Since the novel coronavirus first emerged in China in late 2019, it has run rampage across the world, affecting all areas of our personal and work lives. Lockdowns, isolation and distancing have typified 2020, essentially ending the year before it even had the chance to begin.
However, while the wholly regrettable death tally from COVID-19 has been reported at length, another danger has been looming in the background that is only now starting to become clear – namely, the long-term economic implications of the virus and the risks to small businesses.
Health has not been the only battlefield
For much of this year, the headlines have been dominated with the health dangers of COVID-19, but it’s worth remembering employers and small business owners have also been waging a silent financial battle against the virus through 2020.
Indeed, as we near the first anniversary of COVID-19, economic experts predict we’re on the verge of the biggest global depression in living memory. As governments struggle to maintain their promised furlough payments – yet countless businesses are still falling by the wayside and going bust – it seems we may have only seen the tip of the iceberg in terms of COVID-19’s destructive capabilities. The virus may yet have a few more tricks left up its sleeve.
The promise of an effective vaccine is unlikely to be enough
Clearly, the announcement of the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine being 90% effective gives reason for green shoots of hope – however, only the most naïve among us would think a vaccine will be enough to offer a panacea against almost a year of lockdowns, isolation and social distancing.
Rather, nations are going to have to take a more holistic approach to survival through COVID-19 and the subsequent fiscal rehabilitation that lies ahead. If you run a business, now is the time to act to help future-proof your company against the forecasted economic and social storms predicted through the future days, weeks and months.
A delicate balancing act – public safety vs economic stability
It would be difficult to point fingers at global leaders as they have truly faced the worst challenges and decisions through the last year. Trying to find a balancing point between keeping economies open and protecting populations was never going to be easy, however, the fact remains that most nations now face a bleak future over the short term.
Whether the forecasted downturn is short-term or long-term will largely be dictated by the efficacy of vaccines, coherent track-and-trace policies, efficient COVID PCR and antigen tests and public adherence to safety guidelines – at the very least until the R (replication) number of the virus begins to subside.
Nonetheless, another key factor in the world’s economic recovery from the ravages of COVID-19 will be the ability of Small and Medium-sized Enterprises (SMEs) to adapt to the changing times and what is widely-reported as being our New Normal.
Business success during and beyond the New Normal
The Oxford English Dictionary definition of a New Normal is, “A previously unfamiliar or atypical situation that has become standard, usual, or expected.”
There is surely little doubt this is precisely the future we face as governments around the world battle to contain the virus. However, there are still some things you can do today to help protect your business and future-proof your firm as we hopefully begin to emerge from the worst days of COVID-19.
Agility and adaptability will be key
One key quality that has united all the businesses that have survived (or even thrived) through the last few months of lockdown has been the ability to adapt to ever-changing circumstances.
Moving forward, companies will need to establish a solid base and working practices from which to grow. Also – and of equal importance – will be the ability to adapt quickly to changes, to take a fluid approach to work and to capitalize on opportunities as they emerge.
No-one knows for sure how long lockdowns and tiered isolation policies will last but being quick to adapt will be integral to the survival of businesses over the coming months.
Increased reliance on – and integration with – technology
It’s hard to imagine how our world would have functioned over the last year without technology. In particular, apps, the cloud and internet infrastructure have become part of the fabric of society.
Another key element in the survival of those companies that remained successful through COVID-19 has been their online preparedness – from networking and e-commerce stores to app integration and online communications.
As employees were forced into remote-working, companies around the world found themselves relying on internet technologies to stay connected and allow employees to continue working. Apps and cloud servers/processing were essential to this new, decentralized work environment with mobile devices playing an increasingly important role in the work day.
Consequently, IT networks and network engineers finally had a chance to prove their worth and demonstrate their Return on Investment (ROI). With real-world commerce and transactions virtually ground to a halt, the world moved online and we came to rely on IT and apps for everything from our weekly shop to entertainment, video-conferencing and collective working.
Working collaboratively over the cloud with apps and software
As home-working became ubiquitous, so our reliance on connected apps and software increased. Indeed, if you look at the new iteration of Microsoft Office (now named Microsoft Office 365), you will see a massive integration of popular communications, office productivity apps and networking/messaging systems all converged in one handy work interface.
You can be sure when a firm of Microsoft’s size and influence makes moves in a certain direction, it will be for good reason. The future of work is most definitely moving online with an increased integration of technology. Furthermore, the MS suite is an equally effective work-tool in a desktop or mobile environment – offering true remote-working capabilities.
Further, the company has also made serious investment in its Azure cloud tech and is actively promoting its Microsoft Azure Certification courses to persuade more industry experts to move to its platform in future.
Many changes instituted under COVID-19 will be here to stay
While we all hope the virus will abate soon and a combination of vaccines, sensible distancing and testing policies will eventually bring back some semblance of normality, it is undoubtedly the case that COVID-19 has changed the world forever. Just like other pandemics before it, the effects of coronavirus will be with us far longer than the virus itself.
For example, most experts suggest it will take years before the general population will again find crowded places and lack of distancing comfortable. It’s very likely hand-shaking and other close physical gestures will also become a thing of the past and analysts suggest it could take decades for the travel industry to return to previous levels.
Moreover, it seems highly likely the virus may have sounded the final death knell of the already-beleaguered high-street shopping industry. The effects of COVID-19 are likely to be long-lasting and permeate all aspects of our society.
The end of the traditional office
However, while all these changes are profound, perhaps none is more significant than the anticipated end to the traditional 9-5, Monday to Friday office work routine. Employees have already reported enjoying the greater flexibility and improved work/life balance offered by remote-working – while employers have also benefitted from reduced rent, rates and utility overheads. It seems highly unlikely either group will particularly rush to relinquish these respective benefits.
The future of the workplace lies with cloud tech, automation and apps
While the health implications of COVID-19 have been undoubtedly tragic, it could be argued that the virus has forced a long-overdue rethink of our previous disorder. For many years, employees have argued for the right to work from home and tried to persuade employers to invest in apps to help them do their jobs.
With increased internet connection speeds (both mobile and fixed-line), improved cloud technology and intelligent work apps, the idea of remote-working has been possible for many years – yet has largely been ignored.
Perhaps now, as an off-shoot from the virus, businesses will finally begin to wake up to the potential of these technologies and start to streamline the workplace, reduce overheads and help mitigate global pollution.