The Covid-19 has posed a global threat to business survival, personal income and ability to sustain a livelihood as millions of people around the world are experiencing quarantine, lockdown, and travel bans while stricter labour regulations recommend working from home culture.
The Coronavirus might accelerate the future of work faster than we thought was possible. Businesses are quickly realizing the need for them to proactively prepare for the future of work. With the current pandemic, some of the changes that are currently being made may prevail long after the virus is gone.
Similarly, the chaos and shutdowns which are as a result of the need to contain the viral disease; can be an important opportunity for businesses and governments in Africa and around the world to redefine what business as usual means and rethink how effective processes of business could be implemented.
By deriving lessons from the threats posed by COVID 19 in new opportunities for creating better work policies that will attract and retain best talents; retooling departments and business processes in order to remain globally competitive to cater for the needs of the future of work in Africa is very essential.
This article seeks to highlight the realities happening in the global economy; discuss the alternative approach that is being embraced by corporations, as well as challenges business leaders are faced with to rethink about their robustness in innovating and adapting to a business environment that supports the future of work. It will further highlight lessons that businesses can learn from the global clam down due to the efforts to minimise the spread of Convid19.
The current realities
China, where it all started instilled a total lockdown in Hubei, Wuhan and several provinces with mass cases of the pandemic. The Government enforced quarantine. Schools and businesses faced shutdowns for two months and these have rattled global supply chains, affecting major businesses around the world, including Africa. Despite rigorous efforts put in place to combat the disease and China’s recent announcement to partially lift the lockdown, a report by CNBC indicates that the devastating effect may take 6 months for businesses to recover.
The US Centre for Disease Control (CDC) and the US Labor law have highly recommended that companies enable their workers to work from home, and from one State to the other, lockdowns and mandatory quarantine measures are imposed to fight the coronavirus. The US Stock market is down at 35% from its all-time high. Also, the interest rate is down to 0%. Major businesses across industries are required to come out with innovative ways for their businesses to survive or risk shutting down for however long this may take, whilst over 30 million jobs remain at stake according to MarketWatch.
In Europe, corporate emergency plans are forcing employees to stay home according to this NYTimes. An oil company and a media group have told hundreds of employees in London to work from home, and a television giant is stopping people who have visited certain countries from entering its offices in Europe. Also, a German airline has asked workers to take unpaid leave. Italy is on total lockdown with Cuban doctors arriving only a few days ago, to help save the situation. Billions of dollars are being lost and some companies are on the verge of collapse unless they take drastic measures on a daily basis to recover and stay afloat.
Source: Canva free stock photos
In Ghana, over seven days ago the president issued a directive to close down all schools and placed a ban on all social and religious gatherings of more than 50 people. Also, on March 22, a ban was placed on all beaches. With over 132 cases confirmed and hundreds of contact tracing done: there is fear and uncertainty sweeping across nations for both businesses and households who are at risk of losing their income potential. This not only poses an economic threat but also a social threat with long-lasting impacts.
Thus the important question remains, how can businesses position themselves to be better prepared and continue to survive and thrive not only because of the coronavirus but also for the future of work.
What are the areas that require a re-assessment in systems, policies and organizational cultures that need to be developed or improved to ensure robustness and the ability to attract and retain the best talents?
In order to answer the above questions; we need to highlight
The Alternative: Seven major shifts that are happening right now and shaping the future of work
- Team collaboration is reliant on Video Conferencing
Major business conferences such a Collision, SXSW, Microsoft Build, UseCon, Datastax Accelerate 2020 all going virtual.
While major sporting events such as NBA season finals, PGA Gold, 2020 Olympics, NHL, Spain La Liga, English Premier League and many others, have all been abruptly postponed indefinitely according to CBS News. Also, with environmental and political rallies suspended, going virtual or indefinitely postponed; video conferencing is the new connector of people that are to work as a team.
It is essential now, more than ever before for businesses to create robust systems and empower teams to use video conferencing applications to conduct meetings, pitch, presentations among other key business activities.
I saw on twitter recently where a lady said ‘Now we know what meetings could have simply been an email or a video call away’ which is quite hilarious but true. Times like this make us rethink the necessity of excessive physical meetings and contact that happens during business as usual. The survival of businesses lies in their ability to redefine what business as usual means and adopt more efficient ways of getting work done effectively.
