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2020 hints of future culture

By Chuka Nnabuife

I GOT a headway in two issues that I have been striving to think through for a while now when I encountered recent editions of Time magazine and The Economist.

 I have been pondering what the world would be after the current Coronavirus pandemic and how I would appraise the year 2020 as a pundit with succumbing to emotions, when it ends in three weeks. Over months, I have been contemplating the opportunities inherent in the pandemic despite the flurry of doom and gloom that have marked this COVID-19 year. While pondering what kind of economic opportunities would mark the post-pandemic world my mind dwelt a lot on what is currently the peculiar traits of the pandemic.

Often one is tempted to conclude that there is nothing to write home about the year. Therefore, imagining what will happen in a post-pandemic era could be tantamount to giving oneself unnecessary stress.

But a deeper thought persuades one to acknowledge that the year 2020 has brought out the best in many persons and corporate entities despite its plethora of oddious developments, there are still some heart-warming things to share.

Since January, it has been naratives of throes, woes and boos. From headlines of diseases, epidemics, pandemics and lockdown to scary fairies, fears, hunger and overwhelming threats of economic downturn, the year has been marked with such unprecedented omnipresence of pain and horror that death seemed well-nigh, all-hour, more than any year in recent history. It is such that many who the recent Time magazine cover title, ‘2020: Worst Year’ (with a bold blood mark ‘X’ across page) concurred with the appraisal. However, there are still some good things to say about the year. These include some healthy developments in many persons’ and organisations’ lives.

Unusual, as it may sound, there are tales of turnaround and self-discovery, aplenty. Many individuals discovered a lot about themselves, their relationships, homes and communes. Similarly, some firms found ample opportunities for vital innovations that have emerged as cost-saving and productivity-boosting trends. Some others, in bid to keep afloat during this lockdowns and high cost of operation times have tried several forms of retooling and by tried-and-error rejigged things into serendipitous burst into improvement and new climes.

In my organisation, Anambra Newspapers and Printing Corporation (ANPC), publishers of the National Light Group of Newspapers, for example, the coronavirus pandemic (COVID-19) pushed us into higher levels of productivity including daily production of online publication and breaking news that give readers updates on the plague and health matter. Since first week of March, the daily publication venture has not failed.

Within the restrictions of COVID-19 lockdown and the challenges of movement many who hitherto never worked from home developed the knowledge and capacity. Even rookies and interns evolved into mature hands in tasks overnight when their supervisors and more matured colleagues could not arrive for duty due to the protocols of stay-at-home orders of the period, and most of the hitherto rookies are now handling serious briefs with encouraging levels of competence. This has created a healthy culture of competition among young staff who desire to excel whilst those who are weary of improving find vents to learn more about their practices.

In the same period, we discovered how to run on a slimmer number given the vital requirements of social distancing.

With this finding, reading the article, ‘How the pandemic is forcing managers to work harder’ in last week’s edition of The Economist was a good development. The article was also published in the Business section of the print edition under the headline ‘Managing by Zooming around’ showed year was not lost in anxiety and ailments after all. We had a life even if it was a rough and lonely life but the way of doing business in organisations and homes has changed. Yet there are gains.

 Many heads of organisations such as chief executives and managers had things rough in the year. 2020 served them with the most wrecking jolt. They had to work harder and think fast. Most importantly, they had, of necessity, to invest in some lines of corporate provisions that were not foreseen, and in a period where there was no money amid skeletal or no production and zero profit.           

The article noted the current dilemma of many firms.  “Businesses are still struggling to understand which of the pandemic’s effects will be temporary and which will turn out to be permanent.” Citing  three new reports that attempted to analyse the longer-term trends that will emerge from the current pandemic era The Elite magazine cited the studies from Glassdoor, a website that allows workers to rank their employers; the Boston Consulting Group (BCG), a management consultancy; and the Chartered Management Institute, a British professional body, the article summed that the studies “imply that firms stand to benefit—but that managers’ lives are about to get more difficult.

“One change that is all but certain to last is employees spending more of their time working at home. The Glassdoor report finds that less commuting has improved employee health and morale. Splitting the week between the home and the office is also overwhelmingly popular with workers: 70% of those surveyed wanted such a combination, 26% wanted to stay at home and just 4% desired a full-time return to the office. Perhaps as a consequence, remote work has not dented productivity—and indeed improved it in some areas. Flexible work schedules can be a cheap way to retain employees who have child-care and other home responsibilities.

“Telecommuting offers other potential cost savings, and not just the reduced need for office space. Remote workers do not need to live in big cities where property is expensive. If they live in cheaper towns and suburbs, companies need not pay them as much. Glassdoor estimates that software engineers and developers who leave San Francisco could eventually face salary cuts of 21-25%; those quitting New York could expect reductions of 10-12%. As the report points out, remote employees are, in essence, competing with a global workforce and are thus in a much weaker bargaining position.

“This point is reinforced by the BCG report, which finds that the pandemic has increased the willingness of companies to work with freelancers. Previously, many managers worried that legal and compliance issues prevented them from using outside staff. The pandemic forced firms to adjust their business models rapidly, and simultaneously led to growth in the pool of talented freelancers, as full-time employees had to be laid off. BCG says that “by embracing flexibility in whom they hire, internally or externally, [companies] can finally speed up operations and deliver faster on strategy.”

“Despite its advantages, a remote workforce, or one consisting of more outsiders, brings challenges for managers, as the third report demonstrates. The CMI surveyed 2,300 managers and employees. The results highlight just how important effective communication, and concern for workers’ well-being, is to good management. They also unearthed an interesting difference of perspective: nearly half of senior executives thought they were engaging employees more in decision-making since the pandemic, but only 27% of employees agreed.”

 What the studies make clear is that the lockdown has made many workers get used to working from locations outside their offices. Some employees are already getting used to working virtually, “69% of women with children want to work at least one day from home when the pandemic ends, compared with 56% of men with kids.”

What is discernible is that in post-COVID-19 the corporate culture of big firms and mass-employing conglomerates may be obsolete. Similarly, office culture and the phenomenon of dads and moms who stay long, away-from-home because they are paid workers may soon vanish. What this implies is that crèches and day care facilities as we have now may begin to lose customers. Similarly, a lot of young couples may not need house helps anymore.

There may equally be a more concrete, if mandatory, budget line for such things as workers’ welfare, community service and emergencies in the appropriation of corporate organisations and governments.

Managers and executives of organisations may be traditionally required to be up to many tasks, directly whilst home deliveries and online shopping may overwhelm our current culture of ‘going to market’ or shopping.    

Indeed, there is a lot to thank 2020 for as it lets us have a glimpse of tomorrow.

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