The COVID-19 outbreak has dramatically changed the way we do business, and from the looks of it, precautionary measures are likely to continue for a while long after countries lift mandatory quarantines and lockdowns. The World Health Organisation (WHO) has warned that it may take up to 5 years before the coronavirus pandemic is under control, and businesses will have to operate differently to cope with measures and policies in place as the world combats the disease. From a business perspective, we have already seen significant impact: analysts at Goldman Sachs are expecting to see global stocks nosedive by 18% in the next 3 months, we have already seen a rise in company closures both in Singapore and elsewhere in the world including old reputable brands that have survived previous crises, and along with these, unemployment rates have increased. 2 out of every 5 jobs lost during the COVID-19 period may never come back, according to the World Economic Forum.
Yes, things look bleak, and there are a lot of uncertainties at the moment: no one can tell for sure when we will go back to normalcy, or even what ‘normal’ means any more. In the aftermath of COVID-19, the way we do work and conduct business will be radically different, and here’s a look at some of the top macro-trends that we will see in the coming months and years. 1. Use of digital tools across industries. Brick-and-mortar businesses like grocery shops, beauty salons, general practitioners and warehouses were slow to adopt digital technology prior to the outbreak of COVID-19. In recent months, and especially with mandatory home quarantines, movement restrictions and social distancing measures, more and more businesses that have never utilised e-commerce before are rushing to make the digital leap. Business websites have also incorporated more advanced features, such as automated chatbots, mobile applications (apps) and virtual showrooms as small and medium-size businesses turn to digital technologies in order for their products and services to remain accessible to their customers. As social distancing measures become more commonplace and likely to remain in effect for a long time to come, digitisation become even more important as cost-effective business tools. 2. Enhanced cybersecurity features become more important. As digital tools become more important, cybersecurity features will take centerstage to support more e-commerce and e-business activities. Security experts will tell you that the biggest causes of data breaches and cyberattacks are use of unsecured data infrastructures and third-party tools by employees. We are also likely to see an increase in cybercrime and cyberattacks on business websites as the business environment gets more challenging because of the global pandemic. To deal with such real and potential cyber threats, it is important for businesses to invest secure, scalable and remotely accessible cybersecurity features for their digital and data storage tools. 3. Decreased dependency on physical spaces for work and meetings. Usage of video-conferencing software has increased dramatically: Zoom usage has soared from 10 million daily meeting participants globally in December to 300 million in April 2020, about 3 million new users are added to Google Meet each day, while Microsoft reported 75 million daily active users of Teams. Even so-called “high touch-point” industries where face-to-face interactions were thought to be of importance have adapted to use of video-conferencing tools, including teaching, fitness instruction, therapy, real estate and financial advisory, and even legal courtroom proceedings. With business owners and employees being forced to work away from their offices, many are also getting accustomed to the notion that we no longer need to depend on physical spaces for our daily work. The use of video-conferencing and other online work productivity tools are driving home the message that telecommuting and virtual workspaces are the way to go in a post-COVID 19 business environment. Companies are likely to downsize their physical offices or lease spaces from co-working and serviced offices to reduce costs – especially if they combine with flexible work arrangements for their employees. 4. Outsourcing and freelancers. Companies are likely to turn to outsourcing and freelancers for both cost-efficiency and to supplement critical technical and professional skill sets. Outsourcing and freelancing also allows companies to take advantage of talent that may otherwise be unavailable to them on a full-time basis: with more companies downsizing head-counts and retrenchments rising, many displaced professionals, managers, executives and technicians (PMETs) are turning to freelancing opportunities with multiple companies instead of seeking full-time employment with a single employer. The trend of outsourcing and freelancing is nothing new; however, in the interim period where employers wrestle to cope with the demands of managing their staff costs amidst the pandemic, and in the aftermath of COVID-19, outsourcing and freelancing will be more amplified as companies realise it is possible to still expect high levels of productivity and efficiency with the use of such ‘remote employees’. 5. Cost-savings are more important than ever. Business shutdowns have reached unprecedented levels over the past months, including companies that have survived other crises like the Asian Financial Crisis, SARS, MERS and the Lehman Brothers collapse. Business owners and CEOs are increasingly looking at ways to have a greater degree of control over their expenses, including shorter contract durations and credit terms, emergency provisions in agreements, scalable work teams made up of temporary workers and subcontractors, and reducing recurring expenses. Cost-savings is different from cost-cutting, where business owners recognise the need to spend on services, equipment and expense items needed to fulfil a project requirements or tasks, instead of making do without – but doing so in ways that allows them to save on direct costs or usage.
These trends are likely to continue beyond 2020. Moving forward, we have to recognise that nature of work and the ways we do business have changed with this unprecedented global event. COVID-19 has disrupted the way we live our lives, but at the same time accelerated the need for businesses and companies to evolve and transform themselves to cope with new challenges.