Writing this letter from the Vice President whilst running through Grade 2 homework, planning what to make for dinner, sorting out my garden, making the bed and still meeting the requirements of my normal day job, is something radically different to how I would have thought my day would be going if you asked me in January this year! The impact of COVID-19 has become daily life for all in South Africa and it quickly moved from someone else’s problem to a massive change for each and every one of us.
Now that we have been given a good deal of lockdown time to truly understand this change, many companies are starting to look out for the opportunities that they can try capitalise on. Some businesses are doing this as part of a diversification, whilst others are simply trying to survive and keep heads above water.
So, what is changing and what will the areas be for opportunities stemming from this period of isolation due to the Corona Virus? Well, firstly we have seen a big impact on the property sector. Large companies with extensive workforces are asking the question about remote jobs and the dawn of a new realisation of decentralised workspaces. Companies are still able to carry out their operations with staff members working from home, so why have the big head office with all the associated overheads and maintenance issues? The institutes of higher learning are also grappling with this question and I am sure that there will be radical changes in how they carry out their mandate in the near future.
Another sector that has grown in importance would be technology. Employers may have flirted with the idea of work from home, but now it has been forced onto them. Those that have made a success of this transition may want to keep such arrangements in place going forward and this places more emphasis on virtual meetings, digital documents and contracts, monitoring of productivity, business continuity planning and just having programs and applications that make working remotely a seamless steps from moving out of the office. Connectivity, reliability, speed and costs of data have become increasingly important and competitive.
The retail space has also seen drastic change. Business models that have pivoted to online platforms (technology driven once again) have mitigated complete shutdown and this may actually have opened up new opportunities that were previously not considered to be worth the investment. Supply chains have had to quickly put in place new protocols and change the manner in which they operate, so as to ensure they become more agile. As the continuation of the virus follows, we will be seeing a lot more innovation in this space and it should bring about a new way of buying goods in the future.
had to quickly put in place new protocols and change the manner in which they operate, so as to ensure they become more agile. As the continuation of the virus follows, we will be seeing a lot more innovation in this space and it should bring about a new way of buying goods in the future.
Perhaps not relating directly to business, but certainly a big impact, has been that on the society. Apart from social distancing and the strangeness of not shaking someone’s hand when you see them, the poverty and realisation of how many citizens in South Africa are dependent on one breadwinner with little to no savings, meaning the concept of living hand-to-mouth, has been highlighted. Someone not working for one week, then two, then three, has led to a clear increase in poverty which is evident by the homeless and street dwellers who have mushroomed all over the city. The vulnerability of South Africans and dependence on a functioning economy must certainly be an important priority on the minds of our government.
One positive that I would like to mention in closing is the impact on the environment. I am sure we have all seen the bird life returning to areas which was previously too congested or polluted. Similar videos have appeared to show whales and dolphins in harbours with no boating activity, having a great time being back in a spot which was previously “off limits”. Cities in South Africa noted an immediate improvement on air quality on day one of lockdown and it seems that nature is quick to bounce back from the negative impact that human activity has on our environment. I am hoping that perhaps this noticeable improvement will allow the intentions such as the reduction of greenhouse gas emissions and climate change to receive good case reviews which illustrates that a little change can actually have a great impact.
So, it is tough being in lockdown and there are many businesses that are folding and retrenching staff. However, the ability to be agile and creative and to spot the opportunity, has never been a more sought-after commodity as now.
The BKCOB is providing a lot of information, opinion, guidance and training in this regard and we sincerely hope that our members and the broader business community is able to ride out this storm and return to business stronger than before.
We are here to help wherever we can, please reach out and talk to us.