股价分别上涨了18%和35%。

The second way in which companies are rethinking their business has to do with supply chains. Since the 1980s these have become more complex and global, with large firms now dependent on thousands of suppliers. The embrace of lean manufacturing and just-in-time delivery of components, pioneered by Toyota in the 1970s, has made production more efficient but more vulnerable to disruption, as companies stockpile fewer and fewer necessary materials. The median firm in the S&P 500 carries only 66 days of inventory, and some have far smaller buffers than even that—Apple has just nine days, according to data from Bloomberg.

企业对自身业务的第二个反思在供应链方面。自上世纪80年代以来,供应链变得更加复杂和全球化,大公司现在依赖于成千上万的供应商。丰田在上世纪70年代率先推行精益生产和零部件及时交付,企业积极践行这样的生产方法,提高了生产效率,但也更容易受到生产中断的影响,因为企业必需物料的库存越来越少。根据彭博的数据,标普500指数公司的库存中值仅为66天,有些公司的缓冲甚至还要短得多——苹果公司只能撑九天。

When natural disasters strike big companies usually get by, shifting production temporarily from afflicted areas to those that are not. But unlike a flood, an earthquake or even the Sino-American trade war, all of which companies have some experience in planning for, covid-19 could affect all of a firm’s actual and potential subcontractors simultaneously. In such a scenario carrying bigger inventories and having suppliers at home may no longer look wasteful. It may come to be seen as necessary.

当自然灾害来袭时,大公司通常能应付过去,把生产暂时从灾区转移到安全地区。在应对洪水、地震甚至中美贸易战这些问题时,各家公司都有一定经验。但新冠肺炎不同,它可能会同时影响一家公司所有的分包商——不管是现有的还是可能的。在这种情况下,持有更大的库存并在国内拥有供应商也许不再被视为浪费,而可能被认为有必要。

Immune response

免疫反应

The coronavirus will not make business travel or lean global supply chains disappear. Chinese factories are cranking up again and high-flyers will, in all likelihood, be back in airport lounges soon enough. But the crisis offers a chance to experiment with new ways of doing things—and to question the wisdom of old habits. Chief executives should not be immune to the opportunity.■

冠状病毒不会让商务旅行或精益式全球供应链完全消失。中国的工厂正在重启,成功人士十有八九很快就会回到机场休息室。但这次危机提供了一个尝试新的行事方式的机会,并对老套路明智与否提出了质疑。首席执行官们不应对这种机遇免疫。