OPINION
OPINION

How Coronavirus Will Change Our Lives

The biggest challenges that the world continues to face from the Coronavirus pandemic are: how to stop its spread; find a cure or preventive; and protect the health and well-being of the entire population of the world.

While governments, healthcare authorities, and others wrestle with these confounding tasks, let us take a moment to try and look into a post-Corona world and what that will mean for all of us. At the moment, when everything about the pandemic continues to be unpredictable and uncertain, such a proposition could seem akin to crystal-ball gazing but yet, given the various trends that have surfaced in today’s beleaguered world, it may be time to try and conceive a new order that may emerge.

According to an estimate by the Imperial College, London, unless there is a sure-shot vaccine that is developed or an accelerated pace of herd immunity (which is a form of indirect protection from infectious disease that takes place when large proportions of the population becomes immune to the infection and, thus, provides a degree of protection from the virus for people who are not immune), the current crisis that the world faces could continue for 18 months or more. Perhaps even two years. That is long enough for individuals, communities, businesses, and governments to change the way we all live and work.

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For businesses, depending on the products and services they purvey, this could call for scenario analyses—whether to ride out the slowdown; or restructure and pare their activities and markets; or simply close down and abandon their enterprises. Such scenarios, as always, range from the mildly disruptive to ones that are radically destructive and catastrophic. But even as businesses try to contend with such challenges, what may have emerged are distinct changes in the way individuals have begun to behave. Restrictions on normal life, ranging from complete lockdowns to self-isolation to quarantine will likely change the way people live, work, think and value their lives as well as material items such as what they buy, eat, or do for leisure.

Many of the new limitations that people have been grown used to in the past several months such as travel restrictions; restrictions on gathering and socialising; and protection for high-risk groups will likely be adopted as the new order in the months to come and may even become the new norm for living. Some of this has already led to new habits: remote working; an unprecedented shift to e-commerce; online schooling and education; and a blurring of the lines between work and leisure. It has, of course, also led to large-scale lay-offs, factory and business closures, and, consequently, a rise in social tension and stress.

But here’s the thing. Could this also result in people and organisations discovering the benefits of a new way of living and working that challenge traditional business and lifestyle norms? According to the Board of Innovation (BoI), a business design and innovation strategy firm, these are changes that will very likely happen in the not-so-distant future. In a recent report, Shifts in the Low Touch Economy, BoI analyses the emerging trends—mainly from the point of view of businesses but also in terms of changing behaviour of individuals and consumers.

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But first, the status of the world. More than 1/3rd of the world’s population is under some form of lockdown and in the parts where there is no official lockdown yet, there is some form of self-isolation and restriction on gathering of people. Borders between most countries have been shut down. Unemployment owing to waves of lay-offs are at very high levels.

Bankruptcies and business closures are already spreading in waves across the world. In poor countries such as India where hundreds of millions live on daily wages, the distress levels could lead to serious strains in the social fabric. In other countries, including those in the developed world, the closing of borders and domestic economic strain could fuel already existing xenophobia and demands for protectionism. In the US, for instance, issues such as immigration, work permits for foreigners, and racial discrimination could become hotspot topics as the economy tries to rehabilitate.

Those are real problems and much would depend on how long the pandemic and its effects last. But there could be other changes too, as the BoI report suggests. Consumer behaviour could change more permanently than we had thought. Changes that had begun before could get accelerated. For instance, remote working could be a habit that both employees and employers adopt as a norm. Home deliveries of essentials such as groceries could become a cost-effective way for both consumers and merchants. People could travel less than they did before and movement restrictions between countries could last longer than we think. Isolation and loneliness could have psychological impacts on people and conflicts and tension could rise at all levels. Mistrust of people and products could also rise.

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All of these would naturally result in new opportunities not only for businesses that are quick to adapt to the new behaviourial norms of their customers but also for those skilled in specialised fields. For example, psychiatric therapy online; or new forms of no-contact social gatherings. But there could be more fundamental changes. As people become more conscious of hygiene and risks of contagious diseases, companies may have to rethink packaging of their products and merchants of efficient ways of contact-less drop-offs. Travel and tourism could change: overseas travel could decline and local or domestic tourism could flourish. Companies could slash their office space requirements as they find it cost-efficient to have employees work from home. But with conflicts and tensions rising, legal activity could rise too—already lawyers and the justice systems across the world are turning to digital ways of functioning.

The BoI report outlines several fundamental shifts that could change the world we live in. While these have huge implications for businesses, they would, in varying degrees, affect individuals across the world as well. Chief among these shifts are: Geopolitics (where we could see the rise protectionism and xenophobia); Technology (where everything becomes more and more digital and contactless); Macroeconomics (the access to capital becomes scarcer); and Human behaviour (where isolation and social distancing becomes self-imposed).

While rich countries as well as the poor ones grapple with fighting the pandemic and protecting their citizens, these trends that could continue long after the pandemic has subsided and affect our lives over the forthcoming years are also probably worth thinking about.

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