Let me start with the most MBA introduction ever! 

Have you heard of the VUCA effect? Well, VUCA is an acronym that stands for volatility, uncertainty, complexity, and ambiguity, a combination of qualities taken together, characterize the nature of some challenging situations. And what better acronym than this to juxtapose with our current situation. The coronavirus outbreak, and the subsequent countrywide lockdown, has deeply impacted the domestic economy. Based on different scenarios for the impact of COVID-19 on global GDP growth, the International Labour Organization estimates a rise in global unemployment of between 5.3 million (“low” scenario) and 24.7 million (“high” scenario) from a base level of 188 million in 2019. By comparison, the 2008-09 global financial crisis increased global unemployment by 22 million.

The World Health Organization in this article: https://www.who.int/docs/default-source/coronaviruse/getting-workplace-ready-for-covid-19.pdf provides guidelines for workspaces to have hygienic, fearless, and safe work environment. No doubt that there is going to be a drastic change in the lives of many with respect to employment, but even for the ones still working, there will be a world of change in the work landscape during Quarantine and post COVID-19 period. 

In 2003, the SARS outbreak dramatically changed consumer behavior, crippling the economy and posing serious job threats. But, there were still some positives that came out of the situation.

Few key takeaways from the SARS crisis:

  • JD.com’s Richard Liu resorted to selling electronics on internet forums and QQ chat groups to keep his business afloat during the SARS crisis. He later devoted the bulk of his resources to the online business, growing it to become China’s largest online retailer of electronic products.
  • Alibaba’s B2B e-commerce business thrived after foreign businessmen canceled trips to China and began registering on its platform. The experience partly led to the birth of Taobao, which quickly surpassed eBay to become the largest C2C marketplace in China.
  • Online retailing of essential, OTC pharmaceuticals and groceries saw a surge in demand.

SARS spurred the growth of e-commerce, and likewise, with the spread of COVID-19, we are bound to witness yet another massive behavioral shift. The hastily scattering Coronavirus has encouraged technology companies to boost remote working for employees, prefiguring a new age in the future of work, also now known as the new normal. This shift has created opportunities for businesses providing collaborative meeting platforms, cybersecurity, deployment of technologies such as machine learning and AR/VR to lend support during the pandemic.

Gartner, in an article, adds that the massive remote work experiment is also ‘a great opportunity to prepare for the future’. According to its recent research, by 2030, the demand for remote work will increase by 30 percent due to the Generation-Z fully entering the labor force. Research from the past advocates that creating work structures abruptly is not rare. Various unexpected events in history have provided occasions for the restructuring of labor. But those events didn’t come packaged with clear directives about how to revamp the workforce landscape. With Coronavirus bringing this new wave of change, its time for us to actively think about opportunities to reconstruct work and familiarize ourselves with the changes.

Following is my take on the transformation to follow:

1. Change in attitude

The COVID-19 pandemic is destined to leave behind eternal changes in the way business’ takes place. According to the World Economic Forum, in just five years, 35 percent of the skills deemed essential today will change. Thus, Learning will be the groundwork of our existence. And this holds true for both employees & employers. So let’s have a look at their respective spaces.

For Employees: 

Effect of COVID-19 on the workforce. How to increase productivity while working from home
  1. Working Proactively– As the world swings to online work and businesses struggle to reinvent themselves, people will have to proactively learn what kinds of new skills will appeal to their work and learn how to produce them. Passive working will no longer suffice as the world becomes highly competitive in the wake of the anticipated job crunch.
  2. Constantly upskilling –. Our work from home should foster persistent development and growth. There are endless free and open online courses(MOOCs) available on platforms such as Coursera, edX, Udacity, FutureLearn, or iversity. These are very strong, but perhaps underrated tools that one can use to keep themselves adept with what’s new and contemporary, thereby staying relevant in times to come.
  3. AdaptabilityTaming a learning culture is not just a catchphrase or an indulgence in these times. Things around us are changing faster than they ever did and hence it has become ever so pertinent to be resilient. As discussed above, we need to keep bringing something new on the table while at the same time being nimble to changes that are bound to cross our path. 
  4. Being self-motivated/disciplined – The need of the hour is to see lockdown as an opportunity to advance yourself so that you are ready for the post-coronavirus job market. This involves preparing a self-made time table and following it earnestly. Yes, I am talking about those 4-hour lunch breaks & uninvited naps. I know we are all in the same boat but now it has become even more pressing to be balanced, uninterrupted, and enthusiastic about your work.

