Little did we know when China reported a cluster of cases of pneumonia in Wuhan, Hubei Province in Dec 2019—within three months—a tiny virus would bring the world on its knees, creating a dystopian nightmare of sorts. Nations, organizations, citizens, residents, employees, you name it—we were all in a state of denial with most believing that the virus would not create the havoc that it is wreaking now. This was short lived as the denial soon moved to anxiety and it was not long before we all started to make the adjustments in the way we live and work.
WFH and social distancing became the new norms and as we moved from one week to another and to next, surprising ourselves at our own ability to stay connected, to work undisrupted, to win business through virtual pitching, to do virtually everything that we thought we could not. While I firmly believe that mental fatigue will soon set in and an immense urge to get back to what and how we were will take over, there are some great positive outcomes that I believe will stay for long and will indeed become a new normal and part of our vocabulary. Here’s a few of my predictions.
In every crisis lies an opportunity—sounds clichéd but it’s a wisdom that holds true. The 'shared economy' or 'the collaborative company' born in the early part of this decade was the product of an economic crisis which triggered human mind to think of ways to add value back to economy by utilising unused assets, unused time, unused space and out came a host of new companies.
The current crisis will give rise to a new one—'the zoom economy' or 'zoomonomy'. This will encompass companies born, products created, innovations made that are rooted in creating a better physical, mental, economic, creative, connected and productive human generation for the future. There are about 400 innovations (of all variety, size, scale) that hav been created and registered in covidinnovations.com from Trendwatching since COVID-19 broke out and it’s not an inaccurate guess to make that many may become a part of this new economy.
And why not? Human behavior is designed for adaptability. The adoption of better hygiene practices and norms will give an accelerated fillip to the healthcare sector in general but in particular to products that protect us against these viruses and those that act as immune boosters. Technology has always been at forefront of innovation and it will not be surprising to see a generation of tech/app companies emerge on the horizon that enhance our virtual experience of conducting business and our concurrent content consumption experiences. Drone deliveries will gain momentum and contactless payments will indeed become the new normal.
These are just a handful of what we will see. The opportunities are endless and while hard to predict what will be a success and stays on and what will be a fad, there is no doubt that it won’t be business as usual.
While, downsizing is an oft used word that defines a scaling down of an organisation, starting with the workforce, I believe the post-COVID era may see less of that and a lot more of what I call 'downspacing'. We have surprised ourselves at our ability to remain productive through virtual meetings, townhalls, AGMs and so on. This begs the question—do we really need the real estate that we have and pay for today on multiple meetings rooms, boardrooms as part of our offices? Will the new norms for social distancing reduce waiting times at all the places, via enablement of digital queuing? Will the lofty receptions give way to a more minimalistic one making way for companies to focus on true productive space? Will companies start to consider allowing a part of their work force to work from home resulting in less space at work premises? Some or most of these are bound to happen and create a direct and significant impact on the profitability of the company.
COVID-19 has clearly shown the importance of liquidity in crisis as cash depletes fast with everyone holding on to it tight and delaying payments to be made. Many small companies and start-ups may see their end with their inability to pay for their staff and operating expenses beyond a few months. Loans will be hard to get and if it comes will come at a cost that puts enormous pressure on the bottom-line. 'EWC' or 'emergency working capital' is my prediction as a new item in company’s fiscal planning and regulations, stipulated as a mandatory requirement for future. As companies plan for the rest of 2020 and beyond, they will start to seek credit facilities for EWC to be in place and the lenders may see this as a new revenue stream for themselves.
Digital transformation is a given for most organisations, but the pace of adoption varies. Many have been lackadaisical in their approach and certainly in the speed of implementation. COVID-19 will undoubtedly be the fastest catalyst to digital transformation and the race to do it now or be left out will have companies adopt a different gear and mindset—one which I refer to as 'digital hyperdrive'. The future of ecommerce has not looked brighter and the current times are an inflexion point for a meteoric rise in this sector. Indeed, this a great time and opportunity for our industry to act an enablers and facilitators to help brands step up their gear.
The human race is resilient and has a phenomenal ability to adapt to crisis. When we do cross the COVID-19 tunnel, we will walk into a richer, stronger world that is home to a bundle of accelerated innovations that are all part of a new economy, the 'zoomonomy'.
Vishnu Mohan is chairman and CEO of Havas Group India, SEA and North Asia