Where do we go from here?

Written by
Julian Chow

We’re now at a stage in the global Coronavirus pandemic where the narrative has started to shift. Instead of talk just around lockdowns, staying home and flattening the curve, governments have started to talk about reopening economies – or reopening sectors – and getting people back to work, slowly, but surely. Even hard-hit countries like Spain and Italy are starting to loosen restrictions. Most of this isn’t by choice. Given a chance, I think most governments would still prefer for their people to stay home completely until everything is over, but the painful economic reality hitting home is getting too much to bear, especially for those whose income depends on daily wages. It’s a tough choice – and one that I don’t envy any government official who has to shoulder the burden of choosing between a rock and a hard place.

That said, as countries start to open up, the question – from an economy standpoint – is where do we go from here? Are we in a recession or are we staring down the tunnel at one of the biggest economic fallouts to happen in the last 100 years? Well, according to Ray Dalio’s recent TED Talk – Ray being the founder of the world’s biggest hedge fund, Bridgewater Associates – he believes that we are looking at a possible repeat of the 1929 Great Depression rather than the 2008 Financial Crisis. I find this believable, as the 2008 crisis was something that hit primarily the financial sector and then flowed into other verticals, but the Coronavirus economic shock is one that’s hitting almost every industry sector simultaneously, and sparing none in the process.

Mary Meeker’s recent Coronavirus trends report also echoes the same sentiments, but her note carries sentiments of positivity that we can all draw inspiration from. The report looks at the trends happening in the midst of the pandemic, to forecast what long-term shifts may occur as the world recovers.

There are many predictions across sectors, but the three main ones that struck a note with me are as follows:

  • Covid-19 acts as a forcing function to accelerate the transformation of business models, creating an even greater on-demand economy. For example, in Singapore, many traditional brick and mortar (F&B) businesses have been forced to move their distribution online, partner with platform companies or source for their own methods of delivery. Or think about clinics being forced to transition to telehealth consulting. All these point to a greater “on-demand” economy emerging after the Covid-19 situation is over and companies that offer platforms to connect supply and demand in various ways will thrive.
  • It also forces us to consider the future of labour. A re-allocation of labour is happening across various industries, and with some industries (think travel, hospitality) not able to recover as fast, this reallocation of labour may be permanent in the time to come. Further to my point above, if there is continued growth in the on-demand economy, we may see corresponding growth in the gig / on-demand labour market. Sectors that are seen as less resilient in the aftermath of the pandemic may face an exodus of workers to the on-demand labour market which is still able to thrive due to it’s ability to adapt quickly to any changes. Fixed labour could be a more or less attractive option depending on the industry in question
  • Streaming may become the next big media platform. Taking a cue from the world of sports and e-sports, we can see that real-time engagement or livestreaming via platforms like Twitch and Discord continue to move beyond their original use case for gaming into collaborating, sharing and connecting for social and business purposes. Marketers and communicators would do well to start thinking about how they can consider incorporating these platforms into their day-to-day outreach

In the end, we have to remind ourselves that the world doesn’t, and will not end here. If there is one force that has enabled the human race to thrive in any situation, it’s our adaptability and inventiveness, which is again coming to the fore as scientists all around the world work together to come up with vaccines to combat the spread of the virus. But beyond that, I believe that there is always a reason for hope, and if anything, we may be at the “darkest before dawn” period, or entering into it.

I will end this post with a reminder: The last time the world was in such a shambles was at the end of World War II. What happened after that was one of the most miraculous periods of economic and social growth for a good 20 years, with real GDP growth averaging over 4% per year in the 1950s, and nearly 5% per year in the 1960s. More often than not, we can take heart from the past, as many patterns in world history tend to repeat themselves, and let us hold on to this example as an encouragement that “this too, shall pass.”

Written by
Julian Chow