Without giving us any choice or option, the new world order has been ushered on the earth. Thanks to Coronavirus! It will hopefully discipline humans to behave sensibly. Social distancing in the future is going to be the norm. It has become essential due to health reasons. My Japanese friends have been systematic in such issues. Even before COVID, they have been wearing masks in public if they had a cold. It is a natural thing to do, but none other than the Japanese have followed this practice. I am sure if everybody supports this practice, people will get fewer infections from others. Is the world going to change for better, I hope it does!
What changes do we expect? Are we going to continue whatever we are doing currently? The answer is Yes, No or Maybe! Maybe it is a more likely answer. The reason for this is human nature. In emergencies, we do whatever is needed to be done. That “whatever” may not be the way we always act. In “normal” times, we switch back to “normal” ways of working. Our “normal” style may not be an efficient way of working, but we are so much used to it that we revert to those ways. I will give a simple example from the game of cricket. The fast bowlers have been using their saliva to shine the cricket ball—the ball swings as per the shine. I do not know the cricketing rules in details, but there was a great uproar when John Lever, the English pace bowler, used Vaseline to shine the ball. To me if saliva was allowed then why not Vaseline? Maybe the rule says an extraneous substance should not be used- in that case why saliva was allowed? So defining “normal” can become tricky. Now there is a big discussion because ICC says that saliva should not be used for shining the ball!
But WFH or Work From Home will be the significant change that we can expect to continue because it directly will reflect on the way work is done by businesses. Some things could be done from home, and others cannot be done from home. Then there is a question of availability of sufficient, peaceful working space at home. Other than that, there is the infrastructure to be created for working from home. It will include “Quality Internet”, a comfortable chair and a table (for eight-hour working) plus some storage space. There would be challenges. Your home size may not be sufficient for the purpose and do not forget that there could be more than one person doing WFH! I have known of someone who was working from inside a walk-in closet because on that particular day there was an important customer meeting and the children just would not quieten down.
That brings us to children. There is a serious discussion going on about starting online schools for the children, in Pune. Why not? But there are many challenges. In the current lockdown situation, both parents or a parent could be working from home. Many households today run with an assumption that the kids will be dropped at the creche before parents going for work.
In some cases, children are dropped to the creche after the school gets over. One of the parents picks up the kids on the way back from office. Children at school are under the physical supervision of the teachers. Assume the kids in KG. Would they be able to “attend” school on their own? Will the parent be “free” to help them manage things? Would each family have a computer for each child? Would a family with three or four children have enough infrastructure to attend school from home? What happens when the child gets a tech issue while the “school” is going on? If the parent busy in a meeting? There are going to be problems galore.
Then consider the schools. In Pune, I read that the schools may start after July. There is a discussion going on about “Zoom” schools. But the school authorities may not be geared up for the tech aspect of conducting classes. They may be using older computers. Since the schools are starting late, the parents would delay the payment of fees. There will be challenges both to parents and the schools. There will be transportation challenges. With social distancing norms likely to continue for some more time, the number of children ferried in the school buses, vans and auto rikshaws would be restricted, increasing the costs. Some parents may not use this infra for the whole year, so for school costs of idle buses could go up. Who would pay for that? The transport of children is an income stream for schools. The parents are required to pay these charges for the whole year in advance, so one more issue has to be tackled.
Friends, I have discussed the school situation in details, but similar and more unforeseen challenges would come up as we move towards normalcy. But there would be some areas of work/business that would be benefitted from the WFH. Organisations have realised that in service and non- manufacturing sector, it would be a win-win situation for both sides. For businesses, office space, infrastructure costs could come down substantially. Over a period, businesses would be able to understand which people are “needed” in the office. Rest can work from home. The employees need not move to their city of work. They will save money if they are not required to commute every day. Offices will save on transport costs if they have to ferry a smaller number of employees to office, daily.
But there would be further challenges. What happens to departmental meetings or bonding? Once you reduce the office space, where would you hold such meetings? Will it be practical to have such meetings on video conferencing calls? How does the HR department function? Their work involves hiring and meeting people face to face. Will it be the same in a video meeting? Will it be possible to fire someone on Video meetings? Where does this lead to as far as the human aspect is concerned? I am getting feedback from purchase departments of a large organisation that they need not go to the office for the day to day work. A chairman of an FMCG company has said that they will have to change their sales operations. Distributor concept may taper off as Amazons, Flipkarts and Jios of this world do their business by maintaining social distancing. They do not have to spend money on keeping social distance. It is the model of their business that gives them the advantage.
Another out of box thinking! Pune Municipal Transport has created an app which will allow the customers to pay bus fare by using QR code to keep social distancing with the conductor. I will add a new term, Collateral Benefit! A couple of years back the bus company had an issue. They had collected coins worth five crore Rupees (50 million). Their bank refused to accept the coins. They had to make special efforts to resolve the issue.
Oh! I forgot a significant event. Yesterday, Mr Modi and Mr Morrison, PM of Australia “met” on video conference, which is a great step forward in human activity. Why should we travel to New York to give a speech at the United Nations? What is the point in going to Davos for an address? Of course one may want to take a holiday too!
Let us hope that a large number of people, as well as organisations, will change to improve processes and NOT revert to old methods simply because we are used to them.