For Employers:

Managers responsibilities during COVID-19. Empower and encourage employees during pandemic
  1. Empathy – Employers have to be cognizant of the fact that the current situation will massively alter their employee perceptions. Once this is over, the world will scrutinize how organizations handled the crisis and that will immensely impact their brand image for times to come. In this endeavor of ensuring employee satisfaction, companies will have to now become more empathetic than ever. Walk that extra mile to make sure the employees feel valued and most importantly motivated.
  2. Flexibility – In order to make the most of the current situation, companies ought to create an encouraging and mentally stimulating environment for their employees. They are required to establish open lines of conversation and be flexible to the needs, restrictions, and wellbeing of their staff. Deadlines are expected to get blurry, as everyone sticks to their schedule & productivity takes a hit. But also, many are hoping that this might be the beginning of a self-leadership era, with teams being more responsible, proactive, self-made rather than being curated. Another critical challenge would be keeping alive the organization culture during the current crisis. HRs will have to reinvent models of recruitment, employee engagements, onboarding to confront these unprecedented times.

Examples of few organizations that have proven to lead with responsivity and responsibility – 

  1. Microsoft said that they will continue to pay all hourly service providing vendors their regular pay during this period of reduced service needs. This will be independent of whether their full services are needed or not. The company even came out with detailed guidelines for both employers and employees on how to master the work from home culture.
  2. Amazon created a $25M fund to help its delivery drivers and seasonal workers cope with coronavirus
  3. Uber announced they will provide 14 days of sick pay for drivers or delivery workers – technically considered independent contractors who have not previously qualified for paid leave or benefits – who are suffering from coronavirus or are required to be isolated.
  4. Starbucks has extended its mental health benefits to help employees ensure their mental wellbeing. In partnership with Lyra Health, Starbucks is offering its employees personalized and confidential mental health care.

2. Opportunities for Invention

Opportunities for Invention due to COVID-19

According to Forbes, Bhavin Turakhia, founder-CEO of Flock mentions, “Think about how email became a business essential in the previous decade. We’re still in the early stages but in the next decade or two, there won’t be a single company that doesn’t use a workplace tool for collaboration. Email is much more asynchronous, long-form communication, but there’s so much room for tools that enable quick updates within the daily functions of an organization.”

We’ve seen in the past how workplace technology has evolved to enable seamless communication, with tools like Webx, Microsoft teams fostering connectivity and collaboration. And now with work from home becoming the new normal, this need for faster, more efficient communication has skyrocketed. Zoom has seen a share price increase of 130% since the beginning of the year. Microsoft announced last week the number of daily active users for its Teams collaboration suite increased by 12 million. All this paving the way for new avenues of invention opportunities.

Today more and more organizations are leveraging technologies such as artificial intelligence, big data, the Internet of Things, virtual and augmented reality, and robotics to make their businesses more resilient to future pandemics, and anyone who can help companies exploit these technologies will be in a great position. Henceforth, looking forward to a more ingenious workplace. 

Global download of video call apps during COVID-19. Impact of COVID-19 on global download of video chat apps

Industries that will see a rise in business prospects: 

