Live Updates: Coronavirus Impact On Business Schools

What is the impact of coronavirus on business schools? We bring you the latest updates including campus closures, changes to MBA admission requirements, and more

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5 Ways Covid Has Changed Global Business

Our exit path out of the Covid pandemic has been plotted. Vaccine rollout programs are underway, the return to the office has begun, and people are travelling again.

But when we eventually get back to ‘normal’, there’ll be pandemic-induced changes to global business that are here to stay.  

Here are five ways Covid has changed global business.


1. Companies need to invest in their hybrid infrastructure

As some workers return to the office and others continue to work remotely, Lalit Peddakota, a graduate from the Cambridge MBA who now works as a strategy director for a global pharmaceutical firm, believes companies need to invest more in their hybrid infrastructure. 

“One issue I’ve seen is that only some of the infrastructure in the meeting rooms is set up for really good hybrid working when the team is split between home and the office, and more work needs to be done there to make that become a pleasurable experience,” he explains. 

He thinks that as companies begin to financially recover from the pandemic, any cash they save from reduced business travel or office capacity could be reinvested in employees’ hybrid working setup. 

“I think infrastructure to ensure hybrid working can be as frictionless as possible should be a natural area of investment for business travel savings. Also helping people set up at home to perform even better.” 


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2. There’s increased demand for emotional intelligence

How do you adapt your leadership ability to manage a hybrid team?

“If I were to put it to one key thing, I would say you really need to amp up your emotional intelligence,” asserts Lalit.

“It's always been a good thing for a leader to have […] but I found it to be absolutely vital when I was leading a new team during the pandemic and trying to get to know them.”

He adds that the more time he spent understanding the individual needs of his team, the better he was able to manage. Moving forward in a hybrid world, communication and a commitment to finding time with your team members on an individual basis will be vital.

The Cambridge MBA was key to Lalit managing through the Covid crisis. The MBA puts a lot of emphasis on self-awareness, knowing how you perform in a team, how to get high performance from your peers, and working together in teams on consulting and strategy projects.

“We worked with a client based in Japan and did a lot of our thinking remotely, so we couldn't have known back then but it certainly helped us get through a stressful project and come up with proposals working with a remote team,” he recalls. 

There was also a module on management practice, which even today Lalit says he refers to on a daily basis. 

“It's all about the role self-awareness and your own emotional intelligence play in the impact you have at work and on other people around you. That was a huge element in coping with the situations the pandemic presented,” he says.


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3. Vaccine nationalism could limit globalization

As Covid vaccines were being developed, rich nations prioritized their own needs and secured billions of doses in advance, while developing nations struggled and continue to struggle to access supplies. This is known as vaccine nationalism

Lalit believes vaccine nationalism showed us the limits of a boundaryless, globalized world. 

“It also brought up some very prevalent truths, like if you're richer you have more opportunity and you get a lot more privilege. And in this case the privilege materialized in terms of people getting vaccines earlier and therefore better reassurance of their health.” 

During the current phase of the global vaccine rollout, Lalit doesn’t think vaccine nationalism will impact business too heavily, as most global companies make most of their money from rich countries that have high levels of vaccination. 

Where he potentially sees an issue is in the development and delivery of vital healthcare products. 

“What this should not really affect, but I can see it happening, is the launch of products essential to people's health, like medicines,” he says. 

“If that’s impacted as a result of varying vaccination rates then that's a real shame, because poorer countries are then being delivered a double [blow] where they’re not only not getting vaccinations on time but are also now being subjected to other treatments not being delivered.”


4. We’re going to be working from home a lot more

The increase in the number of people working from home during the pandemic is here to stay, for those who can continue to do so. McKinsey found that the finance, management, professional services, and information sectors have the highest potential for remote work. 

Michael Kitson (right), the director of the MBA program at Judge Business School, thinks a long-term shift has begun towards more people working from home more of the time.  dec2e8da227c39fc4515bcb9cdee242bff7e8e05.jpg

“That'll be important not only in terms of the impact on businesses and on the economy but also the impact on the quality of life,” he says. “We know travelling to and from work is one of the least pleasant things people find in their day-to-day lives.”

Michael explains that he’s seen this in action at Cambridge Judge Business School. Through Zoom and Microsoft Teams you’re able to drive wider engagement with colleagues and clients all around the world. 

There's a caveat though. 

