I don’t think any of us have ever heard that word being used so often until last month. And there is good enough reason for it. Most situations that we face in life are repetitive and even problems that may appear new to us would have been experienced by the older generation. All in all, rarely do we face circumstances where mankind as a whole is totally out of depth. It is rather surreal to be in the midst of this revolutionary period about which there will be hundreds of books written, yet our only reaction can be to sit at home (apart from essential workers). And the question on everyone’s minds is what next.
There are 3 ways that this period will get over –
- Lock down until a vaccine is developed (12-18 months away)
- Resume life with severe restrictions of normal activities
- Continue life as normal and develop herd immunity (0.5% of population dies)
Highly unlikely that the third option will be favoured as it would result in the demise of around 0.5% of the population which, in India, translates to a whopping 6.5 million (65 lakhs). We are most likely looking at a combination of option one and two. Assuming a reduction in number of Covid-19 cases, India shutdown will ease up on May 3rd with a phase by phase opening up of activities. If the numbers continue to rise, we may see a further extension of the lockdown to avoid a second spike in cases. There may also be a situation where we may never know the real numbers without significant testing. The impact of migrant movement and overcrowding at borders may affect us soon. It is hard to know how the lock down will be phased out but we can know for sure that our old pace of life will not resume until everyone is vaccinated. We are in this for the long haul.
Potential impacts on life
Large scale gatherings will be restricted
Indian weddings will become smaller, until the vaccine is developed AND distributed. Development of the vaccine is alone not enough, you need to manufacture dosage for the global population, and distribute it effectively. Until then, couples will invite lesser people, and guests will be wary of attending a wedding unless absolutely necessary. This is probably a good thing, since you can choose to only invite the people that genuinely matter. As photographers, a smaller event would largely involve a similar shoot workflow but you need to plan cashflow since you may not have any shoots for a few months.
Work from home becomes commonplace
Offices will become smaller and work culture will change. Say an office had 500 desks in the past. It may evolve to need only 100 desks with staff coming in 1 day a week for meetings. The domino effect of this will be on the commercial real estate sector which is a big part of the economy. Of course, there is another side to the story in that offices provide a space for face to face social interaction. Small things like a quick chat at someone’s desk, impromptu group lunches and tea breaks are an undervalued part of life. Removing that would have adverse affects on the mental health of people.
People who work away from home may think twice before moving for work. This includes both migrant labour and skilled workers. People would want to be closer to their families, in case they are trapped away from them like the current situation of being stuck away from loved ones. For daily wage labourers, the impact is even more severe being without work and relying on handouts for food. Their nomadic lives may be replaced by running small businesses in their own towns, or refocusing on agriculture. However, there exists a possibility that financial requirements may force them to migrate again. For skilled workers, they may sacrifice additional wages in favour of having a job at their home town, and work-from-home setups will help them.
Globalization to localization
Supply chains have been disrupted and they are impacting businesses that have manufacturing centres spread across many countries. They may start planning to shift their core facilities back to their home countries, in the long run. This was already happening, albeit at a slow pace, and this will make them accelerate the process. And that is the bigger outcome of this crisis. All future company plans have all been squeezed into a smaller timeline. What would normally be a 10 year transition will become a 2 year process now. Large companies will also buy up smaller companies that are not able to sustain themselves in this period.
Times of crisis like this give governments an excuse to invade citizen privacy in the name of security. Fear is a powerful emotion and people will sign away privacy for a sense of safety. 9/11 is an example of how that one incident led to a significant ramp up in airport screenings and permanently impacted global air travel. Whether it was effective or not is another story, but it tends to give people a feeling that things are better.
Value for life
For those of us who are fortunate to have guaranteed food, shelter and clothing, this is a period of forced vacation. And much needed for all of us who were running in the rat race without an end in sight. There is a renewed appreciation for quality of life, time with family, and the artistic little things around us. Going back to the old life will not feel normal anymore. Priorities will change and so will the direction of life.
Startups and entrepreneurs
The culture of startup funding will slow down. WeWork’s drastic turn of events had already made investors scrutinize the startup industry, and this economic downturn will bring more eyes on it. There will be a shift of focus to generate profits rather than to blindly increase user base by discounting services. As for small businesses and entrepreneurs, there has been a distinct lack of support from the Indian government. This will lead people to go back to steady jobs instead of facing the hassle of running their own businesses. For people who may have been considering taking the leap of faith to become an entrepreneur, they may think twice about the decision.
What does this mean for all of us? To know that future will not be the same as the past. There is no going back to “normal”. Be prepared to change the way you work, the way you travel, and the way you live. Darwin’s famous phrase is often misquoted as ‘survival of the fittest’. In fact, Darwin’s actual words, roughly paraphrased, are “it is not the strongest of the species that survives, nor the most intelligent; it is the one most adaptable to change.”