Personal Finance

Coronavirus signals big corporate shift

corona

Social distancing has given rise to mass video conferences alongside the concept of working from home. PHOTO | COURTESY

Summary

  • During a crisis, economies become more resilient if prepared for a range of possibilities.
  • Mapping out likely scenarios helps policymakers and industry captains to effectively mobilise proper tools for deployment in crisis management.
  • People who had never before used platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout and Cisco Webex are now only realising, rather pleasantly, the sheer convenience of webinars.

During a crisis, economies become more resilient if prepared for a range of possibilities. Mapping out likely scenarios helps policymakers and industry captains to effectively mobilise proper tools for deployment in crisis management.

Like the rest of the world, the face of Kenya is set to change across economic, political and social landscapes after the tide of the coronavirus pandemic retreats.

To this end, several scenarios could be modelled on possible outcomes. I will limit myself to Kenya’s case and around the corporate scene.

To begin with, there will be tectonic shifts in brand loyalty. Brands seen to have a human face by offering solutions amid the crisis and relating to the plight of the wider society, will win the hearts and minds of the masses. Closer relationships could also be sealed between the government and such proactive brands, resulting in goodwill, since confronting the deadly bug effectively requires collaboration. For instance, contact tracing requires hi-tech surveillance of the population and can only be possible with assistance from private technology firms.

On the opposite end, any perceived inaction, indifference and hypocrisy towards corporations will see customers drift away from brands. Goodwill from the government may also be lost.

This is the social pillar of sustainability practices and stretches beyond customers to include the wellbeing of employees. How companies treat their workforce during this crisis will shape future employer-worker relations along with staff loyalty. Also, it will affect the appeal of an organisation in attracting and retaining top talent once the dark times are over.

Fearing a recurrence of similar pandemics and in light of climate change, consumers will be more demanding of corporates to be more environmentally sustainable. Whatever survival strategies businesses deploy, they should be guided by foresight, bearing the above factors in mind. A crisis brings out the true character, not just of individuals, but that of the collective managing team of an organisation. It exposes a brand’s true culture that may have remained hidden from the public eye in normal times.

The next scenario we are likely to see as a result of the pandemic is the ushering in of an era of less face-to-face meetings and more virtual conferences and workshopping. Office space also shrink as more people are allowed to work remotely. This essentially means a paradigm shift in working models. Any traditional face-to-face encounter — going to an accountant’s office, sending children to class, traveling for a business meeting will for sure seem less necessary as more remote options become publicly acceptable and widespread.

Until now, meetings across organisations were almost always held in boardrooms, with managers having to physically avail themselves. Social distancing amid the contagion has given rise to mass video conferences alongside the concept of working from home.

People who had never before used platforms like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google Hangout and Cisco Webex are now only realising, rather pleasantly, the sheer convenience of webinars. As a result, boardrooms would no longer be essential in a post-coronavirus era. It would not be surprising if businesses reduced their office space to bare-minimum. With more people working remotely, co-working office spaces could enter estates targeting city dwellers who would wish to avoid commute to the city centre and its environs where most company offices are based.

IT functions will, therefore, naturally move to the centre of office operations, with mass rollout of remote working software infrastructure. Consequently, there will be need for further tightening of cyber security. Notice this is now even more important with more people encouraged to use mobile money payments and cashless banking transactions to contain the contagion.

The third scenario would be emergence of new businesses, birthed by the crisis along with readjustments in business models. New enterprises will spring up after spotting windows of opportunity amid and beyond the crisis and stepping in with innovative solutions. At the same time, some companies that existed before the pandemic, unable to recover from the blow, will fold and disappear.

Yet several other firms will be flexible enough, adapting to market dynamics and managing to bounce back stronger than before. For such firms, readjusting their business models in line with changing times and market trends will be the name of the game, learning and researching on the go.

Lastly, to stay afloat amid sinking fortunes, cost-cutting will certainly feature big-time across sectors. However, there are more sustainable ways of going about it besides the traditional staff layoffs. Job cuts should come last, not first, after all other options have been exploited, and even then management could still resort to less harsher options like furloughs, pay cuts and unpaid leave.

There are many possibilities expected once the economy emerges from the other end of the dark tunnel, but those camps outlined above broadly stand out for me. Managers will have to consider which corner of these camps they would occupy once the dust has settled.