Amid pandemic, top CEOs say digital transformation is accelerating. Where it’s headed? Less clear

Amid pandemic, top CEOs say digital transformation is accelerating. Where it’s headed? Less clear

In the end, there was really only one question to ask an all-star panel of CEOs assembled for a Fortune CEO Initiative virtual event held Tuesday about leadership in challenging times:

How has the novel coronavirus pandemic affected business?

“Acceleration of the future,” Intel CEO Bob Swan offered, rather succinctly, after silently listening to his peers’ responses. “Clarity of the future? Not so sure.”

Swan joined Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella, Accenture CEO Julie Sweet, and HP CEO Enrique Lores in an hourlong discussion led by Fortune‘s own chief executive, Alan Murray.

The other tech executives were in strong agreement with Swan. All said corporations—their executives, partners, employees, and shareholders, across all industries—were seeing the pace of change dramatically accelerate, but only some of the CEOs were willing to guess the direction of that change.

“We are in a point of time which is really going to be defining for our lifetime,” said Lores, citing examples in health and education. “We are talking about the future of work, but we’re experiencing it today.” The HP CEO added as way of an example that he has spent “more than 1,000 hours in video conferences in the last three months.”

His peers knowingly chuckled.

Business change comes in many forms. Reflecting on their own companies, the executives described shifts in their supply chains, in the geopolitical landscape, and in the “very personal” (to use Lores’ words) ways individuals are working from homes they share with pets, family members, and furniture not intended for full-time productivity.

“This is the most unprecedented situation,” said Nadella. We’re running a massive experiment at scale.”

The Microsoft CEO took pains to say that he didn’t want to proclaim that the present situation is our collective future: “It’s a little bit too early, I think.” But he did offer three examples of clear change.

The first: How we collaborate. Meetings are transactional, Nadella said; real work happens around them. As white-collar work shifts to virtual spaces, “we’re burning up a lot of the social capital that we all built working together,” he said. We’re able to stay productive because we built social capital working in physical spaces, but there’s more cognitive load in the virtual environment. That needs to be addressed, he said.

The second: How we learn. “Corporations are about learning and knowledge creation,” Nadella said, but the old mechanisms for achieving that are disappearing. Businesses need better ways to upskill and re-skill employees for a new operating environment, he said.

The third: How we achieve well-being. “We just can’t measure productivity in the narrowest way,” Nadella said. According to Microsoft’s own research, most people—especially younger workers—are “burnt out” after 30 minutes on a video call. How do you combat that in a world of back-to-back virtual meetings?

And then there’s the matter of the big picture. “We need to have better measurements” for corporate innovation in this pandemic environment, Nadella added, so as not to lose sight of long-term goals. “You can be productive burning down a backlog,” he said. “But are you creating new?”

Sweet, whose professional services company is focused on helping companies achieve digital transformation, warned that companies are great at acquiring transformational technology but often fail at changing or simplifying how they work in response to it.

“This is the largest behavioral change at one time in history,” she said of the pandemic. “It exposes a lot of the flaws in companies.”

Sweet offered a statistic to underscore her point: Artificial intelligence spend among corporations has accelerated by 60%, but only 3% of executives also invest in employee training for the capability.

“How do we build into this acceleration the ability to be more responsible businesses?” she asked.

Swan said the COVID-19 pandemic, social injustice protests, and changing geopolitical dynamics will continue to influence the trajectory of global business.

“The interconnect of these three things is changing virtually everything,” the Intel chief said. “At the most simple level, it’s going to accelerate the role that the CEO plays…to be in the here and now.”

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Fauci is optimistic we’ll see COVID vaccine breakthroughs by early Fall

Fauci is optimistic we’ll see COVID vaccine breakthroughs by early Fall

Anthony Fauci told Facebook, Inc. ‘s Mark Zuckerberg that he expects results for a clinical trial on monoclonal antibodies by late summer or early fall, underscoring the speed at which the government has been working to quickly approve and roll out treatment for the novel coronavirus.

A monoclonal antibody is a laboratory-produced protein that can potentially be used to treat sick patients as well as for prophylaxis. Fauci, the top U.S. infectious disease expert, described them as “precise bullets” that can be developed from antibodies from other people who’ve been infected and used as a treatment to fight the virus at multiple stages.

“What we really need are drugs that, when given early, can prevent a symptomatic person from requiring hospitalization or very dramatically diminish the time that they’re symptomatic,” Fauci said during the Facebook Live interview on Thursday. Monoclonal antibodies can be administrated intravenously or through a shot.

Fauci, director of the National Institute for Allergy and Infectious Disease, also said that the nation needs to “regroup” and “call a time out” as cases continue to surge across the U.S. Too many states skipped over certain guidelines as they jumped to reopen their economies.

“That is a recipe for getting into trouble,” Fauci said.

Zuckerberg, chief executive and co-founder of the social-media company, was critical of the government’s handling of the pandemic, saying “it’s really disappointing that we don’t have adequate testing, that the credibility of top scientists and the CDC are being questioned.”

Facebook has sought to remove misinformation on its platforms, but the struggle was illustrated during the event as several users’ comments scrolled next to the interview questioning the utility of vaccines. One pressed for “therapeutics or God created supplements.”

Fauci and Zuckerberg also discussed the importance of wearing masks, developing an effective vaccine, getting children back in school and young people’s role in stopping the spread of the virus

“Young people are intimately and heavily involved with what is going on with this pandemic,” Fauci said, pointing to the surge in younger people testing positive in the newest hotspots. “Consider your responsibility to yourself, but also the societal responsibility.”

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Sophie Grégoire Trudeau talks resilience and connection in the time of isolation

Sophie Grégoire Trudeau talks resilience and connection in the time of isolation

The coronavirus has infected more than 11 million people globally, but the virus’s impact on mental health has been felt by the hundreds of millions of people worldwide who have been forced into isolation to stop its deadly spread.

The mental health impact of the pandemic is a form of collective trauma, says Sophie Grégoire Trudeau, a women’s and mental health advocate, mother of three, and wife of Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. Grégoire Trudeau recently launched a podcast, WE Well-being, to discuss mental issues and dispel the continuing stigma around them.

In conversation with Arianna Huffington at Fortune’s virtual Brainstorm Health conference, Grégoire Trudeau—who contracted and recovered from COVID-19 in March—spoke about her own struggles with an eating disorder and the resilience of the human mind to adapt and overcome its traumas through connection with other people.

“We’re all one trauma away from one another. One life event happens, one traumatic thing happens, you don’t know where you could find yourself the next day. And look at what’s happening now. We’re all in one very similar trauma—experiencing this virus, this pandemic,” said Grégoire Trudeau. “So we have to adapt to this situation and use our creativity to connect with one another and tell our own stories. We’re all connected through our traumas.”

Speaking about her own self-care regimen these days, Grégoire Trudeau said she’s careful about her media and social media diet: “We become what we consume…Why is it that we can’t put our screens away for 10 minutes to be in silence? When we slow down, we gain perspective.” She said she practices meditation, yoga, breathing exercises, being in nature, and exercise to “recalibrate her internal self.”

Grégoire Trudeau said she’s inspired by how the pandemic has been a trigger for empathy and creativity, and ended the conference on an optimistic note: “Having studied empathy and development in babies, we tend to be happy. Our true nature is to be loved and understood for who we are. And we want to express freely our own creative selves. And in situations of fear and stress and anger and divide, I think human goodness is being triggered and ignited.”

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