How organisations will transform under the impact of the COVID-19 pandemic
Let’s face it, nothing is going to be the same again once the global pandemic recedes. By now, everybody knows that. There has been a lot of talk about the “new normal” that is going to take over the ways we work, socialize and live. Behavioural changes will definitely happen, no doubts about that. But apart from changes in individual routines, a far greater change is looming in the horizon. Organisations are going to change the way they conduct and operate their business and manage their people. So while much discussion is going on about how the employees will adopt in the days ahead, let us shift our focus to understand the possible changes that are going to alter the organisations. Change they must, because what worked in the past, won’t necessarily work now or in the future in a post-pandemic world.
The physical aspects of conducting business is certainly going to be under the scanner. With people working from everywhere except the office, the whole concept of setting up a physical shop is now redundant. In one sweep the organizations now have thousands of end-points from where to conduct operations – and those are our homes. While this will definitely allow freeing up of real-estate holdings, another change it will force is doing away with the idea of having centralised headquarters. Even if employees do attend office in future, they might not be required to travel all the way up to ‘that one big building located at the central business district’ of a major city. Instead, companies might retain just one skeletal headquarters for administrative purposes and distribute the work centres across the country. An employee would then simply log in from the nearest office branch – much like the way we use bank ATMs.
This would impact the HR approach too. Talent can then be tapped from anywhere, without bothering about the feasibilities of relocation. The company gains from the availability of a resource pool with no boundaries and lowers hiring cost, while the worker does not have to leave home and family to land a plum job.
It is obvious that, with everything happening remotely, digital transformation would now become a necessity and no longer an option. In the new normal, all operations, delivery and customer engagement will happen over digital platforms; hence, organisations would either be digital or cease to exist. It has already been demonstrated that the IT sector – which already had a robust remote-working infrastructure in place for many years – coped best in the current WFH situation and is even on a growth mode.
As a spiral effect, investments in retraining all workers would go up initially – because now everyone must learn how to use the host of new online collaborative tools and remote performance software. As with organisations, the individuals who don’t or can’t upskill will not survive.
We will also be seeing a greater use of automation and robotics for routine processes – both to eliminate human dependency and in a bid to make tasks contactless. As a result, artificial intelligence and AR-VR technologies will be much in demand. IoT is already driving towards unification of gadgets and technology, which will gain a major impetus now. And data-based decision models will be the rage – because faced with an uncertain future, organisations would prefer to predict future disruptions with greater accuracy.
Cybersecurity and Privacy
With all business transactions getting online, cybersecurity is bound to be a major concern. It always was, but back then companies kept their own terminals are servers secured within multi-layered capsules of digital firewalls. Now, each home connection is a terminal node for the organisation – and that poses a real challenge. The onus is now on the firm to secure firm data on one hand and protect the workers operating over diverse individual data-connections from cyberattacks on the other.
Going digital also requires employees to share greater volumes of personal data over the web. Cyber security will therefore become mission critical to protect this wealth of data and ensure that WFH employees are safeguarded from cyber threats. Employees will expect greater protection and want to know how companies are using the data they generate. Some technologies used to enhance productivity or to ensure remote working may be perceived as lacking in privacy standards, and these will come under increased scrutiny from authorities. As a result, countries with relaxed or non-formalised data-security legislations will be shunned by investors across the world.
The Economy and the Inequality
Even if we leave aside the pandemic, the world is generally becoming unstable for long-term planning. Several issues, ranging from political turbulence, social unrest and protests, rise of hardliner wings, environmental concerns and other similar macro-issues are beginning to show on world economy. Faced with a “synchronized slowdown” of economy, businesses suddenly find it hard to take risks to break new grounds or to expand. And COVID-19 was the last straw leading to total disruption. The situation is not going to improve soon, uncertainties are only set to increase, and this will take a toll on every industry.
More immediate and helpless is the situation of the population that is stranded at the wrong side of the great digital divide. While both education and business turn web-based, the economically handicapped section of the society will be left behind – as they lack both the device and the connectivity. It is a problem without any immediate solution. Moreover, the chasm of inequality keeps widening as frontline blue-collar workers either lose their jobs due to lockdown or risk their lives in face of the pandemic. And this is the group that is low-income and without financial back-up. In contrast, economically more stable and higher paid white-collar employees get to go about earning the same from the safety of their homes. No one knows how best to address this disparity, but fears are that it will lead to lasting stains in the social fabric.
Managing in a New World
So where do leaders stand in this transformation? With remote working becoming the norm, managers and leaders are increasingly abandoning the role of scrutinizers and becoming mentors and guides. In truth, that was how it should have been all along, but a greater part of top management took micro-managing very seriously. But now anew kind of leadership is emerging which defines objectives, sets milestones and lets teams go on autopilot. Employees would still miss the social connect they could have made at office, but that is something which will have to wait for quite some time now.