Life has changed because of COVID-19 and it looks like some things will never return to the way they were before. Life under lockdown is admittedly surreal and the uncertainty of what lies ahead is quite daunting as businesses and the global economy feel the broad impact of the virus. Already the economic impact of the virus is hitting home with many businesses unable to trade, with most already cost-cutting or putting a freeze on their budgets. Already the first raft of businesses impacted by COVID-19 have shut their doors for good and many others will likely follow, unable to weather the storm.
Mostly COVID-19 is causing change and fueling innovation to enable us to do the things we needed to do before the outbreak differently. The JSE has implemented a platform for virtual shareholder AGM’s to support business continuity, effectively addressing one of many challenges facing listed businesses in their compliance activities. Education, has for the most part, been ahead of the curve in its readiness for virtual delivery, with many higher learning institutions and private schools already using digital channels and tools in day to day educational activities. Unfortunately, this does not extend fully into some of our government schools yet, but change is slowly happening there too and many additional digital learning channels are being offered privately through local enterprise. Notable amongst these is Vodacom who has seen a 1000% surge in registrations on its E-School platform since the start of the lockdown.
Our day to day lives have been changed in ways that no one could have imagined would be possible and many of these changes may be permanent fixtures of our lives when the dust settles.
Working remotely is probably one of the biggest changes that many people are experiencing for the first time. Included in this are our children who are now also learning virtually, and interacting with their teachers through a variety of digital platforms so that their studies are not interrupted. I have enjoyed the privilege of working from home surrounded by my family, with the dynamic of being in the comfort of our home each busy with our respective work routines. It is certainly special and may have some lasting unexpected benefits.
COVID-19 has made us more reliant than ever on the connectivity and technology to communicate and to access the platforms we need to learn and work. Before the pandemic, we used household data mainly for entertainment and less for work, but now we appreciate the connectivity and the fact that it is keeping us employed and our children educated, not just entertained. Being exposed to the collaborative tools that have enabled continuity in our work and education has been something of a crash course for many people, but the benefit is that it has been a live proving ground for that the technology we have does, in fact, help us to remain productive and it works. Whilst not all jobs can be performed remotely, it has shown that a large contingent of the workforce can keep the wheels turning from their homes. Will this lead to employers becoming more comfortable with virtual workforces and work-from-home becoming the norm rather than the exception?
A significant potential benefit of the lockdown is that our children are experiencing a greater level of independence during their lockdown schooling. The old distinction between school being a place to work, and home being a place of recreation has become blurred with our children having to continue their daily classes from home without the full-time supervision of their teachers. At the same time, our children can observe how we work while at home and are learning firsthand how they need to manage and perform their own assigned tasks with minimal supervision. Sounds like the grown-up workplace doesn’t it? Learning how to manage their work time and workloads, and essentially taking ownership of their schoolwork while having the freedom of being at home is a skill that will serve our children well in most aspects of their lives. And it’s a skill they may not ever have been able to learn this early if it weren’t for COVID-19.
Things are still settling in to the new “natural order” under the lockdown.
On the business front, we have seen first-hand a sharp spike as our customers have been scrambling to equip their staff to work from home with routers and data SIM cards, laptops, tablets, and Microsoft Office 365. While many of the tools required for remote working have been available for a long time, most businesses did not necessarily have tested contingency plans in place to make a seamless shift to the virtual working environment that we are now in. As work-from-home staff becomes accustomed to the virtual workspace, businesses will turn their focus to optimising outputs and dealing with the challenges presented by a remote workforce. Finding new ways to engage with customers, finding ways to continue selling and delivering services, rejigging strategies, and managing costs will be high on the agenda for businesses in the weeks ahead. Similarly, our children and their teachers will also be faced with new and unanticipated obstacles which they will need to overcome.
The speed at which we can find solutions and tools to address new challenges will be vital to the short-term survival and success of businesses globally, and will also shape the way that businesses and people operate in the future. Our children too will be shaped by the lockdown and will emerge from it equipped with new skills, platforms and ideas that will influence them both now and when they become economically active.
While the world is experiencing a frightening and unprecedented phenomenon to which we are trying to adapt, a better and different world will emerge for us all.
Vickie Janssen is a professional that assists corporates and SME’s optimise costs through technology-based solutions. She is a Technical Solutions Engineer at Agora Tec with many years of telecommunications and entrepreneurial experience that have given her a solid understanding of business.