Back to the Future: Leaning In During Uncertain Times

Across every single industry, the pandemic has caused a significant shift in how people work and interact every day with others. Teams find themselves working remotely and collaborating virtually, with teleconferencing, video chats and electronic meeting materials becoming our new operating standards.

Against the backdrop of this new reality, and as most people are doing these days, I found myself browsing through Netflix. That’s when I noticed that the classic Robert Zemeckis movie, Back to the Future, was one of the trending titles. This made me think: what if we could travel back in time, not even as far back as 1955, but rather to January 1 of this year?

The world seemed entirely different back then.

2019 had just closed with a 31 percent return on U.S. equities, marking a decade that saw 13.5 percent returns per year. The economy had grown steadily at 2.3 percent, and the unemployment rate was at a historic low of 3.6 percent. Escalating tensions between the U.S. and Iran, and the beginnings of the Senate impeachment trial dominated headlines, so it may have been easy to miss the first stories of a novel coronavirus spreading in the Hubei province of China. Perhaps you thought COVID-19 would be like other outbreaks, like SARS or H1N1, which were concerning, but ultimately contained.

If you were able to go back to January 1, 2020, and find your slightly-younger self, you may have shared one key piece of information: the world will not be prepared for what is to come. Over 448,000 lives will be lost globally to the coronavirus. Businesses, schools, government agencies, and religious and cultural centers will be closed, with individuals told to stay at home to reduce the risk of infection. The unemployment rate in the U.S. will skyrocket to 14.7 percent in April, and the Fed will cut interest rates to nearly zero. Congress will pass rescue funding and stimulus measures totaling over $5 trillion, and the real GDP will fall -4.8 percent annualized in the first quarter.