Applications such as Zoom, Skype, and Google Hangouts are enabling teams to collaborate just like they would, but now through video. The potential benefits see business travel costs drastically reducing. The question remains, what are the infrastructure, technical training and alternative methods of communication that are in existence, during business as usual? Are teams well trained to effectively use this tool and system and ensure they close deals or communicate objectives effectively virtually? This also brings the question of if really many of the regular office and business travels to clients, team members and partners done under normal circumstances are essential?
- Companies are embracing ‘Work from Home’ (Telecommuting)
A few months ago, many businesses would never have considered or allowed their staff to work from home even when they call in sick; while others would only allow staff at a certain management level to work remotely. Only technology startups and smaller businesses have previously allowed their staff to work from home, and this has always been the case due to budgetary concerns that hinder startups to set up their own physical office space.
The debate on remote work has been ongoing for a decade or so with activists mainly highlighting the importance of work-life balance and focus on productivity rather than the number of hours clocked in.
However, with the Coronavirus pandemic, more companies all over the world are embracing and allowing a larger number of their staff to work from home. This has not come without enormous cost to businesses, as their lack of preparedness has lowered productivity for the period of emergency transition.
It is important not only for the case of the coronavirus but for the future of work to be proactive in developing a work culture that caters for the needs of various people within the company and also fosters inclusiveness and flexibility. Think about the mothers who have to come to work while nursing their kids, people with disabilities, single parents, students pursuing a degree while juggling two jobs, staff members who want to take a study level or a travel leave to experience the world?
Why should that not be an option for many Africans, Ghanaians alike who possess digital skills and are in non-physical roles that can enable them to work from anywhere?
From a business perspective, the benefits of remote work can significantly make a difference. This is a reduction in the cost of commercial real estate used as office space; and less office space reduces the number of furniture and fittings that are to be acquired and maintained, the utility that needs to be paid monthly, general maintenance among others.
Similarly, having a remote work culture can enable companies to tap into new markets for best talents, potential partners and opportunities that can lead to strategic growth. It also gives current employees a morale booster to do their best for the company, due to the flexibility that comes with their job. Again, there is the additional benefit of fewer conflicts due to lesser people confined in the same office space. Less gossip leads to fewer office politics and conflict arising, thereby changing Human Resource priorities to focus on more positive issues that will attract, motivate, reward and retain the best talent.
Generally, the cost-saving far outweighs the extra cost of provision for allowances that may need to be paid to staff to cover the cost of internet, backup power devices among a few other remote essential costs.
- Employee health is becoming a primary concern
Source: Canva free stock photos
The future of work puts employee mental and physical health at the forefront. This is typically not the norm for businesses around the world. With the coronavirus, employee health and wellbeing are becoming a primary concern for businesses.
From extensive fumigation, sterilization and disinfection of places of businesses to improved hygienic conditions and access to medical services, benefits and insurance; the pandemic is accelerating the creation of a safer space by businesses for employees and customers alike.
In the past, many businesses would not allow paid sick leaves thereby forcing many employees who have common diseases to come to work for the fear of losing their income; putting other staff members at risk of being infected with communicable diseases.
The current primary focus on employee health and wellbeing has demonstrated that it is more of a lack of will than a lack of capacity for businesses to provide a high level of safety and flexibility for their employees. The question remains whether businesses will stick with these changes or go back to business as usual when this chaos is all over!
- Changing consumer buying behaviour
The rise of e-commerce and online service and product usage
According to Ipsos MORI, 50% of Chinese and 31% of Italian consumers say they’re shopping online ‘more frequently’ to purchase products they’ would usually buy in-store. Other countries such as Vietnam, India and Russia have also seen their populations turning to eCommerce more often to shop – with an increase of use measured at 57%, 55% and 27% respectively.
While only 18% of UK respondents said that they were using online stores more frequently, the case in Ghana, Nigeria, South Africa among other African nations is similar; even though there are no current statistics to back it up. More people are turning online to access products and services they normally will physically purchase. This is accelerating the future of business faster than before; putting pressure on businesses to innovate and improve the effectiveness of their ability to render their services or sell their products online.
