Coronavirus hits, the workplace changes

Coronavirus hits, the workplace changes

The Covid-19 has certainly taken us by surprise at a time we were least expecting it. Many of us previously lived in what we considered a sophisticated haven having every imaginable cutting-edge technology that would sustain humankind even as we neared the apocalypse. We were however disillusioned when the coronavirus hit us hard. Today, we are on the brink of going crazy, stuck at home, facing the anxiety of when and how we are going to resume our normal lives.

Yet, our ‘normal’ might change forever – whether in terms of our perspectives on life or in terms of how we operate. We can safely assume that there will be an overhaul in almost everything, but here, we will focus on the major changes the workplace faces.

We are currently living in uncertainty. We have been hearing countless times that this is an unprecedented situation. Hence, while we understand that our economy will imperatively need to go through a lengthy recovery process post the pandemic, there is no definite way in which we can, with assurance, determine all the possible economic repercussions and scenarios.

Our country was not among the first countries to be affected. This buffer might have given us some time to brace ourselves against the inevitable. Companies had a few short weeks to make contingency plans. This means that they had time to strategize to ensure business continuity during lockdown.

One common measure that most companies have been trying to set up in those short weeks is the ‘work-from-home’ strategy. For many companies, this has been a utopia for several long years. They have been trying over and over again to launch it. Several times before, they sampled some of their employees to undertake ‘work-from-home’ on a trial basis, but in most cases, it simply was not the right time. With the outbreak of the coronavirus however, those some institutions have deployed the strategy institution-wide in barely two weeks. That is progress. 

Yet, what does that mean for the employees themselves? At certain times during the year – the Mauritian climate is favorable to some impromptu holidays. Every January through March, we usually have around two to five days off from school or work because of cyclones, torrential rains, or some other form of dire climatic conditions. For many, these holidays were welcome. Yet, with the deployment of ‘work-from-home’, this might change. Employees might get their access to their institution servers even at those time, prompting them to work. While employees might not generally be content of this new development, our economy needs it. 

The IMF has predicted that our economy in 2020 will shrink by 6.8%. Mauritian authorities have on their part, estimated that it will at best shrink by 7% and at worst by 11%. In any case, however, this is the worst case in decades. We need all try to limit the consequences of this negative economic growth. Should that mean working harder, we need to be ready for it.

Besides, in an attempt to curb the possible consequences, Mauritius has decreased rates of interest as part of its monetary policy. While loans are now cheaper and since the Mauritian Rupee is being devalued with respect to other foreign currencies – thereby, making imports more expensive – we might see a bolstering of the Mauritian small and medium enterprises. For a while now, the need for entrepreneurship among the youth has been accented. Hence, possibly, we might, in the foreseeable future, notice a shift in Mauritian youngsters’ desire to pursue an entrepreneurial career instead of a traditionally white-collar one. We do hope that this comes sooner rather than later and accordingly to Mauritian demand, considering the impacts that imported inflation might further have on the average Mauritian consumer.

Meanwhile, one good thing that we hope will last is the boost in e-commerce. Mauritius has not only bolstered its ‘work-from-home’ policies, but during the pandemic period, we have noticed that many supermarkets and food retailers have shifted their services online. At least now, we can pretend to be at par with some of the higher-developed countries. Our lifestyles are changing; there is no denying that. Over the past few years, we have noticed a slight westernization of this lifestyle. While the debate of whether this shift is good or bad is a highly arguable one, it is time we had some more facilities associated with technological modernization– including getting our groceries online, thereby saving time during busy weeks. 

The impacts of this pandemic may, however, be more devastating on some sectors rather than others. Mauritius relies heavily on tourism. We can hardly speculate what should happen to those employed in this sector as at now. We feel for them, for we understand their anxiety. Even after a more or less return to normalcy, we might have a significant drop in the number of tourists coming to Mauritius. People are not very confident in travelling for the remainder of this year. This could have huge impacts on airlines and our hotels. Besides, with airlines being so long out of business, should we expect that air fares will get expensive in the coming few months? Perhaps. Hence, videoconferencing maybe preferred instead of business displacements for a while longer, if not as a permanent normalcy for some companies.

It is also important for employees within these sectors to develop some additional skillsets to cope with the evolving nature of their jobs. This becomes even more important as companies that understand that they will be impacted post the Covid-19 situation, also understand that they will need to diversify their range of business activities to keep afloat, until at least their situation gets better. This is true even in the case of teachers. While online modes of teaching have been set up by the Ministry of Education, other teachers who wish to continue their own classes, irrespective of those offered by the Mauritius Institute of Education, have had to update their conventional ways of teaching by using platforms such as ‘Zoom’. That being said, former A-Level students who have undertaken to help their younger peers by offering voluntary classes of their own, should be lauded. They often get more creative and can manipulate online resources better. Let us hope, teachers can keep at par with them; we shall all be better off then.

Change was long due. Now, the time has finally come to undertake some major overhauls. Let us hope, however, that in the end, these changes shall be more positive than negative.