It’s fair to say our lives are radically different from what they were on January 1 this year; but could these changes be permanent?

The COVID-19 outbreak has caused governments to lock down economies in an attempt to save their populations and health systems. As a result we are working from home, avoiding non-digital interactions and cutting back spending on everything but essentials.

Some change has been mandated, but other measures were implemented by businesses and consumers without or before any government direction.


Playing it safer

To get a broader perspective, Stockhead spoke to Monash University international business lecturer Giovanni Di Lieto.

This crisis caught many companies by surprise, similar to previous crises like the GFC.

But Dr Di Lieto predicts this will be a major wake up call for companies and economies.

“We’ve seen major emergencies before, we’ve seen wars and catastrophic events but people typically  think the worst is gone and will never happen again,” he said.

“But we know these pandemics have been happening for decades and the history of humanity. People, governments and institutions will play it safer, depend less on globalised economies and become more self-reliant.

“The transition will be long but the first impact will be shipping and logistics. I used to work in logistics and shipping before the GFC — we saw that coming months before because of the slowdown, but no one saw this.”


Acceleration of tech, cybersafety

But just because businesses are cautious, it does not mean they will spend less. They will need to spend more to be prepared, particularly with technology.

Peter Leihn, CEO of data analytics firm IXUP (ASX:IXU), told Stockhead companies like his have seen current technologies struggle to keep up with demand.

For example, VPN usage in the US rose over 50 per cent between March 9 and 15. Since then its spiked even more.

“Businesses across the globe are facing huge data security and privacy challenges as their employees move to remote working,” Leihn said.

“Data governance practices are being tested and many companies are turning to new tech solutions like encryption platforms to ensure data is protected at all times even when people are using it.

“While increased investment in security will be necessary to protect from COVID-19 related cyber threats, we can expect the lasting effect to be a complete change in the way businesses secure and use their data.”


Simplify software and your supply chain

Stockhead also spoke with Fintan Lalor, Asia Pacific regional manager at project management software service Wrike.

He echoed the suggestion that supply chains may become more lean, although this isn’t just vaguely cutting foreign imports. Lalor said companies needed to consider their digital supply chains.

“The learnings around supply chain optimisation will continue into the coming months,” he said.

“Companies that rely on complex global supply chains have a great opportunity to use big data and artificial intelligence to predict future disruptions and prepare in advance.

“AI that analyses publicly available health and disease prevention data can be a critical situational modelling tool for businesses to consider in their annual planning.”

Lalor added that firms needed to invest in their cloud infrastructure to enable operations without disruption.


More health and safety

Both Leihn and Lalor also predict that companies will invest more in their health, safety and wellbeing initiatives.

“Without a doubt one of the biggest changes we’ll see is the health and safety of employees and customers,” Leihn said.

“From better hygiene and workplace cleaning practices to mental health support, the solidarity that has been called on to combat COVID-19 will flow through to an increased expectation of businesses to support the health and wellbeing of their employees.“

Lalor agrees, noting that it may simply be a case of continuing measures implemented in recent weeks.

“Employers are turning to online meditation, yoga, personal training and coaching sessions to support their teams during this uncertain time,” he said.

“When we return to ‘business as usual’, organisations should continue to invest in these additional wellbeing initiatives, which are accessible to employees anywhere, anytime.”


Will we cease business travel and physical conferences?

With the rapid escalation of video conferencing, does this mean travelling to the traditional conference will become a thing of the past?

If they do, airlines may not be smiling (Pic: Come Fly With Me/BBC)

“When we come out of this pandemic, a large number of companies will have a strong case to continue with virtual meetings, events and collaboration — especially those not dependent on supply chains,” Lalor said.

“Especially considering video calls are a cost effective, safer solution that allows professionals to spend more time at home with their families.

“We’ll still see plenty of business travel, especially for managing complex partnerships, however I do anticipate more businesses will encourage virtual collaboration wherever possible.”