An unprecedented human mood and mindset is emerging in front of us – seven billion people affected in nearly 200 countries, the pandemic has sickened more than 1.2 million people with over 68,000 dead.
When you consider this disastrous picture, can the business and human behaviour remain unaffected?
Let me do some crystal ball gazing to paint a picture as to how businesses and business executives could behave in the short and medium term. The long term looks too uncertain to envisage at this moment.Short-term shifts
Some short term ‘personal’ behavioural adjustments that are taking place:
- We are getting used to living indoors. Of course, hats off to those who are venturing out, risking themselves - to keep the essential services running - to keep us safe and alive.
- Video chats have now become a rage. Skype-calls are things of the past, and Zoom remote conferencing is enjoying the cake.
- Learning from home has never been as widespread as it is now. Professors, consultants, experts and business managers are now teachers conducting classes on subjects ranging from staying sane to cooking khichdi. Earlier it was difficult to get a participant number of over fifty in a hall. And now, a number less than two-hundred is looked down upon!
- Many of us in polluted cities like Mumbai and Delhi forgot what fresh air is. Now our lungs are surprised with the quality of clean air going in for breathing!
- Indoor exercising options have enhanced with video guides motivating many of us to practice in-home-walking, freehand-exercises or yoga.
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When it comes to ‘business’, the immediate actions which are perhaps prevalent are:
- Meeting and greeting in the business world was always with a hand-shake, if not the Modi-hug. But, now the old tradition of Namaste is back and shall remain in vogue for some time.
- Conserve cash, defer expenses and cut capex is the new mantra. Businesses are scooping up their savings bowl to prepare for possible tough days ahead.
- Running after the customers to make them pay – literally difficult, but surely over phones and e mails – is the new top priority.
- Deferring vendor costs is becoming a norm. Many large corporations have already deferred vendor payments – an example is Hero MotoCorp, country’s largest two-wheeler maker.
- Employee payments are getting honoured so far; but will it continue if April is also locked down is a big question.
- The finance folks are making sure to get their financiers to behave supportively.Medium-term transformation
Some likely medium term ‘personal’ habit changes could be:
- Travel, especially international, is unlikely to resume in a huff. Improbable till the world gets a solid assurance that the virus fear has disappeared. Maybe another year.
- It is unlikely that a vaccination to control COVID-19 will get developed within the next one year. If it does not, many of us could be at health risk. For people who are over fifty years, movements may get restricted.
- We walk into offices with our footwear on, except in certain parts of India, say parts of Gujarat. It is reported that shoes are also carriers of the virus. Soon we may need to leave our shoes outside, only to walk in bare-footed or with temporary slip-ons.
- Public viewing of entertainment like movies may remain challenged for some time to come. Conferences and seminars too may take time to revive.
- Restaurants and eating joints may remain scantily occupied, with likely advisory to avoid any social gathering in excess of 10.
- Wearing face masks in public for the next few months may become a new normal.
Some medium-term ‘business’ behavioural alterations that are likely to be encountered:
- Likely phased opening of various sectors of the economy. Social distancing will be the key reason for gradual opening of the businesses, or else crowd management will again become impossible.
- Delay in receiving payments from our customers. The cash cycle has become disturbed. It will take over six months to get back to some semblance of normalcy.
- The government will pump money into the economy. Hence, infrastructure-related work may commence. Steel, cement and contractor companies should see better days ahead.
- Good business opportunities for delivering goods and services safely and pharmaceuticals should boom. Financial markets may remain subdued. The travel and hospitality industry may continue to remain under stress.
- Keeping labour safe and in good health could be a big challenge. With monsoon beginning in a few months, a relapse of the virus in some form, cannot be ruled out.
- Healthcare systems will remain stretched for some more time to come. I expect healthcare shelters to come up almost everywhere.
- Indian products are likely to be better options in the international market. They may gain from the trust deficit that Chinese goods suffer. Exports should grow helped by enhanced demand and weak rupee.
- Countries like Italy will require large immigrants. This may be a great opportunity for our young and educated.Last words
Some anti-viral medicines are under advanced trials. Initial clinical data for the drug (not a vaccine) that has shown the most promise is ‘remdesivir’. It is expected to be available in the coming months.
Thus, hope comes hand-in-hand with despair. The world is not coming to end. It will just change the way we eat, learn, work and behave.
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Glory in living lies not in failing, but in rising every time we fail. COVID-19 has almost been squashed in China. It is only time before it gets subjugated elsewhere. Humans will rise from the ashes for a new beginning. Especially, we Indians!The author is a Managing Director at Caprihans India, one of the oldest and largest polyvinyl chloride (PVC) film manufacturers in India. In his career spanning over 35 years, he was Group CFO at Suzlon Group and Executive Director at Essar Steel and Thomas Cook among other senior positions. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org