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Beyond COVID-19: Assessing our new realities

With the pandemic sending more businesses to a spontaneous state, there are still businesses that owe their new-found fortunes to COVID-19, making it clear that not everything about COVID-19 is bad – there are also upsides. The crux is knowing where the opportunities lie and exploiting them as quick movers.

Projections from a world infected with COVID-19 strongly support the viability of virtual engagement replacing physical workplace structure.

However, the preference of virtual engagements still requires proactivity from every business’ multiple stakeholders and their adeptness in managing the pros and cons.

A recap: COVID-19 became global headline news in mid-January and by June, with millions infected and hundreds of thousands dead, the virus remains what it is – a seemingly dead-end in relation to eradicating it.

Be that as it may, it still remains fact that while other continents have been hard-hit, Africa seems to be significantly spared the human loss associated with the morbidity that the virus brings. So far, it looks like Africa is suppressing the curve and might escape the worst of the pandemic but realists have pointed out that if the virus becomes unmanageable, Africa will be a veritable infection hotspot with a large number of casualties and losses of human lives. Although the virus forced institutions and organisations both in the public and private sectors to activate business continuity plans, relying heavily on technology, many people may consider the ‘new normal’ to be a boon if all attendant factors are optimally explored.

For Africa’s private sector, there is no ‘one-size-fits-all’ approach to manage the disruptions COVID-19 has unleashed. Every business now has to assess its position relative to the current realities which appear quite grave at the moment. Nonetheless, these realities are better viewed through the lens of an optimist deploying the mindset of exploration and exploitation in a daring field of opportunities.

Worthy of note is the possibility of a W-Curve denoting the resurgence of the virus as a pointer to a second and more stringent lockdown measures connoting that businesses must build resilience and prepare for long-term remote working to sustain daily operations. But if Africa continues to suppress the curve, there is a good chance that global investors, already looking for where to invest their monies, will re-consider the continent a safer bet as opposed to investing in economies already hit hard and projected to be even more battered.

China, from which the virus originated, is fast gaining the stature of a pariah nation as countries and corporate organisations develop strategies to pivot away from it. Businesses with heavy reliance on China’s manufacturing capacity should proactively confront this with adequate plans to insulate themselves. Likewise, Africa should explore this shift as a gratifying opportunity, harnessing its tendencies and banking on its returns.

Practicality will likely take precedence over sentiments as both natural and artificial persons start to make hard choices – safety over profits, necessity over luxury, performing employees over non-achievers, digitalisation over physical structure. Business leaders in particular will need to apply objectivity when making decisions crucial to the sustenance of their businesses. Naturally, such decisions will have to involve the integration of technology into all aspects of business operations as witnessed during the lockdown when businesses were forced to rely wholly on technology in order to remain viable.

In general, larger organisations will have to deal with some key concerns including employee management. Right-sizing will become inevitable if (a) the pandemic resurges; or (b) the economic realities get worse. With health and safety now as a primary focus, large organisations must invest in keeping employees safe.

While many will have the financial capacity for this, the mindset amongst management and staff required to achieve this needs to be engendered in a determined continuous process.

For medium and small businesses, their challenges will be more financial as they grapple with thin capital reserves especially given that businesses in this category tend to expend excess capital instead of reinvesting back into the business. In order to survive the new realities, medium and small businesses must build up their business reserves, or face an unbearable disruption capable of running them down.

Remote working will become an accepted operational factor as business drivers realise the possibility for employees to work from home and still be productive.

Even more importantly, businesses can scale down from investments in supporting structures for the physical workplace with savings on rent, furnishings, infrastructure, power, etc.

According to a recent McKinsey survey, 67 percent of African entrepreneurs are optimistic about the post-pandemic era compared with only 37 percent of their Asian counterparts. The ugly truth is that there are upsides to this life-taking pandemic and it will take an optimistic viewpoint to assess it optimally to one’s advantage whether it stays or it ends.

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