- Automation of business processes, sales and Services delivery funnels are on the rise
In my informal discussions with several digital solution agencies ranging from website designers, app developers, e-commerce marketplace creators, SEO and digital marketing providers in both Ghana and Nigeria; for the past two weeks, business is booming for these guys! The simple reason for the fear of losing business due to the coronavirus and this is forcing businesses to optimize business processes and create sales funnels for the increased demand for certain products and services. Even banks and fintech companies are improving the capacity of their online and digital platforms to enable users to access their services remotely. Restaurants, grocery shops, confectionaries are now offering delivery options more aggressively than ever before.
Simply Coronavirus is accelerating innovation and disruptive creativity, forcing business ideas to look for more efficient ways of doing business and trade in order to survive. The question remains would these innovations, agile and more futuristic emergency response actions persist long after the Coronavirus is over?
- A surge of emerging in-demand roles:
Among the range of established roles that are set to experience increasing demand in the period up to 2022 according to this Forbes article are roles that are significantly based on and enhanced by the use of technology such as Data Analysts and Scientists, Software and Applications Developers, and Ecommerce and Social Media Specialists. Also expected to grow are roles that leverage distinctively ‘human’ skills, such as Customer Service Workers, Sales and Marketing Professionals, Training and Development, Risk Managers, and Organizational Development Specialists as well as Innovation Managers: the Coronavirus has made a surge for these roles in companies that have previously not prepared enough and trained their staff on change management; a new role arises all over the world companies seeking emergency risk managers, commercial law practitioners and innovation specialist to quickly review and create adaptive measures that can able them stay in business.
Thus the question remains, as this Coronavirus pandemic accelerates the growth of in-demand future roles: How can HR departments grow capacity and introduce new policies that are sustainable and adaptive to the future of work?
- A plummet in Global Travel, and Business travel expenses as well
It’s one of the largest industries in the world, with US$5.7 trillion in revenue. It is responsible for an estimated 319 million jobs, or roughly one in 10 people working on the planet. And no sector is more at risk from the novel coronavirus.
The travel industry has already taken a huge hit due to travel restrictions and cancelled trips for both business and pleasure, but that’s just the beginning. It could be the worst crisis for the industry since September 11, 2001.
The travel industry, which is responsible for an estimated 319 million jobs, or roughly one in 10 people working on the planet according to CNN Business Report has been more at risk than other industries globally. The catastrophe effect it is having on players in the industry as well millions of families that depend on it is enormous.
Lockdowns, quarantines and border closures have meant that taking that business trip to close that deal, inspect that facility, meet that potential partner or simply attend that conference is no longer possible; forcing business to rely on video conferencing and other virtual platforms to perform key business interactions. This automatically means the cost of business travel has fallen drastically to nearly $0.
What this trend means for business is rethinking the essential of frequent business trips comparing the cost to actual benefits gained; as well as devising new ways to communicate with partners, clients, suppliers on the other side of the world.
Possible consideration for adaptability for the future of work and how unforeseen circumstances can disrupt business flow is for companies to consider Remote hiring distributed teams, outsourcing, streamline supply chain processes verification and negotiations through video conferencing. This is not anywhere discounting the need for human interaction but more of improving the robustness for risk and cost management.
On the part of businesses that exists in the travel space; the importance of diversification of investment portfolio and ability to introduce or invest swiftly in secondary service offering that can counter the risk exposure caused by lost earnings can be reduced.
Conclusively, as much as the novel Coronavirus is a pandemic, it is also an awakening that can enable and empower businesses that are thinking futuristic to be in better positions to cater for the needs of the future of work. The future requires proactive and adaptive measures to not only ensure business sustainability through review of the organisation of work and business processes but also the social, economic, governance and environmental issues that will foster the creation of an organizational culture that is innovative, inclusive, fair and equitable.
The author is the Founder of Africans Living Fully (a media and community platform that empowers and inspire young African to live to the fullest potential through digital content and live experiences centred around the future of work, lifestyle design and travel). Email: email@example.com; Website: www.africanslivingfully.com; Social Media handles: Instagram: Fadila_AAhmad; Linkedin Fadila Ahmad Abdulrazaq