One of the lessons from the pandemic is that we need to learn to replicate face to face meetings online, as there’s a risk that working from home could damage innovation

“I think what’s crucial for businesses is that you still need to have personal interactions,” says Michael. “You need the power of luck and serendipity when you bump into somebody, those water cooler moments. 

“Those are very important in terms of work and opening up the exchange of tacit knowledge. I think the challenge for many businesses is you can change the way people work, which means people can work at home more often, but you need to create those areas where people can still bump into [each other].”


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5. International business travel will be reduced

Although air travel is recovering, Michael thinks that international business travel will be reduced, but not eradicated. 

“You're still going to need those occasional meetings where you do have much more social interaction, as well as a purely transactional business interaction,” he says.  

“Those sorts of social interactions are important for long term relationship building,” he adds. “It's about balance, you can't have everybody working from home all the time because then you'll just lose the benefit of building relationships.”

Lalit (right) believes that certain trips will remain, but companies will be more strategic about business travel. You might travel to meet new clients, or occasionally keep the relationship with existing clients warm.  76bad9624b27a7b2bdaad22d7def780a18e8cc3a.jpg

But the likes of conferences and internal meetings can be seamlessly transitioned to the virtual space.

“The pandemic showed us what is possible,” Lalit says. “I attended internal and external conferences virtually and it's incredible how good an experience this can be. 

“The other thing is companies have realized how much money they were spending on these trips, and how much that takes off the bottom line, so I think there's probably going to be a force from that side as well to reduce the number of trips.”


BB Insights explores the latest research and trends from the business school classroom, drawing on the expertise of world-leading professors to inspire and inform current and future leaders 

How Can Brands Adapt To The Post-Pandemic Consumer?

Consumers are now more likely to sit online, be more digitally aware, and demand that companies offer them an effective user experience. Building a brand in 2021 involves adapting to the changing consumer needs brought about by the Covid pandemic.

Think tank, Qualtrics XM Institute, revealed in its 2021 Global Consumer Trends survey that consumers now expect to purchase a product or speak to customer service online more than they did pre-pandemic. They also expect to complete an array of services themselves through a mobile or computer—from booking an airline ticket and checking the status of an order, to applying for a new bank account.

Adapting to those consumer desires could be the difference between winning and losing in 2021. Here’s how companies should adapt their brand for the post-pandemic consumer.


1. Be willing to shift communicational tone

At the start of the pandemic, Coca Cola sent a clear message in support of social distancing measures. On its billboard in New York City’s Times Square, the firm’s name was written with extended spaces between the letters. Underneath was the slogan, ‘staying apart is the best way to stay united’.

“[Coca Cola] was not only reminding people you have to observe social distancing but that the brand is with them, in a very simple and subtle way. It captures peoples' hearts,” asserts Vincent Mak, professor of marketing and decision sciences at the University of Cambridge’s Judge Business School, and lecturer on the Cambridge MBA. He adds that a simple shift in communicational tone can be the difference between coming across as friendly or transactional.

Sunil Sajdeh—brand marketing consultant for the Campari Group and MBA graduate from Cambridge Judge Business School—was the senior brand manager for Dr Oetker’s Queen brand in Australia during the height of the pandemic. He explains that when building brand loyalty information is key, especially when consumers are online.

“As people weren’t able to go into a shopping center or felt unsafe doing so it really accelerated the digital consumer purchase phenomenon,” he says. “We saw a large growth driven by a macro force.” 


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Addressing that as a brand came down to educating. Consumers could no longer walk into a store and touch, feel, and read about your product, so it became important to answer key questions to build their trust, he recalls.

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“You have to ask how do you give them that information? How do you give them the confidence to make a purchase when they can't physically feel or touch your products?”

Sunil (pictured right) says that the education he received on the MBA at Cambridge was invaluable when it came to dealing with the crisis of the pandemic.

“The MBA helped me to articulate and round out my thought process,” he says. “One of the biggest areas of growth has been in the way I manage my teams, especially in a fast moving consumer goods business where things are as the name suggests moving quite quickly.

“Those management skills and the ability to understand how to get the best out of my team has been really important.”

That’s now helping him build a brand for the post-pandemic consumer. To build loyalty he says consumers need to first know who you are. Brand awareness and communication is the basis of that, he explains.

“Then it's about moving people from knowing who I am to making a purchase, because […] a lot of the path to loyalty is around the person trying the product for the first time.”

