I was discussing with a friend the other day about how long before the advent of COVID-19, I had been an advocate of remote work and how I tried, though unsuccessfully, to get a former employer to buy into it. I have always liked the idea of people getting the job done and meeting deadlines, regardless of where they are.
I had made a case for less use of office utilities, thus translating to more money saved, staff spending less on transportation if they could work from home, thus making their pay check appear fatter than normal as the budget for lunch would also be eliminated.
This proposal didn’t make sense to my then boss.
The boss thought people would only be able to deliver the goods if they were physically in the office. It was a change he wasn’t ready for.
So when COVID-19 happened in 2020, a lockdown was announced and movement was restricted, compelling people to work remotely, my boss called to ask if I had a crystal ball that I used to peep into the future. It wasn’t so. I was only observant and saw that work as we knew it was bound to change as technology penetration increased.
Those who had not thought of this reality were, therefore, among those who found the situation COVID-19 led the world into most confounding.
When the first case of COVID-19 was recorded in Nigeria on February 27, many did not quite understand the import of it and how it would impact our lives.
From 97 cases on the morning of March 29, 2020, one day before the national lockdown took effect; Nigeria has recorded 162,641 confirmed cases of the virus. Of this number, 150,466 cases have been discharged and 2,049 deaths have been recorded in 36 states and the Federal Capital Territory (FCT), while there are 10,126 active cases as at March 30, 2020.
To say the effect of the pandemic on our lives and livelihoods has been colossal would be for want of a better word to convey properly, its impact.
So many lives have been cut short by the virus, leaving many children orphaned. Imagine the effect of this on families.
Livelihoods have also been lost, impacting the local and global economy monumentally. Millions of people have lost their jobs and as a result, lost access to food, shelter, quality medical care and many other basic needs.
While the world is yet to come up with statistics of economic losses due to the pandemic, one thing is certain: the world is a lot poorer than it was pre-COVID. The effect of the pandemic on businesses, especially Micro, Small and Medium Enterprises (MSMEs) has been devastating. Many businesses have had to shut down in entertainment, tourism and other sectors.
But it wasn’t all gloom. The pandemic also presented growth opportunities for operators in the e-commerce, logistics and ICT industries who were able to pivot and retool their businesses. That we have been able to work from home and hold virtual meetings using applications such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google meet and Skype among others is thanks to technology.
COVID-19 also created opportunities for the rise of ‘Covidpreneurs’ making brisk business in production and sales of hand sanitisers, facemasks, hand washing receptacles among others.
COVID-19 also made people come to the realisation that a lot of things they thought mattered do not really matter. Things like holding elaborate weddings that often left the newlyweds in debt and travels that were not necessary. Today, it is normal to see a couple and a priest solemnising their wedding with their family and friends joining virtually on zoom.
In the banking sector, banks have come to the realisation that brick and mortar offices are now old fashioned and are investing more in e-banking platforms.
A report by the GSM Association published in its annual ‘State of the Industry Report on Mobile Money’ showed a dramatic acceleration in mobile transactions during the COVID-19 pandemic as lockdown restrictions limited access to cash and financial institutions. Registered accounts grew by 13 percent globally in 2020 to more than 1.2 billion – double the forecast, according to the report, the fastest growth being in markets where governments provided significant pandemic relief to their citizens. Nigeria falls in this category.
In spite of fears that transactions would decline as people worldwide suffered job losses and income cuts during the pandemic, more than $1 billion was sent and received in the form of remittances globally every month via mobile money. As a result, the total value of transactions increased by 65 percent, to an annual total of $12.7 billion in 2020.
Even though the successful development and deployment of various vaccines has provided some sort of respite, we are not out of the woods yet, COVID-19 is still with and ravaging us. The rate of infections and deaths has not significantly reduced.
The way I see it, the new normal isn’t phasing out soon. People willcontinue to work from home, online schooling will remain a thing, we will continue to wear face masks in public, use hand sanitisers, wash our hands and adhere to other non-clinical procedures. Physical bank visits will remain old-fashioned unless called for. Even medical consultations are now done via telephone. This is our new reality.