“You never let a serious crisis go to waste. And what I mean by that it's an opportunity to do things you think you could not do before.”-Rahm Emanuel
The first few weeks of 2020 are exactly those kinds of weeks. As the Coronavirus pandemic continues to ravage the globe physically, socially, mentally, and financially, work and life of billions across the globe have been thrown out of gear. Entire countries have shut down, the normal routine has been disrupted, business are losing billions, healthcare systems have been delivered a jolt, the travel and tourism industry is starting in the face of worst-ever losses, markets are tumbling, global health stands compromised and the global economy is looking at a downward spiral in the coming quarters.
For businesses, in particular, the epidemic poses the challenges of business continuity and business growth and puts a question on-is there a way of work that can help us navigate such black swan events relatively unscathed? Is there a way we can find a way out of this crisis to overhaul our work ecosystem? In these times of crisis, however hard, there still lies a lesson- a chance for us to turn the tables and come back with stronger ecosystems-be it health or work or life.
The death of the office?
One of the first things that businesses did to fight the effects of the virus on work was to allow and enable their entire teams to work from home. As more and more businesses allow work from home, it brings up an opportunity for them to help people accept that work can be done without going to office daily or meeting in-person unless it is absolutely necessary. This change of mindset can save both the employer and the employee a lot of money, a lot of commute time, and increase productivity. For the employers, in particular, lies an opportunity to affect a mindset change and discipline in employees to be their productive best even when working from home. In the future of work, the office is mobile, where you want it to be and not a fixed building you go to every day.
More so, when a work from home culture goes beyond Tier 1 cities and urban areas to Tier 2 cities and non-IT sectors, people can work remotely from those areas without having to relocate or endure high costs of living. This crisis should be a reflection point for more and more businesses as to how can they source talent from non-urban areas.
Tech to the rescue
When traveling and meetings are out of the question, businesses have to heavily bank on technology to deliver seamless work. Technology cannot replace the human touch but it can certainly augment by enabling everything that can go online-be it events, education, interviews, conferences- online. This epidemic could be that push to develop more sophisticated technologies for automating, conferencing, team collaboration that can ensure seamless delivery of work. It is an opportunity to figure out how we can use drone deliveries effectively or make government processes fully online in order to make the lives of millions smooth even in difficult times.
In particular, when it comes to skilling, development of edtech and a greater push for it will help millions skill and continue their education without moving out of their homes in times of crisis. Here is an opportunity to transform the education sector, make it truly seamless online so that normal routines are not hampered despite a contagion.
Casslynn Ong, who heads HR for ASM Technology Singapore Pte Ltd avers, “There are predictions about the role of technology under such circumstances and this may instead spur businesses to push for digitalization and hence greater demand for more advanced solutions.”
Diversify, de-risk and develop
When the Coronavirus epidemic started in China and hit the manufacturing industry hard globally, it was then that the realization dawned upon global businesses on how it is important to diversify their sourcing base. Businesses all over the globe are feeling the need to de-risk their supply chains and here lies an opportunity for a country like India to develop its manufacturing sector and become a viable alternative in some respects. This would further lead to creation of jobs locally.
Of course, China will be quick to bounce back and reclaim its status but the epidemic should be a reflection point for businesses to understand where they can de-risk their supply chains, what can be produced locally, and how more effectively, the Make-in-India initiative can be leveraged. The government also needs to invest more in such sectors in order to be not caught on the back foot in times of such a crisis that affects manufacturing chains and supplies.
The rise of remote healthcare and healthtech
If there’s one industry that sure has the opportunity to change the face of any more such future pandemics, it is the remote healthcare and healthtech industry. The Coronavirus epidemic has put a heavy strain on traditional healthcare systems and countries are struggling to contain the fallout. From China to Italy, the story of overburdened healthcare systems has played out and is playing out globally. There is a dire need to overhaul the healthcare industry. And sadly, this realization should not have taken a pandemic to happen.
There is also the need and opportunity to develop more sophisticated remote healthcare and telehealth systems to reach all who are affected, and unburden doctors and healthcare systems physically. There is also a big opportunity for personalized wellness technology firms and more immolation in the field of affordable & quality healthcare and vaccine development. Expect more development in the fields of vaccine development specifically.
Neeraj Balani, Managing Director, International SOS, India, validates the increasing role of teleconsultation adding, “Telehealth or Teleconsultation service platform helps to provide the relevant medical information, advice, and referrals round the clock to people traveling or working abroad. Through an integrated solution, one has immediate and complete access to security & medical experts for real-time information and advice, plus access to local video-based teleconsultation services delivered in compliance with local regulations and clinical best practices. In addition to immediate reassurance to employees, TeleHealth solutions also help to reduce the cost, time and the disruption usually associated with visiting local healthcare providers."
Consequently, it helps organizations to ensure business continuity, deliver Duty of Care and H&S requirements, minimize travel security risks, reduce medical costs and provide a global health care solution for the traveling workforce. He further adds that in many instances where organizations have asked employees to work from home and self-quarantine, International SOS is advising its members to call its assistance center for advice or if they feel unwell. With an efficient TeleConsultation service, its members can see a local doctor face to face but in a virtual environment demonstrating how these services will have a bigger role to play in the future.
In addition, the epidemic has laid bare the need for people to embrace a healthy lifestyle and change behavior for the good. It is an opportunity for employers and governments to launch schemes to incentivize this behavioral change to be better prepared for future catastrophes.
The changing face of globalization and climate change
The current situation is yet another opportunity for the naysayers of globalization to harp upon the risks of globalization. A disease that started from one part of China has reached to every continent except Antarctica thanks to globalization and an interconnected world. While globalization has endured many attacks on it and will continue to do so, the epidemic calls for a changed model of globalization that is able to battle its vulnerabilities in a better way, while at the same time delivering its benefits to businesses and regions alike.
Historian and philosopher Yuval Noah Harari rightly says, “Many people blame the coronavirus epidemic on globalization, and say that the only way to prevent more such outbreaks is to de-globalize the world. Build walls, restrict travel, reduce trade. However, while short-term quarantine is essential to stop epidemics, long-term isolationism will lead to economic collapse without offering any real protection against infectious diseases. Just the opposite. The real antidote to epidemic is not segregation, but rather cooperation.”
In particular, the epidemic is a direct call for economies and businesses to pay more heed to climate change. Scientists are increasingly finding that deforestation and climate change are facilitating the rise of zoonotic diseases as deforestation drives wild animals out of their natural habitats and closer to human populations, creating a greater opportunity for zoonotic diseases. Hence it is becoming more and more important for the business to balance business outcomes with nature in order to limit the havoc wrecked by such epidemics.
What’s needed right now is a mindset change. A mindset change that values work from home can lead to a positive impact on climate change as one less vehicle on the road means less pollution. It also means more productivity. Governments, businesses, employees-all need to come together to take steps in order to build sustainable businesses and ecosystems and leverage technology and talent globally to maximize productivity and well-being yet at the same time minimizing damage to our vulnerable natural ecosystems.
It may be the darkest hour of our life, yet there is an opportunity to emerge out of it with a more evolved and agile mindset and an improved way of working and living, one that does not endanger life on and of the planet.