Assessing the Early Impacts of COVID-19

Four surveys offer a snapshot of how national lockdowns affected businesses and higher education.

WHAT WERE THE short-term effects of COVID-19? Four recent surveys provide a glimpse into how big companies, small firms, and education providers viewed the crisis in the early weeks.

Udemy sees a surge of learners.

In April, the global online learning platform Udemy released a report quantifying how shelter-in-place orders around the world affected traffic on its platform. After the pandemic hit, Udemy saw activity increase by:

425% in enrollments

55% in course creation

80% in use by businesses and governments

Enrollments grew by 130 percent in the U.S., 200 percent in India, 320 percent in Italy, and 280 percent in Spain. In Italy, users were most interested in courses on playing guitar (up 431 percent) and copywriting (up 418 percent). In contrast, in India, interest surged in topics such as business fundamentals (up 281 percent) and communication skills (606 percent). In the U.K., people wanted to learn character animation (332 percent), while those in the U.S. tackled Adobe Illustrator (326 percent).

The most dramatic growth occurred for courses on topics related directly to the challenges and stress brought about by the need to shelter in place. These included:

Telecommuting (up 21,598%)

Virtual teams (up 1,523%)

Decision making (up 277%)

Self-discipline (up 237%)

Stress management (up 235%)

Meditation (up 111%)

“While the adoption of online learning was accelerated globally by the COVID-19 pandemic,” the report concludes, “Udemy believes the move to online learning will be sustained over time, as learners, teachers, and businesses continue to find value and new applications for online courses to enhance both their personal and professional lives.

SHRM hears from big business.

The U.S.-based Society for Human Resource Management, or SHRM, and the global advisory firm Oxford Economics conducted biweekly surveys of employers from mid-April to mid-June to track the impact of COVID-19 on U.S. employers in real time. The first iteration of this business index received responses from 952 HR professionals between April 13 and April 15. Among the companies represented:

32% had furloughed or laid off workers.

85% in the hotel and restaurant industry had furloughed or laid off workers.

41% expected laid-off salaried workers never to return.

In addition, 64 percent of salaried and 49 percent of hourly employees were working from home (compared to 3 percent and 2 percent in January). However, companies expected the percentage of their workforce working from home to return to pre-crisis levels within six months.

In February, “the dominant challenge facing businesses was finding talent,” says Dan Levine, who heads the Oxford Economics Location Strategies practice and was lead researcher on this project. “This report provides fresh insight into how this situation has completely reversed and why weakness in the labor market is deeper and may last longer than is commonly supposed.”

Small businesses expect the worst.

SHRM released a second report titled “Navigating COVID-19: The Impact of the Pandemic on Small Businesses.” Among the 375 small businesses that responded to the survey between April 15 and April 21:

62% reported a general decrease in revenue (47 percent reported losses of 10 percent to 30 percent; 13 percent reported losses of 100 percent)

42% had to close their businesses.

12% reported a general increase in revenue.

52% expected to be out of business within six months.

SHRM’s COVID-19 Business Index was updated through June 2020. Look for its final findings, as well as a link to its “Navigating COVID-19” report.

Business schools brace for a recession.

During the early weeks of the pandemic, AACSB International surveyed its global membership to measure business schools’ first responses. Of more than 300 business schools that responded to an April survey:

60% expect reduced student enrollments.

42% have implemented hiring freezes.

11% have set freezes on faculty and staff promotions.

34% expect that decreased revenue from exec ed programs will negatively impact bottom lines.

In a May survey, 50 percent of responding schools in the U.S. were waiving standardized test requirements (compared to 15 percent in Asia and 11 percent in Europe/Near East), while 46 percent anticipated decreased enrollments within the next six months. 

SHRM’s COVID-19 Business Index was updated through June 2020. Look for its final findings, as well as its “Navigating COVID-19” report on its website.