BY Rehan Fernando


The COVID-19 pandemic has resulted in a host of countries closing their borders, plummeting share prices, the implementation of austerity measures and disruption to daily life – and all this has affected literally billions of people and businesses across the globe in one way or another.

While the impact of COVID-19 on the world is both unfortunate and disruptive, it has also paved the way for a ‘new normal.’ Here are some of the long-term impacts.

REMOTE WORKING The need for quarantine and additional precautionary measures forced millions of people to work from home. This scenario demonstrated the viability of mass scale remote work and enabled organisations to assess the effectiveness of such an approach for longer term adoption in place of conventional office based work.

E-LEARNING The temporary closure of thousands of schools and universities in many countries resulted in a rapid increase in the use of e-learning systems, in order to keep students engaged and educated. The scenario simulated a world where conventional schooling was no longer required and it demonstrated a potential future with virtual education.

E-COMMERCE There was a surge in e-commerce orders in many countries as customers reduced visits to malls and supermarkets, leaving online purchasing as the viable alternative. It’s likely that those who grow accustomed to online shopping will continue to do so even after the COVID-19 crisis has subsided.

E-SERVICES Contactless services that minimise the need for physical contact meant a greater use of e-services such as internet banking and online citizen services. The use of contactless credit and debit cards increased exponentially as did the demand for automatic sliding doors, sensor controlled soap dispensers and other contactless modes of operation. It could well be that many of these devices will continue to be used in the foreseeable future as well.

OPPORTUNITIES While many industries experienced a contraction of business, others witnessed a surge in demand for remote working systems, e-learning software, heat scanners, video streaming services, online gaming and so on. Some companies were also quick to adapt existing operating models to tap fresh opportunities that are envisaged to be around for quite some time.

INTERACTION Millions of people experienced what it felt like to be socially and physically isolated, and confined to their homes. While these were exceptional circumstances, many people have encountered varied forms of social isolation in daily life before. Though digital interactions such as messaging and social posting have increased in recent years, conventional interactions are likely to have fallen, which could make for a more socially isolated world in the years ahead.

ACCELERATION Pharmaceutical companies and researchers faced new challenges as they rushed to find a cure and preventive medication to curtail the spread of COVID-19. Lengthy processes spanning months were no longer a viable or efficient option as rapid responses became crucial in addition to ensuring quality and safety. Speed and agility will be focal areas in future research initiatives.

ANTICIPATION Healthcare services were stretched in terms of treating those infected with the virus and testing people for exposure to it. Social media and video streaming sites strained bandwidth as millions of users accessed this information more frequently. Service providers are likely to emphasise the need for further capacity, scenario planning and stress testing in a bid to be better prepared in future.

CONSULTATIONS The strain on healthcare services meant that doctors in quarantine continued to work remotely through video-conferencing. Healthcare professionals in less affected countries augmented capacity by providing assistance through remote channels. Many professionals in other sectors – such as engineers and accountants, for example – were also quick to switch to remote consultations, deploying a useful and underutilised channel for delivering these services.

MANAGEMENT With several world leaders and CEOs in quarantine, the crisis demonstrated that it is possible to manage countries and large corporations without being physically present at meetings. Bold decisions were made as these leaders steered nations and companies through a turbulent environment despite being sequestered.

PLANNING While many organisations had factored adverse scenarios into their business plans, few envisaged such a huge impact as that caused by COVID-19. Future business plans are likely to include provision for broader scenarios and solutions that aim to minimise the impact on the workforce, workflows and revenue streams. The impact of the pandemic has affected a multitude of sectors. In addition to healthcare, aviation and tourism, the retail industry (which includes luxury goods, electronics and automobiles) has also been affected. Cross industry impact will be a key consideration for businesses in the future.

COMPASSION Overall, the pandemic has served to showcase humility as doctors, nurses, the military and other personnel risked their own safety to safeguard others. Leadership was apparent with corporate executives foregoing compensation to save jobs and many extending support to others. While practising physical distancing, millions stood virtually together in solidarity to overcome this common challenge. As in the past, it’s likely that this experience too shall pass and normalcy will return… and we will be stronger and more resilient as a result of it.