Since the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared the Covid-19 pandemic a global pandemic in March 2020, businesses have been struggling to cope with the crisis and the disruption it has brought to different sectors of the market.
Although everyone is waiting for the pandemic to end, businesses have been trying to find solutions to a variety of problems in the interim, including maintaining communication with employees and customers, dealing with tumbling sales and unstable supply chains, and adapting to what is believed to be a “new normal” where many things are likely to remain unchanged after the pandemic is over, including ways of doing business.
“There are businesses that have disappeared completely, and there are ones that have started to focus more on online platforms and data-mining to keep up with the new realties,” said Bassam Al-Shanawany, secretary-general of the Egyptian Junior Businessmen’s Association (EJBA).
“We now have different ways to reach clients in more places, thanks to technological advances. Physical access is no longer the basis of communication and doing business,” he added.
Businesses that have many branches have started to cut their number and use online solutions instead, he said, adding that online payments had started to gain popularity in order to achieve financial inclusion.
Al-Shanawany added that working from home had made it easier and more effective to do business and to learn new ways to do it and reach places that were hard to access before.
Upgrading technological infrastructure for business has become a priority, he said, adding that rapid and continuous development had become a necessity.
“Technology and communications are key factors that will determine how businesses will survive, but the recovery will take years for many businesses to reach before-pandemic levels,” he stressed.
Mohamed Qaoud, head of the tourism and aviation committee at the EJBA, said that changes to how companies do business had been extensive due to the unprecedented circumstances.
He added that the government had supported businesses across many sectors following the spread of the virus and the measures taken to combat it, and businesses had come up with short-term plans and crisis-management tactics, along with medium-term plans on how to cope with dynamic changes and long-term plans for business sustainability based on new norms.
Qaoud stressed that businesses would not be going back to the same environment they had operated in before the pandemic. “Although we might go back to our normal lives after the crisis is over, there are now new norms, policies, and strategies that we will follow in the upcoming years,” he said.
“The crisis showed the importance of job integration and why we must revisit the way we do business in order to achieve maximum productivity,” Qaoud said.
“We need to promote the concept of job integration with more business owners, and that will happen when we apply international best practices of corporate governance, which will add more sustainability to organisation, reflecting on the performance of stakeholders, owners, and employees,” said Wael Rashidy, founder and CEO of Guiders Consult, a consultancy company, and head of the consultancy committee at the EJBA.
He said that the business community had started to take advantage of digital platforms and technologies available online to discover more attractive business opportunities and integration in the form of consortiums and joint ventures that would help to overcome the economic effects of the coronavirus pandemic.
He added that companies had started to think smarter and wiser, and that business owners and leaders had started to think more about risks and the different ways of managing them, as well as about utilising technologies and digital transformation in managing business risks, reducing costs, and enhancing business performance, in order to sustain businesses and achieve objectives.
However, operations in the industrial sector were totally different, as machinery needed labour to operate it, he said, and the change in the sector had happened on the level of production and supply-chain planning.
He added that in some sectors such as manufacturing and agriculture, the changes would be temporary until the pandemic was over, unless owners invested in the new business norms by raising awareness about risk-management, improving supply and value chains, restructuring decision-making processes and the processes of doing business, and thinking about ways of governing business for sustainability.
According to a questionnaire sent out by the EJBA, 95 per cent of business owners in 50 countries around the world, including Egypt, will focus their plans in 2021 on the mental health of employees to achieve greater well-being, and 60 per cent will work on motivational initiatives.
Additionally, 70 per cent have clear plans regarding visions for job engagement and building a trust-based culture to increase productivity.
According to the New McKinsey Global Institute, a branch of the US consultancy firm, productivity has long been a weak spot in global growth, but the coronavirus crisis might have kick-started a rise in productivity.
As companies have shifted rapidly to online channels, it said, automated production tasks, increased operational efficiency, and sped-up decision-making and innovations in operating models, had led productivity to rise, and more growth may be in store.
Research by the institute found that there was potential to accelerate annual productivity growth by about one percentage point by 2024.
*A version of this article appears in print in the 8 April, 2021 edition of Al-Ahram Weekly