Things are changing
BUSINESS MATTERS (BEYOND THE BOTTOM LINE) - Francis J. Kong (The Philippine Star) - April 25, 2020 - 12:00am

Suddenly, the entire world has been changed by a virus. We are going through an unchartered territory and most everyone has varying degrees of discomfort about the future. COVID-19 was an abrupt shock that is likely to send the world into an economic depression. Consider the following.

The economic prospect for the rest of the year will be bleak. A recession is inevitable; every business and company will have to recalibrate their investment strategy.

The vaccine will probably be another six to 12 months away. And we all hope it comes sooner. But even if they are available, it will still take time for every occupant of this planet to have one.

There will be intermittent lockdowns. It is now a certainty that there will only be a gradual return to partial normality for most countries, including ours. Government leaders face the burden of having to manage health-safety issues, saving lives, and preventing the spread. Yet, through lockdowns, there is a proportionate deterioration of the economy that will lead to business closures and job layoffs. What a burden they have to carry.

There will be strict social distancing rules. This means what worked before will no longer work now or in the immediate future. Speaking events, conferences, meet-ups… every physical interaction and transaction is a no-go for now. There will only be essential travel. Airline, tourism, and the hospitality sector are hit badly. “MICE” meaning: Meetings Incentives Conferences and Events have had cancellations and not only the hoteliers and the restaurants are taking a big hit. Consider events planners and organizers, stage designers, and sound system providers; they are all in the same difficult space.

Meanwhile, digital is winning big time. The virus has instantaneously propelled companies into digital transformation. The age-old debate of whether employees should be allowed to work from home or not is already moot and academic. One’s home becomes the hub for education, entertainment, and work. This transformation is now a nightmare for IT people as they have to work double-time to ensure cyber-security and privacy issues. What fascinates me too is that even Weather Forecast is affected by the Virus because planes are not flying. Meteorologists use forecast models powered by hundreds of thousand data points collected from commercial flights. Now these data disappeared as planes were grounded.

The world is also creating new traditions. And one of these is “Making Noise,” this is how people all over the world show their appreciation for health care workers, first responders, and front liners. New terms have emerged, and they are now popular. Terms like “repurpose,” “epidemiologists,” “PPE,” and some age-old terms now carry new meanings and are now revised. Grocery workers, delivery personnel, security guards, our garbage collectors were snobbishly referred to in the past as “unskilled workers” have been rebranded as “essential workers.”

Wearing masks and practicing physical distancing are needed in order to curb virus infections. This is not something that is a first or unique to us. During the Spanish Flu pandemic of 1918, when more than 500 million people died, the flattening of the curb began only when people started wearing masks. Face masks were enforced at gunpoint. I read somewhere that the Brazilian government had a difficult time enforcing curfew in certain places. But the problem was solved when gang leaders took charge and implemented it effectively.

The challenge we have is that nobody knows when this crisis would end, and while we can make projections and studies, we still cannot see what the after-effect of all these would be to us as people and as a country.

A colleague of mine asks me what I do now that I have so much time in the world? I find this question strange. I still do a lot of things throughout the day, but I just do it differently and mostly online. I do Facebook shout outs for front liners thanking them for their service and encouraging them to stay strong because their service is valued. I do leadership webinars for my company clients that is shown to their managers and executives and I have done webinars addressing thousands of employees of other business organizations. I do Facebook live on a new platform that was launched recently called Pocket Mentor and these things keep me busy.

It has been said that, “Anything that does not challenge you would not be powerful enough to change you.” COVID-19 is an enormous challenge we are facing and its effect on everyone is tremendous. The same principle applies. We will change and we just have to make sure we change for the better.

Just two thoughts that are important for leaders to understand. This is not the end of the world and things will get better. And those “things” should include us too.

(Connect with Francis Kong in www.facebook.com/franciskong2. Or listen to “Business Matters” Monday to Friday 8:00 a.m. and 6:30 p.m. over 98.7 DZFE-FM ‘The Master’s Touch’, the classical music station.)

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