What is the New Normal? How to Conquer a Post-Pandemic World
In the short months since Covid-19 was declared a pandemic, the world has changed almost beyond recognition, and so has its needs to adapt. From quarantines to lockdowns to Malaysia’s movement control order (MCO), nations worldwide enforced social distancing by limiting access in places crowds used to congregate. Overnight, activities that used to take place outside the home – shopping, entertainment, meals, exercise, school, even medical consultations – became things we did online.
Inevitably, it affected businesses as well.
The global disruptor no one saw coming
‘Disruption’ has become a familiar term within all industries. Generally, it referred to new technologies that threatened traditional ways of doing business. E-commerce, for example, challenged physical shops, while 3D printers are changing the manufacturing and even the property development industry. Disruptions could also reflect more transient emergencies, such as a warehouse fire or power outage.
Disruptions have a way of exposing vulnerabilities in any organisation’s systems. The ongoing global pandemic has strained many of these weaknesses, sometimes to their breaking point. Established hotels, restaurants, gyms, and shops that we frequented only a few months earlier have closed down permanently. As of mid-July, this included over 2,000 (approximately 10%) of Malaysia’s coffee shops and beloved mamak restaurants. In a survey conducted by the country’s department of statistics, two-thirds of businesses reported that during MCO, they had not made any sales or revenue at all.
However, not all industries were hit in the same way: Some struggled, a few thrived, most tried to adapt. This series of articles looks at cloud – itself a disrupting technology that has inoculated (or at least somewhat protected) numerous companies amid this global crisis.
Immunity in cloud?
During the pandemic, online companies thrived. Subscriptions to streaming services boomed, with 15.77 million new paid subscribers (approximately twice the projected number) to Netflix alone. Sales on retail websites went from 12.81 billion visits in January 2020 to 14.34 billion visits in March. At the start of MCO, Malaysia’s online sales shot up by 28.9% in one month.
In nearly every industry, companies that already had remote work policies also fared better than those who had always required employees to be on-premise – often unnecessarily. A history of using cloud-based applications for everything from running meetings to collaborating with their team to communicating with customers became a distinct advantage during MCO.
The importance of cloud is apparent in the numbers of pre- and post-pandemic cloud market spends. While the knock-on effects of Covid-19 include driving down IT spending by at least 5%, spend on cloud solutions has proved the exception by going up. Understanding that costs had to be cut to ride out this storm, Malaysian business owners who had been considering migration for a while, quickly signed agreements at the very start of the MCO. This effectively switched IT investments from a risky capital expenditure (capex) to a lower and more flexible operational expense (opex) based on business demand.
New data has revised original projections to forecast revenue of nearly RM2 trillion (US$437.9 billion) for the world’s cloud market between 2019 and 2026. The highest annual growth rate (CAGR) will be seen among small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) and in the Asia-Pacific region.
The post-pandemic workplace
The term ‘new normal’ has been thrown around since the start of MCO. Yet, with no certainty over when we will have a vaccine or cure, it impossible to know what this new normal will look like.
In terms of health and lives, Malaysia has fared better than most countries in the world, including our neighbours. However, in spite of maintaining one of the lowest rates of infection (fewer than 300 per million), we will inevitably be affected by countries that fared far worse. One of our major trading partners, the United States, had over 12,000 cases per million at the time of writing and, like the rest of the world, is struggling to keep its economy afloat. In a shadowy future, companies that have the best chance of survival are those prepared to adapt to whatever shape the new normal takes.
As things stand now, the safety of workers in most countries will continue to depend on them being able to conduct some or all of their tasks remotely. However, numerous companies who were previously reluctant to adopt work-from-home policies have now experienced considerable financial, productivity and other benefits of cloud-based work. A significant percentage of these businesses are now considering making this a permanent change for at least some of their employees.
Covid-19 is not the first pandemic, nor the first economic downturn the human race has faced. However, for a silver lining, we can look at Disney, Microsoft, WhatsApp, FedEx, Airbnb and other companies that were born during extremely tough times. In Malaysia, we have also seen examples of human ingenuity; for one thing, the MCO created demand for cloud kitchens, which unlike restaurants prepare food exclusively for online deliveries. The next few articles reveal how cloud services have grown and changed to serve not only as an essential tool of survival, but as rocket fuel to carry you through this and all future disruptions.