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Editorial

New normal for businesses

/ 04:07 AM April 27, 2020

Everyone agrees that life as we’ve known it will not be back soon, or perhaps ever. The prospects of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19) lingering until at least a vaccine is found and made available on a global scale will transform the way people live and the way businesses operate.

“History teaches us that short-term measures taken in response to global crises lead to changes that last for decades,” said IndustryWeek.com. “What most of us consider normal has already fundamentally shifted.”

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Many companies are already thinking of what the new normal will be for them. Work from home (WFH), for instance, has become the first major adjustment.

The Ayala Group, the country’s oldest conglomerate, has said that 30-40 percent of its workforce will continue to work from home even after the lifting of the lockdown in Metro Manila and some parts of the country.

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WFH has been a growing trend, with the rapid progress in technology allowing people to communicate seamlessly wherever they are. The health crisis simply accelerated this growth, and many employers now realize that many functions in their companies can be done outside of the workplace, from remote meetings to remote hiring. A majority of enterprises adopting WFH arrangements for their eligible employees may also have the effect of easing traffic congestion and public transport woes in the metropolis.

Another emerging new normal is expanded online shopping, even for essentials such as food and toiletries. Supermarkets and retailers need to invest in technology to make it more convenient for customers to shop much of their goods online.

This, in turn, will help grow the delivery or logistics sector. New players in the delivery services should be allowed by the government to come in when the lockdown is lifted, to compete with first movers like Grab and Lalamove.

The pandemic has also forced some restaurants to innovate, by transforming themselves into retailers — redirecting their supplies to end-users instead of to their kitchens as they were disallowed to accept dine-in customers under the quarantine. Selling items from the menu directly to consumers via online transactions will become much more prevalent, as an income stream and a way forward for food establishments that may struggle to lure in the old customers even after the lockdown is lifted.

Financial institutions, on the other hand, expect the rapid expansion of digital banking in the wake of this pandemic. The transition from cash to digital transactions will definitely pick up pace, while the experience of physical banking — customers going to a bank branch for their transactions — will have to accommodate new health requirements such as physical distancing, temperature checks, face masks on everyone, and the frequent disinfection of premises.

However, to be able to handle the projected surge in online banking, banks will need to invest in technology or upgrade their existing ones. Even the biggest banks saw their computer systems stretched to the limit during the lockdown, with the majority of their clients restricted to their homes and communities and relying on digital banking more than ever for their financing requirements. For instance, a major bank had to plead for understanding and patience from its customers who were having difficulty accessing online and mobile banking services due to the surge in log-ins and digital transactions caused by the lockdown.

Other than beefing up their technology, banks should also expand their reach, so as not to leave behind micro and small enterprises especially those in the rural areas. The overarching need, for banks and other businesses alike, is to find new ways to reach out and serve customers. “Re-imagining customer experience must happen—and it must happen quickly—as it could be the only way for businesses to survive in the current environment,” noted Forbes magazine.

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For other companies, the new normal will involve increased reliance on contractors for certain aspects of their operations, but doing so without violating existing “endo” laws that prohibit contractuals, especially for jobs that require regular employees. Relying on contractors will help cut the cost for companies whenever an unexpected disruption happens.

Cutting-edge technology, especially artificial intelligence and cloud computing, will play a big role in many other changes in the “low touch” days ahead. Companies need to embrace these developments to survive, and to be constantly alert to new realities as the local and global business environments try to find their footing in the aftermath of COVID-19. Experts point to two things that are required of businesses to withstand crises—resilience and agility. Many businesses will have to develop these core strengths, or risk perishing in this or the next emergency.

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