  • E commerce: The more people are bored at home, the more likely their fingers are going to venture towards the eCommerce apps to spend the money which has been saved. We will see Amazon getting even bigger and stronger as the brick-and-mortar stores grapple with the lockdown restrictions.
Estimated Impact of COVID-19 on Global Tech Shipments in 2020. Impact of COVID-29 on E-Commerce
  • Streaming, gaming, and video content platforms: Online streaming platforms such as Netflix, Amazon Prime were already climbing the ladder of popularity, but with more people stuck at home, they are all set to cash in the burgeoning demand. Netflix reeled in a staggering 15.8 million subscribers in the first three months of 2020 — a record for the company, fuelled by the coronavirus quarantine. Disney+ along with Hotstar has also launched in India to capitalize on the massive Indian consumer base. In terms of video platforms outside of streaming, YouTube is enjoying particular success. From a gaming perspective, this is back to the boredom conundrum. With the usual entertainment venues shut down, consumers are seeking avenues of entertainment. The likes of Microsoft Xbox, Google Stadia, and PlayStation are expected to secure additional subscriptions as well as in-game purchases.
Netflix sees unprecedented growth amid pandemic. Global paid net subscriber additions by Netflix
  • Online grocery Stores: With the rush on supermarkets persisting as the days turn into weeks, online grocery delivery companies are seeing a surge in popularity. Apps like Big Basket and Grofers have witnessed an increase in purchases to the extent that they have run out of inventory & slots due to high demands. This is expected to induce a habit of online grocery shopping in consumers which will go way beyond the current crisis.
  • Electronic payments: E-payments in India soared after a surprise cash crunch in 2016. This shows how quickly and drastically consumer behavior is changing in the current times. The coronavirus outbreak is prompting second thoughts about reaching for cash, thus bringing good times for platforms such as Paytm, Google Pay, Phone Pay, etc.  
Impact of COVID-19 on digital payment apps usage in India as of April 2020
  • The Telecommunications Industry: Networks are in business continuity planning mode and are fully prepared to support any exigency. The mobile, fixed broadband, DTH, and fiber networks are fully geared up to serve customers in the emerging scenario. This pressure is due to increased demand for online video streaming, amid lockdown and quarantine measures. According to the Economic Times, the data consumption in the last few days has gone up by 15-20 percent and consumption of HD data requires 6-7 times higher bandwidth. Therefore, companies have requested the government to intervene and mandatorily ask people to switch to default surfing mode.
  • Mental health support: Ever wondered what will happen once a majority of the knowledge workforce needs to work together remotely, indefinitely. It is likely that this shift will impact morale, productivity, and mental health of workers throughout the globe. For companies looking to add the human touch digitally to their workplace, the choices are limited today. Hence, several mental health start-ups such as Braive and Moment Pebble can double down on solving the problem of isolation. Business networking apps such as Ripple can help solve the mentoring and development challenges that come with being a remote worker.
Health and Video Chat Apps, Most downloaded apps in India during COVID-19

3. Redistribution of Resources

How coronavirus will result in redistribution of work, translating investments in real estate into boasting technology.

Well, it is needless to mention that jobs will be lost, economies will suffer as we live through these times but that is not what I want to talk about here. Instead, I want to put light on some of the reshufflings that are being anticipated in the work environment:

  • With more and more business developments happening through virtual offices, organizations are now beginning to question the idea of work travel and resources spent on the same
  • As work from home becomes the new normal, real estate investments are being reconsidered, with the management wanting to channelize these investments towards technological advancements.
  • As employees work at their own pace & deliver results, leadership, productivity, and management style will be reinvented
  • And finally, as we evolve through these volatile times, the composition of teams will change with more freelance employees and machine members coming into the picture
Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman & MD, Hindustan Unilever on impact of COVID-19 on the future of work

“Every day in the morning, I start by my South Asia leadership team meeting and I end the day at London time with the Global Unilever Executive Board Meeting. Earlier I used to travel to London twice a month but now, I’ve completed a multibillion-dollar merger with GSK Consumer Health, all by working from remote. ” Says Sanjiv Mehta, Chairman & MD, Hindustan Unilever in an interview with Ronnie Screwvala. Co-founder & Executive Chairman – upGrad.

While working from home is easier for some purposes than others, it can significantly help a company’s talent pool. Childcare & elder care are a few of the socio-economic barricades to location-specific jobs.“India has 150 million people with disabilities, of which 70 million are employable, but unfortunately 98 percent of them remain unemployed. That’s a lot of untapped talent” Maitri Shah, founder-CEO, Mind Assets says to Forbes India. Having the possibility open for those who want to work from home, and still be loyal to the workforce, is vital for the future. 

Will it open up new job avenues for ones currently not employed? Leaving you with this thought.

Until next time…

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12 Comments

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