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Wednesday, 12 August 2020

Life after coronavirus: What is the new normal?

Mohab Anis, head of a research programme on the impact of the pandemic, says that more online businesses and more protective barriers are coming our way

Dina Ezzat , Saturday 18 Jul 2020
Mohab Anis
Mohab Anis
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“During the past few months, our lives have changed in many ways because of the COVID-19 pandemic; certain precautions we have been taking to avoid infection are simply here to stay,” says Mohab Anis, professor of electronics and communications engineering at the American University in Cairo (AUC).

Anis has been working for the past four months, along with other experts from around the world, on a study for the Global Innovation Management Institute to determine the impact that COVID-19 has had on doing business.

Anis is a member of a 30-team group that has been working online to examine changes and offer recommendations for businesses to keep growing despite any long-term effects the pandemic may be having on the behaviour of individuals.

Examining countries like China, Colombia, Italy and Egypt, among others, the team concluded that one thing that all businesses the world over will have to learn is how to use growing online business operations.

This, he said, is as much about making purchases as it is about negotiating deals, providing healthcare or accessing banking services.

“For sure a lot of the things that have gone online, successfully so, would mostly remain online even after the end of the pandemic,” Anis said. “Why? Well, because of many things: teams who could work online need much less office space, much less commuting and would consume much less paper.”

“In many ways, working online is a good choice for recruitment too, because if one has a business at the very far end of east Cairo, one would not have to worry about hiring someone from the west end of the city,” Anis added.

To cope up with these “inevitable” upcoming changes, governments, just like private businesses, will need to do things like up-scaling their internet services and updating their IT infrastructure.

“For example, if more and more doctors are making electronic prescription, then there has to be a system for these prescriptions to go through to pharmacies,” Anis said. “These are the kinds of things that take time to fix, but whatever happens in the next few years, we will surely be seeing less and less actual paper involved in so many things,” he added.

Anis has also been working on the possible short and long term impacts of the coronavirus pandemic for Egypt. During the past couple of months, he has been part of a group of AUC researchers looking into the many aspects of the impact of COVID-19 on life in Egypt.

Here, Anis also examined the business side, and again he saw clear signs of a tendency for people to pursue more online services than before.

“Exercising using online aids, for example, is one thing more people have been doing. So, while people will certainly go back to the gyms at some point, many find home exercise more convenient and say it helps them commit to working out, so they might still opt for online coaching,” he said.

“Until we reach the point when most people can go back to the gyms, private gyms may want to rent out their machines to people who cannot make it to the gym or cannot afford to buy their own machines.”

The project that Anis is working on for AUC is more focused on examining the services sector, “one of the most hard-hit sectors in Egypt.”

Of the many services that will have to adjust in order to keep growing is the restaurant business, Anis says.

Today, restaurants targeting clients who have hygiene concerns due to the virus need to think about pursuing the “certified clean” option, which would put more work on them but would secure them more sales, Anis suggested.

“We are still at the early phases of our research, but I think that eventually Egypt, like all countries hit by the pandemic, will need to pursue innovative ideas,” he said.

“One of the innovative ideas that have worked so well to save the commuting services is the installation of protective barriers to separate drivers from backseat clients,” Anis said, explaining that this is an innovative yet easily implemented idea.

Moreover, he added, for many businesses the future is about more remote communication and decentralisation.

“It might take a while, but I think we are already on the path toward abandoning long meetings where a large number of employees have to be present in the same room to receive daily instructions from their boss,” he explained.

Using social media to promote business and creating more attractive websites is also a thing of the future, Anis said.

Anis is not worried about Egypt finding it hard to catch up with this “new normal in the post coronavirus phase.” Egypt, he said, is a big consumer of smart phones, especially since the market now offers a wide range of inexpensive and easy-to-use phones.

“When we look at the obvious example of how e-learning practices were managed in the very first days of the [partial lockdown] and we compare it to how it developed a few months down the road, then we would see that things picked up – maybe slowly but they are picking up,” Anis said.

The AUC project should be completed by this coming autumn, but Anis says that regardless of the pandemic’s situation by that time, the changes in lifestyle and consequently in the management of business are already upon us.

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