But instead of trying to beat all of your competition, Sunil explains that it’s about building your brand into a consumer’s consideration set.

“I really believe that it's rare for people to be completely loyal to one brand. Generally, people have a consideration set and they shop in that consideration set in different forms.

“Once they’re in your consideration set you then drive what your unique selling proposition. How is it that you're bringing value and solving a problem for the consumer better than anyone else? When you’re able to do that then that is where loyalty comes in.”


2. Replicate the instore offering online

Vincent says he’s seen two major consumer purchasing trends since the pandemic began. On the one hand he says we’ve seen a spike in online business transactions—in the first quarter of 2021, retail e-commerce sales in the US alone increased nearly 40% compared to the same period the year before.

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That’s brought with it a distinct challenge for firms. “A lot of transactions and consumer purchases have become much more distanced, which means firms are now interacting with consumers not in person but at a distance through a screen,” explains Vincent (pictured right), whose research interests at Cambridge Judge lie in the economic and psychological factors that influence how people and firms make strategic decisions and interact with each other.

At the same time, consumers aren’t compromising on customer service, Vincent explains. Firms will need to do more than sell online products quickly and safely.

“The next stage of the game is how to do the kind of things all these firms may have found themselves doing in the past in person, in a different way online and digitally. I think that’s a major challenge.”

That means firms should adapt their online brand strategy so that the instore experience is replicating in the digital space. “Now what may need to be done is to see if you can have a […] customized interaction with consumers online—you should invest in surface level communication,” Vincent says.

Companies also need to offer a swift and responsive user experience to deal with consumer enquiries. PwC’s Global Consumer Insights Pulse Survey in June 2021 showed that whereas around 10% of consumers said a virtual interaction with a sales team or a live chat function was important, nearly 25% said they wanted an easy-to-use mobile app or interface.


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3. Meet consumer demand on social issues

Consumers are increasingly expecting brands to take a stand on social issues. According to a Kantar study, 68% of consumers expect brands to be clear about their values; Millennials and Generation Z had the highest expectations among age groups.  

“We know from market research in the US from the early stage of the pandemic, in a survey, consumers actually trusted the brands they liked more than their own government, local and national,” comments Vincent.

“The pandemic highlighted the importance of firms with strong brand reputation, and their power in addressing these kinds of issues in a way that would influence consumers in a very big way.”


BB Insights explores the latest research and trends from the business school classroom, drawing on the expertise of world-leading professors to inspire and inform current and future leaders 

Majority Of Business Schools Are Now Using Virtual Classrooms

75% of business schools now use virtual classrooms, up from 51% at the end of 2020, according to a new report by the Association of MBAs (AMBA) and the Business Graduate Association (BGA). 

The study, conducted in partnership with virtual classroom developer Barco, found the sudden shift to online learning sparked by coronavirus is unlikely to be temporary. 

83% of business school leaders who responded to the survey said the pandemic triggered major changes to their school’s long-term strategy.

“Business school leaders are now seemingly confident that blended and hybrid models will replace the traditional classroom-based delivery of courses over the next five years,” comments David Woods-Hale, director of marketing and communications at AMBA and BGA. 

It’s a significant shift that business school leaders believe will offer new opportunities for flexible learning—but tech facilitated teaching is not without its challenges.   


Growing investment in digital teaching

84% of the 171 business school leaders surveyed said they want their school to retain the new technology that has been introduced since the start of the coronavirus pandemic.

This technology, which includes virtual classrooms and online learning platforms, will likely be a key investment in coming years. When asked about their investment strategies over the next two years, 67% of survey respondents said that ‘flexibility of learning’ was a priority area. 

92% believed that digital teaching methods are effective at delivering this flexibility, and 82% plan to invest more in edtech—technologies that facilitate teaching and learning, particularly in remote or hybrid settings—over the next two years.  

Developing virtual and hybrid classrooms was schools’ main priority, but at least 25% of schools, like INSEAD, have also implemented virtual reality (VR) tech to further leverage digital learning. 

Across the board, the bulk of edtech investments were put behind MBA programs. 83% of business school leaders say they invested ‘a lot’ or ‘a moderate amount’ in digital teaching methods for the MBA.


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Advantages of digital learning

According to business school leaders who participated in the AMBA study, digital learning has some significant benefits.

74% cited reduced student travel as an advantage, while a further 66% identified the ability to record sessions as an advantage. 

