Covid-19 has transformed the way we work, but is it a bad thing?

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The words “technology” and “transformation” have been the buzzwords for a long time now and Singaporeans have been consistently told the importance of adapting and staying relevant. As if we needed more reminders, Covid-19 has come swiftly and disrupted our lives, showing us that nobody is indeed “safe”.

This pandemic is interesting because it is so vastly different from what the SARS period was like. Previously, SARS mostly hit Asia and the rest of the world continued to function and their economies allowed Asia/Singapore to quickly bounce back from the bleep. However, we cannot forget that Covid-19 is an entirely different situation on a much larger scale. Firstly, even domestically, we did not have a nationwide circuit breaker back during the SARS days. Some businesses suffered and saw drops in sales, but it isn’t like now when many businesses have to completely close. Furthermore, we cannot ignore the fact that Covid-19 has affected multiple countries around the world, including large markets like the US, on which the rest of the world is heavily dependent on. It will be naïve to think that our lives will be back to normal 3-6 months after the Circuit Breaker is lifted… A more modest estimate of the amount of time it would take for our economy to completely recover would be 2 years… If that doesn’t scare you yet, I don’t know what else will.

However, as to all things, there is a silver lining. I like to think that the Covid-19 pandemic as a much needed wake up call and “reset button” for many. On one hand, it has forced many people to slow down and take some time to breathe and turn to #selfcare. On the other hand, it has completely driven home the importance of digital transformation that the Government has been coaxing Singapore to move towards for many years.

After the Circuit Breaker was announced, Singaporeans scrambled to put together their workstations and fumbled with online meeting tools like Microsoft Teams and Zoom. All that talk about the importance of embracing technology to stay relevant has come to this moment. Either you are ready, or you are not. And those smaller companies which have not been tech savvy, preferring instead to do things “the way they were 20 years ago”, were in for a rude shock.

I don’t think the words, “adapt or die” have ever rung truer. In fact, even the “disruptors”, such as Grab and Airbnb, found themselves navigating a difficult situation as it seemed few were spared. Grab drivers who had once been enjoying their flexibility and work now realised why many had warned that driving Grab as a full-time job may not be sustainable in the long run.

This onslaught brought on by Covid-19 would take some time to recover. In case you thought that life would go back to “normal” on 2 June and you will get to return to the office… Let me tell you that you are likely wrong… Minister of Trade and Industry Mr Chan Chun Sing has recently said that most of those who are able to work from home will continue doing so even after the Circuit Breaker period has ended.

And why not, I would like to add. We are largely living in a digital world right now and most of our jobs can be done remotely, via a laptop or computer as long as we have access to WiFi. Embracing a new way of living and working can allow us to kiss unwanted traditional work practices, such as presenteeism, goodbye.

Lastly, I would like to encourage all to continue embracing changes while moving forward. Only by focusing on the present and future can we continue to better ourselves and make our jobs more stable and recession-proof.

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