Moving Business Online
At Inter-Serv we believe that the global marketplace will never return to the way it was before COVID-19. This is not meant in a negative sense, rather the surreal Social Distancing experience forces us to re-evaluate our priorities, our needs and our concept of risk and preparedness. For some, it means that the trajectory of their business is irreversibly altered.
This article is the first in a series that sheds light not only on how the business world will emerge from the end of COVID-19 but serves as a guide to dealing with uncertainty. Follow us on our website or on social media for thought leadership articles.
Industrial revolutions are typically heralded by the invention and mass uptake of new technology; new means of manufacturing, processing or communicating. The outbreak of COVID-19 (Coronavirus) in December 2019 in Wuhan, China quickly spread across the globe during the first quarter of 2020. The highly contagious virus prompted waves of action unprecedented in decades.
Unexpected Business Restrictions
Governments across the world moved to restrict the spread of the virus through measures that limited people gathering in large numbers. These actions included the closure of educational institutions, entertainment establishments, airports and other travel hubs, as well as the encouragement of people to work from home. While people who routinely work remotely wondered what the fuss was about, most businesses faced new challenges overnight that could be resolved through the use of technology. Organisations scrambled to find laptops for remote workers, increase VPN bandwidth and review cybersecurity protocols. Schools organised themselves to deliver academic content online and travel agents scrambled to seek clients and destinations in areas without travel restrictions.
The next Industrial Evolution
The impact of such a mass exodus from office to remote working heralds the next industrial evolution. The technological tools were available before 2020, and to some extent were already utilised by a minority of people, firms or government agencies. The response to COVID-19 prompted the mass uptake of remote working, and let us be clear – this is a significant lifestyle change that extends far beyond the simple act of working from one’s home. Behavioural studies show that new habits formed are not easily undone. Once the dust settles and normal life resumes, we will be witness to a new order of working.
Businesses and governments around the world are seeking ways to offer continuity of service while limiting physical person-to-person contact. The thing is that once an easier way of getting a task done becomes available, no one will accept to revert to the less convenient method. Therefore, we may expect to see consumers demand that businesses continue to offer additional services that were offered as a response to COVID-19, be that contactless payments, online shopping, home delivery or any of the myriad ways companies are seeking to maintain positive cash flows. In a similar fashion, companies will lobby governments to retain in the long-term the services that they have started to offer to limit the spread of the virus, whether online submission and processing of applications, digital signatures, to faster payment processing as cash and cheque are side-lined.
There is no doubt that organisations will realise that there are in fact many advantages to having staff work from home – given the time to organise properly. Smaller office space may be required, permitting the enterprise to save on rent and associated office expenses such as utilities, provision of transport and/or parking for staff, cleaning staff and expenses related to housekeeping. Utilising cloud servers instead of inhouse server hardware further reduces the need for physical space, maintenance expenses, not to mention the significant ancillary benefits of reduced downtime, far easier scaling, and vastly improved business disaster recovery capacity.
The benefits for organisations continue: staff working from home do not arrive late due to traffic or missed public transport. Schools will realise that once they have set up a sound online learning platform, it would permit them to expand their student numbers far beyond the physical limitations of a classroom. Businesses that sell directly to consumers in an outlet or through direct physical contact are already scrambling to set up online stores, organise virtual meetings and close deals without actually meeting their client. A number of merchants are no longer accepting cash, a known carrier of bacteria: seventy-year olds are setting up e-money accounts as in some cases due to COVID-19 precautionary measures that is the only way to make payment.
Increasing Digitisation of Services
Many people are using services that they had so far not seen the need for, such as online platforms, online shopping and delivery services. Once these practices have become the norm, consumers will begin to demand these more and more both from businesses as well as government agencies. The COVID-19 response may be expected to accelerate the digitisation of national services: in Malta for instance, with the courts closed as a precautionary measure, all promises of sale of immoveable property had to be automatically extended. Still in Malta, work is already in hand for the land registry and property conveyance mechanism to move onto a blockchain platform that would reduce the necessity of physical contact without which a real estate contract may today not be officially registered.
It has been devastatingly tragic circumstances that ushered in the next wave of evolution in the way business is done; and there will be no complete return to the former practices. Businesses need to ensure that they are re-engineered for the new order.
Inter-Serv is a business too and we are also dealing with the challenges posed by COVID-19. We have been monitoring the situation since it emerged in Asia in December 2019 and as it spread closer to home, we pro-actively mobilised and invested to permit our entire workforce to operate remotely. We hoped this would not be necessary, but when it became so, we were ready and able to do so seamlessly. Malta’s Business Registry is also fully operational online, permitting the registration of new companies, partnerships and foundations, as well as any changes to existing entities. We believe that the business world will be forever changed, even after COVID-19 is tamed.
Let us here at Inter-Serv help you to make sense of these troubled times and forge a way forward despite the turmoil.