Caribbean road map for MSMEs successfully navigating the COVID-19 business environmentWednesday, May 05, 2021
BY DURRANT PATE
IN part two of this feature we look at mobilising the workforce and broadening customer engagement and other key areas in micro, small and medium enterprises (MSMEs) manoeuvring the coronavirus pandemic business environment.
These prescriptions are contained in the just-launched publication, The New Normal – A Post-COVID Primer for Business, which provides a Caribbean road map for businesses to successfully navigate the current pandemic business environment. The 124-page publication is written by Jamaican economist Joseph Cox, current Caricom assistant secretary general with responsibility for trade and economic integration.
The publication was launched last week during a virtual ceremony for which the keynote speaker was former Prime Minister Bruce Golding, who articulated that the prescriptions contained in the publication are well thought out and hit at the core of the challenges being faced by Caribbean businesses in this pandemic business environment.
Mobilising the workforce
In the publication, Cox stated that several employees have now become accustomed to working from home, with some arguing that without the rigidity of an office environment they are actually more productive, armed now with the requisite technological tools to facilitate their work. Conversely, there are those who absolutely hate it and long for the social interactions and camaraderie that sometimes characterise the work environment.
According to the Jamaican economist, “this presents an opportunity for businesses to formally introduce flexi-work schedules, with persons being allowed to only report to the office a few times per week, representing a compromise of sorts to the telework or work-from-home strategy that would have obtained in the throes of the COVID-19 pandemic. However, this scenario requires the establishment of specific performance metrics and deadlines which will have to be monitored to ensure that efficiencies and productivity gains, previously alluded to, are maintained”.
This would imply opportunities to review their overall need for office space and an opportunity to reduce overhead expenses. While this is only applicable to certain types of businesses, the benefits of a flexible approach to work at the level of the firm can be mutually beneficial and also aid in staff engagement and retention. There might also be opportunities for re-skilling (process of learning new skills to do a different job) and upskilling (focus on improving the skills of workers).
Broadening customer engagement
The success or failure of any business enterprise is usually predicated on its level of customer engagement. This has become even more critical in the post-COVID-19 era as most consumers have been forced by their particular circumstance during the period of protracted restrictions, occasioned by the pandemic, to alter patterns of behaviour and indeed, acquire new habits.
In that regard, the new normal, according to the publication, will be influenced by the percentage of those changed behaviours that are retained over the medium term.“In fact, it is quite likely that issues such as social distancing and the wearing of personal protective equipment may well continue to be part of the social dynamic as far afield as in 2023,” Cox argued.
This is based on a notion that COVID-19 will be a factor influencing human behaviour well into the medium term. In fact, the impact of the pandemic has already been manifested in terms of obvious changes in psyche of the average consumer, with increased emphasis being placed on contactless delivery, heightened sanitation, and an overall shift towards the use of digital channels in conducting business.
This is not limited to the retail sector but has permeated every aspect of the business cycle, including customer interactions with the State. Cox pointed to the fact that the heightened sensitivity to germs and the spreading of infection by some have already altered the operational ethos of some industries, most notably the fast food industry.
Hence companies will need to realign their customer engagement and distribution models to become congruent with the real time digital transformation and demographic shifts which are now occurring.
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