Though it’s early days and COVID-19 is yet to play out fully, a few sectors that could witness expansion in business volumes are perhaps identifiable. Some inferences can also be drawn in terms of changes in the way we would work hereafter; the dividends such changes may hold out and the possible erosion we may simultaneously experience in our lifestyles. The author navigates across the spectrum to find cogent answers.
It is still premature to state how a post-COVID-19 world order will look. Nevertheless, all indicators point towards a different world once the COVID-19 threat is over or minimized to a level we can live with it. The media is full of COVID-19 news, most of it seems like a pessimistic commentary. Every country is talking about flattening of the curve and get the spread under control. Some have managed it well others seem to be struggling. Amidst speculations why the virus behaves differently in different countries, there is little hope to see the end of the pandemic. Everyone is eagerly waiting for the miracle drug. Amidst the gloom, optimists believe that the post-COVID-19 world would be a better place to live in, and the realist would believe that it would be a changed world. Maybe it is time to see what a post-COVID-19 world will look like, and what would succeed in this World?
Be Part of Post COVID-19 World
For enjoying the benefit of any success, the potential beneficiary must survive the current crisis and not succumb to the virus. The government announced norms of social distancing and lockdown are a useful datum to ensure survival. Once the threat is reduced to acceptable levels, either due to a vaccine or collective immunity against the virus, it will be time for the rebuild stage and seizing the advantage of thinking through the crisis.
Practices Which Would Fetch Best Gains
Entrepreneurs, industries, governments, and individuals who understand the new reality would be best suited to capitalise on opportunities. Two driving parameters would govern the post-COVID-19 world – fear of another pandemic and need to generate revenue. Rest of it will fit into these two driving compulsions.
- The need to be tested and have individuals certified free of virulent and infectious diseases would override all interacting and travel considerations. Hence businesses who enable testing citizens more speedily and consistently would benefit from the testing boom. Testing kits and instruments would be much in demand and supply likely to be short. Couple this with international travel requirements. The WHO is sure to announce a specific minimum international travel health certification. These would provide business opportunities in the healthcare industry, which would continue to boom, due to the fear of another pandemic in waiting.
- The need for social distancing would give birth to many new businesses. The takeaway food culture would gain more prominence at the cost of visiting and sitting in crowded restaurants. Amazon-style home delivery practices would be on the increase, and even groceries would be preferred to be delivered at home. Companies which display better hygiene standards with better quality would be more preferred. Any activity which would involve proximity between unknown individuals would reduce and its antidote would find preferences. Pre-COVID-19 day’s social behaviour would be shunned in countries which have suffered deep scars due to the increased number of fatalities; like Italy, Spain, UK, and the USA.
If there is one practice which has gained strength during the crisis, it is the use of online platforms. Many business realities would change based on the experiences realized during the lockdown periods. Online platforms in future would eclipse the need for physical contact and keep them to a minimum. Brick and mortar business are likely to take a hit as online portals make entry into people’s homes. Most business meetings and discussions would be on online platforms which provide near true-life experience. Companies which can offer state of the art online tools would have a competitive edge. It also would have concomitant effects. Large scale conferences would no longer require exotic destinations, meaning less travel and less spending time away from home.
Such practices would have social impacts and obliquely impact globalization. Which is both good and bad from a long-term perspective. Need for office space would reduce as work from home would be the new norm with fixed days in office. Imagine what it would do in terms of cost cuttings of a company’s fixed expenses? While revenue increases the fixed cost decreases would become the new mantra for profitability. Multinational companies would be the most to gain from such practices as they would save on fixed costs such as huge rents for office spaces. A home would become a new working space for routine businesses and core business too if data remains secure.
The economic cost in times to come would be the most talked-about subject, it would principally centre around how much the world has lost due to COVID-19 pandemic. The erosion in value would be more than any other time in the history of the world. The post-COVID-19 world would grapple with how to put the economies in order. It is not going to be an easy task, as an economy is a function of complex bilateral and multilateral trade agreements. All these are likely to come under stress and strain in times to come.
The role of China and its complicity in the pandemic would come under the scanner. Already there are murmurs in the European nations about moving out of China. There are news reports that European countries such as Italy and Spain are already amending their business rules to deter Chinese companies from making predatory moves on troubled companies. Thus, in the absence of what is the future of Chinese trade, it is difficult to predict the shape of the new economic world order. However, every country would have to revisit the drawing board, rewriting its economic policies. It would include the support of the government to the private industry, driven to bankruptcy due to the lack of economic activity for a better part of 2020. Formulate policies which would reduce interest rates and make credit available at cheaper rates. Further, reduce corporate taxes. Write off loans to ailing industries and sectors which can still do business. Support the currency if need be, and resort to external borrowing to keep its source of finance alive.
The biggest casualty of the crisis is the human being. The figure of fatalities by the time the pandemic ends or is under control would be phenomenal. As on 28th April 2020, at 1318h, the fatalities number 211,663, which translates to 6.9% of the population which contracted the Coronavirus. This loss is unreplaceable. Nations would carry the scars of these deaths for a very long time to come. What is not yet analyzed is how it will change the daily living pattern for us. Our lives would never be the same again. The psychological scars of lockdowns and deaths would speak silently and shape behaviour patterns. No other pandemic has hit the world as badly as COVID-19 and thus to put any previous template on the phycological effects of this tragedy would be short-sightedness. There would thus be a grave need for psychologists and mental healthcare professionals. These traumas will need specialized handling and care.
The loss of faith in unknown individuals as a category would now be permanent. There would be fewer people to greet each other on the roadside. Domestic help would find it hard to get accessible employment. Migration across states would now be more controlled and documented. Casual and unregulated businesses would suffer on account of non-availability of the workforce. The individual in the semi-skilled sections of the working population such as carpenters, plumbers, electricians would also be hard to find. The construction industry woes would continue. Those businesses which can find alternative ancillary outlets would have a better chance of survival.
Mantra for Success in Post COVID-19 World
Since this article has a universal spectrum, it is difficult to prescribe a single mantra for all the countries/organizations/ individuals. Each would have to factor in the new realities and take decisions. Governments would have to formulate new economic policies to address their specific problems, which would differ from country to country and region to region. It’s likely that new alliances and trade groups are forged. Organizations would need to reinvent processes which would bring revenue back, enter new product stream and above all put a value on human capital. Whom to lay off and whom to retain like dilemmas would have to be solved by evaluating data-based individual asset value to the organization. For individuals, the world will not be the same again. The threat has already given rise to newer opportunities, like former US President, Barrack Obama’s Chief of staff, Rahm Emanuel said to him on the 2008 financial crisis: “You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it’s an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before”.
Maj Gen Nitin Gadkari (Retd)