Disruption, despair, hope & a new societal order

Guest Column: Sandeep Sharma, President, R K Swamy Media Group, shares some areas of life that have been disrupted and reinvented by COVID-19

e4m by Sandeep Sharma
Updated: May 11, 2020 10:39 AM
Sandeep Sharma

Last Monday was one for the ages. If you were in Mumbai or any other city where liquor shops were allowed to open, then you might have seen long serpentine queues and local policemen finding it impossible to impress social distancing norms on people who had been starved of their favorite spirit over the last six weeks. The memes and videos on social media saw the funny side of it. Some pointed out how alcohol and cigarettes should be in the essential items list and qualify to be delivered home. These are some of the many behaviour changes we will see in the new societal order post COVID-19.

Here are some areas of life that have been disrupted and reinvented by COVID-19:

Digital Payments – Demonetisation tried to speed this up but COVID-19 has turned it into an absolute must. Over the last couple of months the trips to the ATMs have reduced, the number of cheques written have almost shrunk to zero and UPI is no longer a mystery. From ages 8-80, digital payments are now well and truly here for people of all age groups. The post COVID-19 world won’t afford the choice of cash, card, cheque or digital. It will be digital all the way as access to high  speed WiFi, familiarity with internet and data-enabled apps, ease of use and almost 100% penetration of mobile has resulted in a high adoption of digital transactions in this WFH scenario. People are appreciating the convenience of doing this from their homes without having to step out or stand in queues or visit a bank branch or bill collection centre. Transferring money to each other is also now convenient, and most drivers, house help, society watchmen and vendors have also started accepting online payments into their bank accounts or via Paytm or similar modes.

Work From Home – The eventual 2-4 hours every day spent by people in a bone crunching Mumbai local or stuck in traffic on the roads commuting from home to office is one area of work that left everyone exasperated, leading to a high level of frustration, poor health and productivity. The current crisis makes it difficult for public transport systems to operate at a scale that it used to, at least for some months, and coupled with the fact that a lot of organizations have found it sensible to let some employees, if not all, to continue with WFH as it saves cost, enhances productivity. Banks, financial institutions, IT companies, and a lot others have already implemented WFH for a section of their staff going forward as a normal way of functioning.

For others, like the service industry, the transition may not be easy but the circumstances could make it a necessity. There is a mixed response from employees to the WFH experience with some loving it. While some say it has enhanced their productivity and put a balance to work and personal life, there are others who are missing the office ambience, interaction and are bored and find WFH limiting in managing productivity. I guess a middle path will evolve but some element of WFH is now permanent with us going forward. It also means a complete rethink for the real estate sector, architects, designers and builders as people will now look for homes with a small office within and 2BHKW with W standing for work space will be a new norm perhaps.

E-learning & Upskilling – E-learning apps, the world over, have seen traffic of the type they could have only dreamt off. In the last 60 days, I know people who are boasting about the wide range of courses they have completed and Harvard, Columbia, INSEAD, London Business School being names that are being thrown around casually. This is the future of learning. Courses about holistic living and happiness from UPenn will become a must with that Ivy League MBA. Schooling will combine offline with online, and this is a good thing as today’s young generation is very comfortable with computers, internet, mobile and perhaps will perform better and learn better in this new system of learning.

From PVR to Netflix – People loved watching a movie on the big screen even if some found the price of samosas and Pepsi a bit hard to digest. OTT was growing by leaps and bounds amongst the evolved anyway and the current pandemic has sent people scurrying for cover and thus may have halted the run of the multiplex as the sole stakeholder of the film industry in India. Multiplexes will have to work harder to lure people back to the theatres as Netflixing and OTTing have started to become a popular behavioural trait. I believe this is a big inflexion point for the entertainment industry and will change the way brands advertise and consumers consume messaging. Now alongside film stars and TV stars, today there are famous YouTubers and very soon you will see the phenomenal rise of OTT web series stars over shadowing all the others.

eHealth – Who would’ve thought that telemedicine would make such a stunning comeback? It has moved from being a post dotcom sunrise industry that not many people understood well, to now becoming an industry that is set to take off. Given that most homes these days can easily equip themselves with a glucometer, BP machine, etc., telemedicine could end up becoming a juggernaut over the next five years. Reliance investing in Netmeds is a case in point of the future potential of this industry.

The Rise Of The Kirana – The neighbourhood kiranawala has emerged as the hero in this current crisis. Where hyperlocal delivery and e-commerce has been compromised, the kiranawala has emerged as the knight in shining armour. Now your neighbourhood store will further consolidate by digitizing himself and making himself available to you at the click of a button. While this segment always existed as competition to hyperlocal delivery and e-commerce, there is rising consensus that this time the kiranawala won’t just shrug his shoulders and allow the others to encroach his market. This time he will bring the fight to the biggies.

The Big Brother Effect – One of the major fallouts of the COVID-19 pandemic globally and the one that has been highlighted by renowned intellectuals like Yuval Noah Hariri is surveillance. There is likely to be an overkill of applications and technologies that have become eerily intrusive post the pandemic. Personal privacy might end up becoming a victim to the pandemic. This will be in addition to Google and FB having access to our data anyway. This poses a big challenge to the individual privacy space and it perhaps requires a global policy.

Clean & Green Environment – One of the biggest opportunities to mankind is the clean air, chirping of birds, open blue skies, less traffic and pollution. I hope people appreciate this and continue to adopt eGreen gadgets, cars, products and also practise hygiene and cleanliness in every sphere of their life. Sensitivity to this and practising it diligently by all will perhaps is the biggest positive gain for all humanity and more than compensates the commercial loss.

Only then can one truly say - “Health and Cleanliness is true Wealth.”

Bringing this to a close, I sincerely hope we all stay safe, survive the pandemic and emerge better, stronger and healthier. I take this opportunity to wish all the readers a safe and sound 2020 from here onwards.

Disclaimer: The views expressed here are solely those of the author and do not in any way represent the views of exchange4media.com

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