An Analysis by the Rennes School of Business Research Lab
With the help of France’s most internationally diverse management team, the Rennes School of Business Research Lab has spent the last few months focusing on the impact of the current public health crisis. Through their analysis of 24 contemporary studies, 49 academics are shedding unique light on the coronavirus pandemic. As Rennes’ researchers view it, COVID-19 has undoubtedly been a traumatic shock – yet it has also stimulated a new way of approaching entrepreneurial strategy. The temporary economic shutdown provoked by the crisis allows us to discern something quite remarkable on the horizon, namely, a more local, sustainable world.
The public health crisis: a period of trauma
COVID-19 has clearly sent shockwaves through our society like few crises before. Anke Piepenbrink has demonstrated that social groups need to talk in the wake of traumatic events. Outdoor assemblies generally help to foster shared resilience. Nonetheless, COVID-19 stands out from the terrorist attacks which preceded it in three ways, in that its effects are long-term, it has implications for the entire world, and it precludes the possibility of people physically coming together.
The ever-widening influx of news has certainly had an effect on financial markets, although truly influential concepts have arrived via specific communications channels. According to Michael Dowling, for example, traders have almost entirely focused on one or two indexes in order to assess risks during these blighted times, in an effort to abate their fears of getting lost under waves of information.
Lockdown has not only enclosed people within their knowledge bubbles, it has made it more likely for shared knowledge to dissipate away within teams. Rosenthal and Strange’s 2003 studies have taught us that knowledge is lost over distance. When two businesses are located 500 m from one another, 80% of their knowledge will dissipate in the interstice. At 750 m, that figure rises to 100%. This is why Steve Jobs designed Pixar’s animation studios with the meeting rooms and, most importantly, the cafeteria at their center. The aim was to maximize managers’ opportunities to interact with one another. Remote working makes breakdowns in shared knowledge more likely.
COVID-19 has not simply altered our behaviors, it has changed our health and wellbeing in the workplace, not least for students. Negative aspects of this include growing inequalities for women who have seen their usual pressures of managing work and children double, as well as increasingly impersonal social contact. The tourism industry, for instance, has replaced a section of its workforce (due to social distancing requirements) with chatbots whose role is seemingly to simulate cold yet smart conversations.
As we lose more and more human contact, a number of CEOs have decided that the tensions wrought by the crisis could be cooled with a dose of humor. Two researchers, Guiquan Li and Fabio Fonti, have examined the particular effects levity has on businesses’ performance during times of crisis.
Entrepreneurial strategies heading in a new direction
Research has also cast light on some profound changes in strategic direction. Teams’ performances within businesses are largely determined by how effectively they share knowledge between members. This is all the more the case when ethical leadership is in place. After analyzing data from 104 IT teams, Guiquan Li has created a theoretical model for the kind of managerial approach which maximally strengthens businesses’ effectiveness. Given that lockdown is increasing the risk of informational breakdown, this model is particularly intriguing.
Managers’ ability to forge new strategic alliances in troubled times depends largely on their personality type and, therefore, their capacity to handle shocks. Analysis of agri-food CEOs’ reactions to the crisis has shown that more optimistic personalities have made use of events to create new strategic alliances in which knowledge and innovation are shared. There is an element of risk here, in that innovations undertaken out in the open are more likely to be imitated.
Like business leaders, governments have had to change their overarching strategies. Three researchers have focused on the interrelationship between social emotions around COVID-19 and Chinese governmental policy. Their research is based on data that appeared on Chinese microblogs from 8 December 2019 (when the first COVID-19 case was confirmed in China) and 8 April 2020 (when Wuhan city announced the end of its lockdown). Lastly, Ramzi Hammami has designed a tool that enables governments to manage their stocks of medical equipment efficiently, covering everything from masks to respirators.
A glimpse of the future: a sustainable world with stronger local roots
The third way in which current work offers something new and original is by giving us a glimpse of tomorrow’s world. The public health crisis is increasingly de-globalizing our world, as part of a process now known as “slowbalisation.”
Certain countries’ abilities to be resilient to potential food shortages has been gravely affected. Aware that farming has received little funding from local financial organizations, Guillaume Bagnarosa has modeled the risks associated with this vital industry. By crushing globalized logistics chains, the crisis has foregrounded local distribution systems.
