IMA Analysis

Saturday May 2, 2020

The Life After

Speaker:  Adit Jain,Editorial Director, IMA India

The Life After

Putting rest to speculation, the Prime Minister Narendra Modi announced on the 14th April that the current lockdown would extend by a few more weeks. Whilst expected and perhaps in the national health interest, this delays plans by industry to restart their operations, but the preparation process amongst many has commenced. Understandably, the unlocking will take place in phases and even then, through a set of assigned protocols considered necessary in the context of the pandemic. Back to normal would be anything but. The recommencement process, when it begins, would be partial, with frequent health checks and higher levels of monitoring of employees. This may last until a herd immunity against the virus has developed or a vaccine becomes available, which is more than a year away. Companies would admit workers back, but in alternating groups to allow for social distancing. Very few businesses, if at all, would crank up quickly to full capacity.

Retail outlets may allow for a few customers at a time and sanitise outlets thoroughly each day. The central government may set certain guidelines and states would either adopt them or define their own. Testing will become more common and temperature checks mandatory. Airlines may be expected to fly with fewer passengers, allowing for a larger space between them. Clearly, therefore, travel will become expensive. Entry and exit etiquettes to and from aircrafts would be enforced, to avoid the usual rush to collect luggage from overhead bins and make a dash for the door. In any case, few would be willing to travel and only when it is absolutely necessary. This is likely to last for several months. Manufacturing plants may be forced to reduce the pace of their assembly lines, with fewer people on the shop floor. Automotive companies are likely to limit production to a single shift and around 20-30% capacity. Market demand, in any case may not recover in a hurry. Workers may have to wear face shields and consequently, employers may need to necessarily provide them. A format of regular sample screening may be enforced by government authorities. Many multinational corporations would look at their China operations to draw upon learnings, both for manufacturing and services. Restaurants may have reduced seating to allow for social distancing, but takeaways would remain the main revenue source. In the end, customers would need to feel safe and prepared for delays and inconveniences, as a new fact of life.

BPO companies with hundreds of employees packed closely on each floor, may need to rethink their office layout and work processes. Work-from-home may be encouraged to continue, in rotation, for much longer so as to ensure that the number of people at the office do not exceed the norms that require physical distancing. Transparent shields between work-stations may become essential. Movie theatres could eventually reopen, but with only 30% of the capacity utilised. Hotels would possibly have to face the brunt of the slowdown, much longer than everybody else. International travel, especially to countries with poor perceptions of hygiene would shrink and business travel avoided for all but the most compelling circumstances. Tourism for India may become increasingly domestic focused and city hotels may have to explore innovative ways to keep their occupancies up.

All of this will add to cost and consequently, businesses may feel compelled to operate on shrinking margins. In many ways, life after Covid 19 may be radically different to before. This would be everywhere, for instance in consumer behaviour and preferences; business processes; operating formats; etc. Despite how cumbersome things may appear to be, companies need to start grappling with changing realities to adapt to a new order.