COVID 19 And Future Of Business: Remote work, Automation, Digitization

A meaningful shift in future demand is expected to be seen in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) companies in the coming time writes Dr. Mafruza Sultana and Dr. Abhinav Singhal.


The unpredicted and unforeseen COVID pandemic has turned the world upside down, disrupted the economy, and pushed the industry’s boundaries of resilience. As a subsequent consequence, it forced most of the companies to move their knowledge work from offices to the houses of their employees. It is very difficult for anyone to predict when the virus would disappear and when the work and economy will return back to normal. Innovative thought and moral courage are required to resume operation amid this global catastrophe as the pandemic is going to be around for a while and the end of it is still not in sight, so a pre-Covid business as usual does not seem likely anytime soon. 

During the pandemic in the last two years, it has been noticed that a majority household sector prioritized basic products like grocery and medical items over services like salons, multiplexes, restaurants, etc., many of which were forced to suspend their operations. A meaningful shift in future demand is expected to be seen in both business-to-consumer (B2C) and business-to-business (B2B) companies in the coming time when a suppressed demand could turn in spending more on services once normalcy resumes, whereas online grocery shopping, virtual healthcare visits, and home nesting are still likely to be continued in the near future. But in the case of travel, live entertainment, tourism, and education, people would prefer to return to pre-pandemic time or close to that. The consumer-product companies will need to focus on detailed market segmentation, better customer experiences, more promotions, and enhanced product availability to avoid subside sales. Banking, insurance, retail, and medicine sectors are gradually being shifted to the digital business model, but the most crucial focus area will be to develop strongly after-sales support system through which the companies could keep their physical products running with the help of digital technology, to supervise the product condition and to use software and AI to make any type of adjustments or corrections, if required.  

The resultant paradigm shift could be noticed in Indian ventures where they have modified their focus area and added 24 start-ups like Digit Insurance (insurtech), Pharmeasy (healthtech), CRED (fintech), Infra-Market (B2Becommerce) etc. into the coveted unicorn club in these eight months of 2021 and 11 number of Indian start-ups, such as Zomato (foodtech), Paytm (fintech), Unacademy (edtech) reached to the unicorn status in 2020. A wide range of organizations revealed through self-reported data that individual and team productivity has gone up during the pandemic. A McKinsey report showed that there is an existence of correlation between higher productivity and employees’ sense of belonging. 

The adoption of remote work is anticipated to persist even in the future, meetings are more likely to happen virtually and the entire communication process is going to continue via electronic channels. Facebook, the largest social networking company in the world, having 70 offices globally with more than 48,000 employees, is gradually moved into remote work operation in this pandemic. Mark Zuckerberg, the CEO of Facebook, in a recent interview with ‘The Verge’, shared his views which foresee tens of thousands of jobs getting shifted to remote work permanently, and within the next 5 to 10 years nearly half of the employees would work remotely. Rewriting job descriptions will be one of the main agendas henceforth since data science and interpretation will have greater prominence in virtual work. Real-time upskilling and reskilling is going to be the prime requirement to constructability to deliver remote courses. Adaptability is going to be the mandatory competency for future businesses and an accelerated pace of change will become normal. In some cases, it has been noticed that few companies are using this pandemic time to strengthen their speed muscles by giving emphasis on building personal connections, working on reducing fatigue, and creating competitive advantages in performance and health.  

The knowledge-based companies are going to follow a hybrid working model in the future which will ensure a true competitive advantage because employees will get more flexibility and adaptability which will enable them to become more focused and productive by entering an energizing community. Organizations will have to decide when physical presence is necessary and how often face-to-face meetings are indispensable, especially when more workforce returns to the workplace. Management would have to rethink about the office footprint like the adequate requirement of office space and the number of people required in-house after the pandemic. A seamless business model needs to be introduced to work from anywhere, whether it’s from home, company office, co-working stations, or any other suitable place. A plethora of new innovative ideas on digital experiences, amenities, and other aspects of working life are the additional concerned areas that need to be incorporated in this model.  

Due to the pandemic crisis, we have entered a new digital normal. So, every business needs to think strategically by considering the following factors for the longer term-the right financials, the right tools, and the right staffing. In a post covid world, however, procurement digitalization will gain even more important as companies will look to achieve greater operational efficiency while keeping costs under control. As per a new research report by IBM Institute for Business Value, covid 19 has accelerated digital transformation at 59% of surveyed organizations, 60% of organizations accelerated automation process, 64% of organizations shifted towards more cloud-based business activities, 55% of organizations made changes in their organization strategy permanently and 60% organizations have aligned their approach to change management. Findings also forecasted that in another two years a huge shift is going to take place towards prioritization of workforce safety and security, cost management, and enterprise agility. 

2020 was a year of uncertainty and anxiety, companies are compelled to rebuild more effective capital-allocation processes which enables them to generate value by overcoming fast-moving disruptions that can substantiate themselves over time. As the covid 19 has become a universal humanitarian challenge, henceforward companies need to relook their responsibilities towards their employees and the societies where they are operating, not only about their stakeholders. Companies should map out their course of action before prioritizing the areas based on their firmness and welfare of people while allocating their resources in their corporate social responsibility initiatives. Business leadership needs to take a proactive role in reshaping the economy and society by creating robust economies. Recalling the quote of Winston Churchill “Difficulties mastered are opportunities won”, we believe we shall overcome the challenges of this threatening global disaster, and our life, work and happiness will return once again. 

(The article is written by Dr. Mafruza Sultana, Jagdish Sheth School of Management (Formerly known as IFIM Business School), Bangalore and Dr. Abhinav Singhal, Christ University (Deemed to be University), Delhi, NCR )

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