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Volume IconCovid-19 induced changes are here to stay after 2 years of first lockdown

Two years ago on this day, PM Narendra Modi had announced a 21-day lockdown, as the Covid-19 virus started wreaking havoc. We look at how the pandemic has altered the way we live, work and consume

ImageBhaswar Kumar New Delhi
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Prime Minister Narendra Modi appeared on TV on March 24 night at eight to announce the 21-day lockdown beginning midnight. With just four hours left, anxious people stormed grocery shops, medical stores, ATMs and even liquor vends to get their fill.

From March 25, public transport came to a standstill, leaving migrant workers in big cities with no other choice, but to walk. So they walked. Moving stories and disturbing visuals of exhausted families -- with children in the tow -- streaming out of metros and walking towards their homes flooded the newspapers and TV channels.

And it was just the beginning. The toll that the contagious virus extracted on lives was unparallel in recent Indian history. Official estimates say that over five lakh lost their lives in the next two years. Some believe that the death toll was way higher.  

The March 24, 2020 lockdown was the first in the series of many which came later. Now, three waves, two years and several lockdowns later, life is springing back to normalcy. And so is the economy.

Perhaps one of the most visible and lasting impacts that the pandemic has had is on how Indians, and people across the world, view work and the workplace.

While the hybrid model is here to stay, it is going to be sector-specific. For example, companies in IT and allied industries will continue to work in a hybrid model. In fact, according to a survey by Nasscom and Indeed, 70 per cent of IT companies are trying to employ the hybrid model effectively.  

Flexible work is another model that has gained acceptance. Hindustan Unilever, India’s biggest FMCG company, has introduced a new flexible work model. Under the scheme, employees would have a flexible association with the company, but still receive financial, security, retirement and medical benefits.

The worker will get a monthly retainer. In addition, he or she will get paid for each assignment. And, between assignments, they ate free to do other things that are important to them.

The pandemic has also left a lasting impact on what we consume and how we consume.

The Boston Consulting Group interviewed consumers during the second wave of India’s Covid-19 outbreak. It then compared that survey with its previous one from August 2020. It also compared the findings to data that it had collected during the pandemic's first phase.  

The group that there are accelerating behaviours which increased rapidly after the initial Covid outbreak and continued to increase as time passed.

For example, the number of consumers who purchased nutritional supplements and healthier packaged foods for the first time surged by around 30 per cent during the first stage of the pandemic. And this was still rising as of late May 2021.  

Then there are sustained momentum behaviours. These include the use of a wide array of digital services. Use of e-commerce, digital wallets, online educational classes, paid over-the-top media services, and free online video apps like YouTube jumped early in the pandemic.

By the time of the second wave, their use had settled at those elevated levels. These behavioural changes are more permanent than others. As a result, the market for these services is likely to remain robust even after Covid. This was good news for the likes of Amazon and BYJU'S.

There are also sensitive behaviours which tend to change in response to the intensity of the pandemic and lockdowns.
For example, relying on online doctor consultations. According to BCG, the strong growth seen in doctor tele-consultations, compared to visiting them in person, is unlikely to continue after Covid.

Lastly, there were transient behavioural changes. These gained significant traction during the early stages of the pandemic, but didn’t last. Examples would be online fitness and hobby classes.

The pandemic may also change how we do business.

India Inc, like the rest of the world, will have to re-evaluate established notions about scale and global supply chains.
In India, before the pandemic, and even now, there has been a call for greater integration with global supply chains. Consequently, the focus has been on large formal enterprises that can leverage their heft to play a significant enough role in said networks.
It is also felt that India could benefit from the shift in global supply chains away from China in the aftermath of COVID-19. And, while that will hold true, there could be a more fundamental shift in store as companies reorganize how they obtain their goods and build resilience.

As the Harvard Business Review explains while dealing with the topic of global supply chains in a post-pandemic world, there is a rise in economic nationalism. According to it, manufacturers across the world are going to face greater competitive and political pressures to increase their domestic production and increase employment in their home countries. They will also be expected to either reduce or eliminate their dependence on sources that are deemed to be risky.

As a result, India Inc and the government cannot only focus on greater integration with global supply chains. Instead, alternatives will have to be found and pursued in parallel.    

In the post-pandemic world, people will be more focused on striking a balance between work and life. The embrace of digital tools and channels for making purchases will rise, with a heightened focus on health. And, last but not least, a re-evaluation of how and where to build your products and services.

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First Published: Mar 24 2022 | 8:30 AM IST

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