Editor’s note: this article is part of the “Covid-19 Reset” project, where the LéO Africa Institute is asking its fellows and associates to imagine a new, progressive post-covid world for our respective communities and countries.
It has been almost two months since Uganda reported its first case of COVID-19. Life as we know it, changed and the country adopted a “new normal”. Public transportation was suspended and with it, a lot of business operations. In the past few weeks alone, top companies have issued memos either laying off staff or drastically cutting the salaries of their employees. Just a week ago, Andela, a software engineering talent firm laid off 135 employees. Vision Group slashed employee salaries and Safe Boda furloughed an unspecified number of field employees. The uncertainty and vexation have never been more pervasive. People are desperate for stability, but now more than ever, individuals must rethink their careers and align goals to fit the job market post-COVID. Employers are looking more keenly at their bottom-line than ever before, which underscores the need to cut costs and increase operational efficiency. Even the companies that have grown in revenue due to the pandemic (Rocket Health and Grub Hub) have taken a cost hit due to Corona related expenses like distribution and transport. So, what trends will affect how we work after the pandemic is over?
Further cost cuts in the short term, change of job requirements and lower pay
Yes, you read that right. Even if lockdowns are lifted across the world, we will not get back to normal just yet. Many businesses are suspending capital expenditure (which by extension affects the bottom-line of those that supply it) and focusing on maintaining positive cashflow positions. Post-COVID, a lot of businesses will be in survival mode and will be reluctant to hire. It therefore goes without saying that there will be a wealth of resumes competing for limited positions. While we cannot conclusively say that this will set into motion a precedent of low pay, we know for a fact that job requirements will change. Employers will be looking to hire talent with entrepreneurial mindsets and business awareness. Business focused employees will be preferable. The requirement will be that new hires will not just be technically skilled but must also be well versed with optimizing business processes and cost minimization.
Remote work and the death of the typical 9-5
Thanks to global lockdowns and social distancing measures, we have seen the rise (and acceptance) of remote work. On May 13, Twitter CEO Jack Dorsey announced that Twitter employees can work remotely for as long as they like. Many other companies will follow suit now that the work from home model has been proven to be productive. While “hard work” was previously tied to how many hours people spend in the office, remote work and work from home practices promise a new metric. Results. The “first in, last out” phenomenon will no longer hold. Employers will love remote work (who wouldn’t, if costs are minimized and productivity maximized?) and will invest in tools that allow for its efficiency. They will devise more flexible approaches to work and perhaps start employing more part-time, task-based resources as compared to full-time staff. This gives an opportunity to employees to take on more than one job or task and will allow them to engage in more income generating activities outside their “official” jobs. Employees should then upskill themselves to manage communication, reporting and operational efficiency while working from home to remain valuable to organizations pivoting part of their work force to remote work.
A rise in digital intrapreneurship and the death of big player bureaucracy
What sets small agile companies apart is how easily they adapt to change, innovate and pivot to support new market conditions. It is no surprise that we have seen digital startups rise as some of the biggest winners during the COVID pandemic. We have also watched the colossal decline of big companies whose inability to quickly adapt to the (rapidly changing) new reality has cost them sizable market share in a matter of months. Some have seen a drop in revenue by as much as 70% yet startups playing in the exact same space have garnered ground. The biggest problem with legacy big businesses is that the same systems set up to manage operationally (read bureaucracy) are the ones standing between them and innovation. However, the COVID-19 environment requires companies to innovate and this will lead to development of small departments within big companies to lead digital innovation. While banks have adapted such models already, we will see a rise of the same within other organizations and individuals with the skill sets to match will be highly marketable.
Change in education and training approaches
Mainstream businesses are not the only ones adapting to online work and project execution. A lot of schools have also transferred their offerings online. In fact, because of COVID-19, schools like Duke University’s Fuqua School of Business will start the 2020 fall semester online until the pandemic is over. Queen’s University has invested over $1 Million in delivering classes remotely but in an engaging manner. While the mode of delivery remains online, we will see a change in the type of content that schools will teach post-COVID. MBAs will now extend their class content to cater for new realities and match the new skill set demand from organizations that hire their students.
Likewise, employers will need retrain and redeploy their already existing employees to adapt to the new normal. Skill cycles will now be shorter than ever and it will not be a surprise to find a lawyer who also doubles as a data specialist. The possibilities are endless.
Growth of centralized manufacturing
When the Corona Virus first seriously hit China in 2019, a lot of traders and manufacturing companies saw a delay in shipment of their products, especially if they were coming from the Hubei province. In the US and other parts of the world, many manufacturing companies import specific parts of their products from China which they then merge with their own locally produced items.
Desktop Metal, a 3D printing company in Massachusetts 3D prints metal for mass production. Parts of a car engine can be 3D printed and assembled in one place without the need to import some of these parts. Product development teams are now using AI to increase precision of their designs. This is the future of manufacturing and it is only a matter of time before it becomes mainstream in Uganda. Manufacturing jobs will then shift from manual expertise to deeper technical expertise in design and computer aided manufacturing.
Rise of the new COVID consultant
As businesses struggle to rebuild, many of them will look to experts to support their recovery. While big consulting companies are focusing on providing mainstream services like accounting, boutique firms are taking advantage of the current situation to position themselves to advise SME’s on fast recovery methodologies. They are even taking a step further to support implementation of digital strategies within companies. Last week, The Innovation Village in Kampala launched the Nerve Centre which seeks to do just that. This opens up opportunities for digital experts, financial analysts and innovation experts to support other companies in the recovery process.