As I compose this editor’s note from my home “office”—a writing desk in my bedroom, my laptop propped up by my college copy of The Riverside Chaucer in a feeble attempt at ergonomics—the future is unsettling. Hospitals and healthcare workers expect to be overwhelmed with coronavirus cases, and entire sectors of the economy are shut down, which has led to millions of layoffs. Some beloved local businesses, unable to weather this storm, surely will close their doors forever.
Yet we at Fast Company are still finding reasons to be optimistic, a sentiment that’s reflected throughout this issue. The cover image of tidying expert Marie Kondo, along with senior writer Elizabeth Segran’s sprightly profile, can’t help but (forgive me) spark joy. A feature about the employees at corporate messaging platform Slack, who are racing to meet unprecedented demand, is simply energizing. And our annual World-Changing Ideas program, put together by a team of journalists led by senior editor Morgan Clendaniel, recognizes more than 800 companies and organizations tackling society’s biggest problems in completely new ways.
These stories feel extra resonant today. Kondo, who has conquered home organization, has written a new book, Joy at Work, that extols the value of striking a balance between the personal and professional. For those of us who’ve unexpectedly set up shop at our kitchen tables and writing desks—and find our kids, pets, and messy countertops showing up in the background during videoconferences—Kondo’s lessons are more valuable than ever.
The health crisis and its economic impact have given the staff at Slack a renewed sense of mission. Contributor Charles Fishman embedded himself (virtually, of course) with the company and certain key customers and found that Slack’s software has become the lifeblood of many organizations tackling the virus. “Slack is helping make sure . . . that New York’s doctors can get to hospitals, that the world’s scientists can unmask the coronavirus,” Fishman writes. “The urgency of these customers infuses purpose back into Slack.”
Politicians and commentators may argue about whether, and how much, government can compel private industry to provide supplies during an emergency, but as we’ve chronicled on fastcompany.com, businesses of all sizes are already stepping up to assist those caring for coronavirus patients. Apparel brands are shifting to making protective gear for doctors and nurses. Vacuum-maker Dyson is producing 10,000 ventilators for the U.K. And labs are accelerating production of testing kits, while drug companies are collaborating to develop treatments and vaccines.
These efforts are very much in the spirit of our World-Changing Ideas franchise, part of Fast Company’s long-standing effort to highlight business as a force for good.
Consider the work of Abbott, our World-Changing Company of the Year. Our judges were especially impressed with its treatment for premature babies born with a rare heart defect. Meanwhile, as we went to press, the company announced that it’s scaling manufacturing of new, emergency-authorized molecular tests to identify the virus that causes COVID-19. “Our scientists, many of whom worked on Abbott’s first HIV test and the Zika tests, worked around the clock to develop these molecular tests,” the company said.
When companies apply their everyday ingenuity to solving society’s challenges, it isn’t merely inspiring. It can save lives.