It is reasonable to say that the COVID-19 pandemic that created a health crisis of epic proportions. It is for the first time in recent history that businesses have witnessed such economic after-effects of widespread illness. The pandemic has thrown life out of gear for billions of people globally. So far, more than 30 million coronavirus cases have been reported worldwide. Many countries including India have gone through lockdowns and curfews to slow down the spread of the virus. The current scenario looks bleak, to say the least. Many organizations are resorting to laying-off or furloughing employees with some of them shutting down, temporarily, or even permanently.
With all the despair around us, it would be a refreshing change to focus on the blessings that this unexpected situation has bestowed upon us. It is surprising how this crisis has also been an opportunity for many companies and industries. Let us look at some of the positive takeaways from the current situation.
Deeper adoption of technology due to remote work
Even before the COVID-19 outbreak, many businesses were moving towards a digital transformation at the workplace, albeit at a cautious and gradual pace. However, the pandemic forced everyone to work-from-home and rely completely on technology, with those businesses who could not adapt falling by the wayside. Employees learned to use technology as a way of life. For organizations to keep moving forward, it became essential to implement innovative technology for communication, project management, and other utilities. Coronavirus outbreak actually helped many organizations understand the true value and impact of digital technology in their daily routine.
During this time, some firms used technology to the hilt and gave an impressive experience to their customers. For example, Standard Chartered Bank used its Straight2Bank NexGen platform which allows clients to handle banking-related paperwork in just two hours compared to the 8 hours that it used to take with a manual system. Clients also got faster access to their financial information through a self-educating system that learns from user behaviour.
Focus on learning and reskilling of employees
LinkedIn’s Workforce Confidence Index survey has revealed that as high as 64% of the surveyed professionals are interested in focusing on reskilling themselves. Today, when firms like Oyo, Uber, and Swiggy have announced job cuts, an investment in reskilling oneself can improve job security. It can help people to not only keep their jobs but also flourish in a tough economic landscape. In this disrupted landscape, there is stress on business revenues along with a drastic change in work culture. Naturally, workers possessing better competencies and cross-functional expertise will have an upper edge.
Secondly, with a change in working conditions, organizations also want to reskill the workforce in relevant fields to prepare them for the post-COVID-19 work challenges. Many major organizations have started their reskilling initiatives already.
FMCG giant ITC has announced a web-based learning program for its staff. The success of the program is continually evaluated by senior management with a central dashboard that publishes details on parameters such as the application level of the courses available, etc. Similarly, Hindustan Unilever has also launched a learning initiative called #HULLearnsTogether to provide interest and skill-based courses for its workforce. The initiative offers various courses suited to the learning needs of their staff. For example, there is a course for HUL team leaders on how to lead their remote teams.
Mindset change has led the way
One of the most reassuring outcomes of the COVID-19 crisis is the transition to remote working without any loss of productivity. The presence of digital tools for improving remote communication and work management has played a significant role in this transition. However, another aspect that cannot be ignored is the mindset change that is required to undergo such a massive change of routine.
In fact, many Indian firms have shown a high level of preparedness and resilience to offset the adverse impact of social distancing measures. According to HSBC’s Navigator report, 46% of Indian businesses surveyed felt that they were very strongly affected by the pandemic. However, 54% of them also felt that they were well prepared to handle it. This figure is the highest for Indian companies among several other countries surveyed. This shows that many organizations do possess the mindset change that is needed to tackle the present challenges. In fact, organizations such as Standard Chartered resorted to the lessons it learned in the past during the Chennai floods in India and an explosion in Tianjin Port, China. Both these events had them invoke their business continuity plans (BCP). With their past learnings, the company relied on quick decision-making and adoption of digital technology to achieve a 100% work-from-home rate in just 2 weeks.
Enhancement in employee productivity
Even as the profitability inevitably dropped due to the coronavirus induced lockdown, businesses reported an improvement in their workforce performance. According to a survey conducted by Deloitte India, 60% of the companies surveyed reported an increase in their employees’ productivity. In fact, the survey reported that many CXOs were surprised by the agility reflected by their workforce while working from home. A mere 10% of companies reported no increase in employee output. This has happened after the workers were forced to stay indoors due to the virus. The work from home module also led to a decrease in the several hours spent commuting.
However, social distancing has led to increased isolation of the staff members. This means that organizations might have to look into the emotional and mental health of their employees in the long-run. In fact, many corporations in an effort to keep the spirit high and efficiency up, are coming up with unconventional ways of employee engagement. For example, for e-commerce major, Flipkart, cookery classes and ‘chai break’ sessions are coming in handy for workers to feel energised and get back to work with renewed vigour.
Opening up of newer job opportunities
With the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, many sectors such as hospitality and tourism have suffered a major setback. These industries are still dealing with the crisis and face uncertainty about their existence. However, some industries have seen a sudden increase in demand from customers. For example, sectors such as e-commerce, food delivery, hygiene products, safety gear, home and garden tools, fitness products, logistics, social media, over-the-counter medicines, etc. have seen an increase in sales and consumption due to the lockdown and the health impact of the COVID-19 pandemic.
The result of increasing demand is an increase in hiring activity in these sectors. E-commerce giant Amazon announced that it is generating roughly 50,000 extra jobs in India to cover for the increase in workload due to a rise in customer demand. The hiring is happening across different levels in their fulfilment centres and their delivery network. The roles include both full-time and part-time opportunities.
The cause of fighting against the coronavirus pandemic is larger than life. While many firms are hurting economically due to restrictions on movement and a plethora of social distancing protocols, some of them have also found a way around this unparalleled change in their work situation. As horrific as the current situation is, it can prove to be an opportunity for businesses to put things into perspective and look at ways to flourish in the long-term. For many, it may mean identifying new markets and imbibing new technology while for others a change in mindset may be a welcome step in the right direction.