More businesses are in one way or another turning to sustainable practices, some without even knowing it, to ride the disruptive wave caused by the Coronavirus.
Recovery from the ensuing financial mess will mostly hinge on sustainability strategies deployed around costs, convenience, resilience and efficiency — all of which call for innovative approaches during and after the pandemic. That is not to say businesses especially small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) wouldn’t need a fiscal leg-up from the government.
Even with support, bouncing back would still be pegged on own initiative. And whatever strategies and innovations that companies will deploy during this period will determine their future success.
As more people work from home amid increased social distancing, paperwork has been replaced by electronic documentation, with scanned soft copies serving where signatures are needed. Besides conveniently enabling business continuity amid premises closures, e-documentation will return cash savings in printing costs. Avoiding paper is also ecofriendly, making it a sustainable behaviour in favour of people, profit and planet.
At the same time, several businesses are only accepting non-cash payments like mobile money and cards after President Uhuru Kenyatta discouraged cash handling to contain the spread of the virus. To further boost uptake during the period, mobile money operators have waived fees on small transactions while banks have removed charges on cash transfers to mobile wallets.
A cash-lite economy carries the benefit of cutting bank notes printing costs and, ultimately, reducing cash cost. However, it could also present the risk of cybercrime, calling for airtight security systems.
Combined with digital banking services, including loan application and account opening, it means even with shutdown of brick and mortar, customers can still access services remotely. This presents a win-win situation, handing clients convenience while returning savings for lenders from lower staff and physical premises costs.
Bank automation and cashless transactions, which reduce ATM use, could be a sustainable model for banks even as they tailor their products around the needs of different customer segments. SMEs have taken the hardest hit from the coronavirus shock, starving them of cash and presenting an opportunity for lenders to offer them a lifeline while growing their loan books.
While the closure of schools, businesses and offices has caused untold disruptions in efforts to contain spread of Covid-19, it has led to innovative ways of doing things.
Though it’s still early to take stock of the effectiveness of remote working and learning from home, a lot is actually being covered virtually. Technology has enabled a segment of workers, especially those in the service and automated industries, to transcend differences in time, space and distance. Through use of video conferencing and communication tools like Zoom, Skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp, businesses have ensured continuity of operations amid physical premises closure and social distancing.
Working from home amid lockdowns and restricted travel has also seen a significant drop in road traffic, while fleets of aircraft have been grounded due to a reduction in air travel. This has the impact of cutting pollution for the time being, something that should be encouraged with institutionalisation of virtual working after the Coronavirus wave has ebbed.
As demonstrated, working from home could just be as productive, as working from an office settig. And it could result in lower utilities bills for businesses.
More businesses should invest in virtual working technologies to ensure continuity even during wide-scale disruptions as is currently the case.
Besides enabling continuity, virtual working has offered human resource managers and company strategists a chance to reassess their models and structures, identifying areas that need more resources like IT and flagging redundant ones than can be dispensed with.
HR personnel will also have to re-evaluate the effectiveness of the standard eight-to-five work-time model as well as the Monday-to-Friday workweek in view of running businesses remotely.
But it’s becoming apparent that many employees lack internet connectivity and personal computers in their homes. For such a group, office internet and desktops are part of the reason for their daily commute to work. Another challenge with operating from home, besides interruptions for those with families, is that most employees lack appropriate workspaces in their homes.
In anticipation of similar future disruptions, employers could explore ways of ensuring their employees have laptops alongside work desks to encourage remote working.
The post-Coronavirus era is likely to present corporate Kenya with new ways of doing business, with ramifications across almost all sectors, especially aviation, hospitality and tourism.