It remains difficult, however, to discern whether this development will be a lasting one. All we can say with certainty is that techniques such as permaculture enable us to picture how organizations will look in a post-growth world. That said, the public health crisis does not presage a regression into a new dark age, as online meetings have revolutionized pre-existing routines, and innovation has most likely been stimulated. Studying changes in patent applications will surely enable us to formulate a partial response.
From a geoeconomic perspective, several trends are emerging into view. Mindful of its dependence on China’s medical and industrial sectors, the United States might encourage deglobalization in that it no longer serves the elite rank of middlemen who long ago seized control of trade. Their strategy will therefore be to halt the rollout of 5G technology destined to benefit China first and foremost and to encourage Europe to relocate vital industries within neighboring regions. North Africa and the Balkans will be the primary beneficiaries of this.
In terms of agriculture, new fiscal policy will promote short supply chains and self-sufficient food markets. Remote country areas newly connected to the internet will be the primary beneficiaries of this shift.
 Clara Koetz and Anke Piepenbrink, “Social sharing of negative emotions in virtual travel communities.”
 Anke Piepenbrink and Fabio Fonti, “A shift in discourse? Analyzing the shift toward stakeholder orientation in large US corporations.”
 Yash Chawla, Prof. Anna Kowalska-Pyzalska, Prof. Eduardo Aguiar, QingYang Shen, Dr. Agnieszka Radziwon, Dr. Laurent Scaringella, Markus Will, Dr. Ewa Lazarczyk Carlson, Dr. Widayat, MM Dr. Marco Greco, Prof. dr. Marjolein, C.J. Caniëls, Prof. Paulo Silveira, Dr. Andrey Nishkin, Monica Cortinas, Dr. Burcu Oralhan, “The role of various communication channels in the propagation of myths and facts about Covid-19.”
 Michael Dowling, Amir Sadoghi, “Topic modelling of news coverage related to poverty during the Covid-19 pandemic.”
 Fan Xia, “Working From Home: How Much Does Distance Matter for Innovation?”
 Julia Roloff, “Behavioural, social and economic impacts of the outbreak response.”
 Mehdi Farajallah, “Assessing the impact of teleworking on health with Withings scanwatch?”
 Dirk Schneckenberg, Bernadett Koles, Dieter Vanwalleghem, “Assessing Student Well-Being in Distance Learning.”
 Petya Puncheva, “Equality and the Future of Work after Covid-19.”
 Rajibul Hasan, “Chatbots for Social Distancing in Tourism.”
 Guiquan Li, Fabio Fonti, “CEO Humor and Firm Performance.”
 Li Guiquan, “Leading Knowledge Sharing in Teams: An Integration and Comparison of Four Theoretical Perspectives.”
 Laurent Scaringella, “To what extent has Coronavirus influenced the behavior of managers in their involvement in agri strategic alliances, ambidexterity, absorptive capacity, individual innovation performance and potential knowledge spillovers?”
 M. Loquen et L. Scaringella, “‘Consortium Melting Pot’: The emergence of unframed strategic alliances to ‘flatten the curve’ of Covid-19”
 Laurent Scaringella et Morgane Loquen, “Strategic Alliances during the Covid-19 crisis: a dilemma between openness and tacit knowledge exchange.”
 Fu Haohuan, Xiong Jie, Shi Wen, and He Yuanqiong, “The coevolution of social emotion, public agenda and social crisis: based on the real time analysis of Covid-19 in China.”
 Ramzi Hammami, “Managing medical emergency products.”
 Ramzi Hammami, “Globalisation and Slowbalisation of industrial activities.”
 Matthew Ames, Guillaume bagnarosa, Tomoko Matsui, Gareth W Peters, Suikai Gao, “How can we improve agricultural credit risk models?”
 Laurence Fort-Rioche et Ronan de Kervenoael, “The presence of significant alterations in the fabric of France’s distribution network.”
 Anahid Roux-Rosier and Ricardo Azambuja, “Permaculture.”
 Anke Piepenbrink and Fabio Fonti, “Routine dynamics in multi-party alliances: How routines deal with heterogeneous organizational goals.”
 Fan Xia, “Innovating in a Pandemic.”
 Thomas Flichy de La Neuville, 2020, l’année géopolitique au prisme de l’histoire, Editions Bios, 2020.