The opportunity for international collaboration emerged as another key benefit. 70% of respondents said being able to work more easily with international groups was an advantage of synchronous online teaching—teaching that takes place ‘live,’ with all participants joining a session at a set time.

In general, this synchronous approach to digital learning was favored by business school leaders. 61% believed that synchronous digital teaching was the same, somewhat better, or much better than a traditional in-classroom experience.

Conversely, 46% believed the same of asynchronous teaching, which does not take place in real time.


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Neoma Business School uses VR to offer remote job fairs © Neoma Business School via Facebook


Working with edtech limitations

Despite the widespread investment and enthusiasm, MBA employers retain some reservations about online learning.

Business school leaders also remain wary. In the AMBS study, 38% said that synchronous online learning was somewhat or much worse than in-classroom learning. Over half of respondents—54%—believed asynchronous teaching was worse.    

Both versions of online learning also come with similar limitations, the AMBA study revealed.

“As this report shows, challenges in online learning delivery persist, particularly in student engagement and feedback,” comments Simone Hammer, global head of marketing teaching and training at Barco.

55% of respondents found that identifying gaps in student knowledge was an issue with synchronous teaching, while 69% thought this issue applied to asynchronous teaching.

The second biggest problem was getting feedback from students on whether they understood the topic. 45% believed this was an issue for synchronous teaching, and 65% saw it as an issue for asynchronous teaching. 

But for business school leaders, the added flexibility of online learning outweighs these issues, and over the next five years blended or hybrid models of teaching look set to become the norm.

“Blended and hybrid programs are the ones that will deliver learning flexibility,” Simone concludes.


Next Read

5 MBA Admissions Trends For 2022 | How Competitive Is Your Application?

Should You Mention Covid In Your MBA Application?

In this Applicant Question, Chaya Benyamin, Senior Consultant at ARINGO MBA Consulting, discusses why mentioning the COVID-19 pandemic is essential to your MBA application. Since 2020, almost every MBA candidate posed the question: Do I have to mention Coronavirus in my application?


The answer is, yes! 

You should mention coronavirus in your MBA application. There are some key reasons behind this:

Top MBA programs are looking for candidates who create solutions and lead processes from multiple perspectives and industries.

MBAs need to demonstrate involvement in the well-being of their professional and personal communities.

It would be short-sighted to ignore how a global pandemic has impacted the way you work, think or live.

One simply cannot discuss business, much less life, without referencing the tremendous impact that the COVID-19 pandemic has had on people in every corner of the globe. Last year, business schools such as Kellogg reflected their interest in candidates’ views on navigating COVID-19 in their video essay questions, while Wharton dedicated a portion of its interview to the issue.  2b09dc6ab7d08197be0206f136f4f50da38e2fdc.JPG

At ARINGO MBA Admissions Consulting, we encourage our candidates for the 2021 intake to demonstrate awareness and action in their written essays. We asked candidates to relate to COVID-19’s influence in at least one of three environments: at home, at the office, or in their respective industries.

Discussing the changes that occurred in professional environments and industries because of COVID-19 provided excellent fodder for the ever-popular questions “Why MBA?” and “Why now?” 

It unpacked candidates' methods for coping with the Coronavirus inside or outside the office and provided opportunities to differentiate our candidates in their career goals and progress essays


What do top schools think?

Our review of admissions outcomes revealed that admissions committees were most interested in candidates whose applications related to the Coronavirus with some sense of urgency. Candidates in industries with COVID-related growth (like hi-tech) or losses (like travel and tourism) received more attention than those in sturdier industries such as management consulting or finance.  

M7 schools and other top programs responded positively to candidates who were able to share stories of initiating or aiding in successful transitions. Candidates who demonstrate tenacity in the face of the pandemic created a unique moment to showcase their affinity and alignment with the attitudes of perseverance and adaptability that are sources of pride at virtually any leading business school.

While business schools have weathered the worst of the COVID-19 storm, it is unclear when, or if, they will fully return to their previous in-person formats. Coronavirus has permanently affected business and top MBA programs; the subject cannot be ignored in applications for the 2022 intake.

Deciding on how to integrate COVID-19 into your narrative can be tricky and should not be treated as a “buzzword”.  We recommend clients think about how their work is changing and what is on the horizon. Focus on the solution and how it is imperative for you to start in the Fall of 2022.    


Read another Applicant Question:

MBA Essays: Top Tips For 2021

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