Yesterday, my colleague Don Reisinger wrote about Jeff Bezos's annual letter to shareholders. It's an interesting read, but there was one thing that Bezos mentioned that I think is worth a deeper look, especially in the current moment.
Obviously Amazon is in an interesting position right now. The company has to balance the needs of its customers who have created an online shopping surge with those of its workers who are on the front lines of making sure people have the things they need when they are staying home to prevent the spread of Covid-19.
As the conversation has increasingly turned to what government and business need to do to restart our economy and get people back to work, there's plenty to debate about what's right and what might work. I just want to look for a minute at what Bezos had to say in his letter to Amazon shareholders (bold emphasis is mine):
Regular testing on a global scale, across all industries, would both help keep people safe and help get the economy back up and running. For this to work, we as a society would need vastly more testing capacity than is currently available. If every person could be tested regularly, it would make a huge difference in how we fight this virus. Those who test positive could be quarantined and cared for, and everyone who tests negative could re-enter the economy with confidence.
It's no surprise, then, that Amazon has started building out its own testing infrastructure to manage the needs of its hundreds of thousands of employees. The Wall Street Journal reported that the company is building the capacity to test all employees, including those who have no symptoms.
Can anyone imagine what kind of shape we would be in if Amazon had to close down multiple distribution centers because of an outbreak like the one affecting the Smithfield pork processing facility in South Dakota? That facility processes some 5 percent of pork sold in the U.S., while Amazon, on the other hand, is responsible for roughly a third to half of all e-commerce shopping in the U.S.
Clearly Bezos' immediate concern relates to keeping Amazon running at full capacity. The company announced it was hiring 100,000 workers, followed by the hiring of 75,000 more after filling those positions.
At the same time, the company has faced criticism that it isn't doing enough to protect workers. Some of those workers even organized a strike at the company's Staten Island warehouse. The company has also taken heat over how it has handled the criticism, with some employees claiming they were terminated for speaking out.
Those are very real issues that Amazon has to deal with. A company of Amazon's size owes it to its team to provide a safe place to work while meeting increased demand from customers sheltering in place.
Bezos's insight, however, has far-reaching implications for all of us. Getting every business up and running means having testing available on a massive scale that simply isn't yet available.
That matters because as a business owner, your primary responsibility right now is to balance a range of competing needs and interests. That balancing act can be difficult under ordinary circumstances, never mind during a pandemic.
That doesn't change your job, however. It's still to do the right thing for your company, your people, and your customers even while there are plenty of things you can't control. Fortunately, your response is one thing you can.