It has been four months since it all started and the world, as we know it, has come to a standstill. This virus isn’t going away, at least not anytime soon. While we cannot, and should not, ignore the growing pandemic, not everyone can afford to stay at home and wait for this to pass. The impact on businesses has been devastating and there are bound to be some changes in the business sector in the post-COVID-19 world.
The worst affected are the small businesses and start-ups that lack the cash reserves to shield themselves from a month-long interruption. It is important to start envisioning what businesses in the post-COVID-19 world might look like and make efforts to support a return to offices, keeping in mind the necessary social distancing and health guidelines. While the governments will allow the relaxation of lockdown in small phases, businesses can adopt certain measures and strategies to restart their operations.
The primary focus these days is, obviously, safety and hygiene. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has advised employers to be prepared to redefine their business response plans to curtail the spread of Covid-19. This includes encouraging sick employees to stay home and educating them to follow proper procedures related to cleaning and disinfecting constantly touched objects like door handles, handrails, telephones, work-stations, etc. Social distancing will be the norm for the foreseeable future.
Thus, businesses need to redesign their work-spaces and also put systems in place to ensure a limited number of people present at the place of business. For instance, employees can be asked to come into work in shifts, while others work from home.
As for customers, they can either be given appointments or asked to stand in queues with proper spacing (or wait in their cars), as essential shops are operating these days. Businesses in the post-COVID-19 world could also restructure their functioning to deliver services remotely via phone, video or web, and goods through curb-side delivery and pick-up.
Businesses also need to assess their essential functions and the dependence of the community on their services. Consumers’ wants and needs stand to remain changed in a post-COVID-19 world, and as of now, their only demand is essentials.
There is also a void that exists in the market for essential products and it might be profitable to expand services in this direction. Even though it might be irrelevant to the core businesses, one can identify alternate supply chains and partner with existing businesses. For instance, ‘Wow! Momo Foods’ recently launched its grocery arm, ‘Wow! Momo Essential Services’, in a partnership with ITC, Nestle, and P&G to deliver essential grocery supplies through third-party vendors.
Another company, ‘Rashmi Rare Earth’, which was earlier involved in the manufacturing of set-up boxes, now makes close to 1.2 lakh masks on a daily basis with the help of a fully automatic manufacturing unit. How did they achieve this? They conducted a 10-day intensive video training for their engineers online, where Chinese engineers guided them on the nuances of making surgical masks.
Thus, at a time when demand is purely for essential items, the businesses need to respond to external factors and venture out in a bid to survive and stay relevant. Coronavirus has also disrupted the global supply chains. The pandemic has thrown light on the dependency of the world’s manufacturing industries on China. Joerg Wuttke, president of the EU Chamber of Commerce in China, said, “If there is one lesson people are drawing from the pandemic in this regard is that a single source is out and diversification is in”.
Companies need to build a network of suppliers, even if it increases costs, in order to prevent hindering operations due to such disruptions. It also provides an opportunity to promote the business of some domestic industries.
Anand Mahindra, Chairman of Mahindra Group, expects to see demand for production in Vietnam, Myanmar, and possibly India if it can grasp the opportunity. The government-owned Development Bank of Japan plans to subsidize the relocation costs of companies that bring production facilities back to the country.
People have been working remotely for many years now. Although over the years the tools have become more sophisticated before the pandemic organizations often saw work-from-home as ‘slacking off’ and considered it a second-best option. It’s only now, when everyone is isolated and sitting in different parts of the world, that everyone is forced to video-conference and balance work and home.
It won’t be insane to think of work-from-home as a mainstream choice for businesses in a post-COVID-19 world. And since there’s no other alternative available right now, everyone has an incentive to invest in virtual options. It is not only a more convenient option but also cheaper. There have been enough advancements in technology to replicate the experience of a physical event without a large part of the cost.
Businesses will also be able to hire fresh talent from different regions. Similarly, once work-from-home becomes mainstream, a shift can also be expected in the education sector to ‘study-from-home’. Already, some institutions that have closed down due to the pandemic, have turned to online classes. There are also a number of online courses available and massively open online course (MOOC) providers, such as Coursera, Khan Academy, etc.
However, with the increase in remote work, employers will be responsible to ensure workforce productivity by motivating their employees. T.V. Narendran, the global CEO of Tata Steel, said, “As we become more connected in one way (digitally) and more disconnected in another way (physically), trust becomes important and more fragile in some sense”. Businesses in a post-COVID-19 world need to make an effort to achieve greater transparency, create, and maintain trust. Clearly, authentic and truthful communication, from both ends, will become imperative.
The world has changed in a few short months. Businesses need to remain up-to-date with the changes happening and adapt to them. Perhaps they will emerge more productive, and more resilient to shocks. No matter how much we yearn to return to normalcy, all of these changes – scattered shifts, remote working, virtual meetings, on-demand education – can be expected to become the new alternatives for businesses in the post-COVID-19 world.