Life after ECQ

REGARDLESS of when ECQ is lifted, we can not become  BAU (business as usual) immediately. BAU will be possible only when a vaccine against COVID-19 is discovered, tested and approved. Guesstimates of when that will happen range anywhere from 12 to 18 months.

Then the vaccine will still have to be mass produced (another 6 months?) and then distributed. Recall that a premature return to BAU after the Spanish Flu of 1918  triggered a “second wave” and a “third wave” which caused more fatalities than the “first wave”. So expect the “new normal” to be anything but normal. Physical distancing, proper respiratory etiquette and disinfection protocols must continue to be observed at all times.

Just imagine how physical distancing will affect the operations of public transports. Buses, jeepneys, trains, ships and airplanes will have to operate, carrying only 1/3 their normal capacities. Operators will definitely lose and may probably opt not to operate at all unless they receive some form of subsidy. Those riding the MRTs will probably have to wait in line  3x as long. The physical movement of people will definitely be strictly limited.

In the work place, the Department of Trade and the Department of Labor and Employment recently came out with interim guidelines on workplace prevention and control measures. For instance, “(E)ating in communal areas are also discouraged, and if this is not possible, the employer shall ensure a one-worker-per-table and one-meter distance per worker scheme.” Under these circumstances, it may be wise for a worker to bring to work his/her own packed lunch. The guidelines further mandated. “Workers are also discouraged to engage in conversation, as well as prolonged face-to-face interaction with workers and clients.”

Time and again, the Filipino has proven to be resilient. I am confident that these days of COVID 19 will not be an exception.

How is  business preparing for a post ECQ scenario?  Without any doubt, most businesses – and the economy as well - have already taken huge hits because of COVID 19. Obviously, each business group will have its own way of responding to the situation.  Let me just cite one possible response.

In this respect, allow me to re-play the message of  Jaime Augusto Zobel de Ayala (JAZA), Chairman of Ayala Corporation,  to Ayala shareholders a few weeks ago.  Ayala’s businesses span several industries – banking, telecommunications, real estate, power, infrastructure, manufacturing, health and education.

Here is JAZA in his own words:  “It is very difficult to plan long term in an environment like this. We have always thought long term. We have always focused on the future but when you get a crisis like this that affects everyone, both nationally and globally,  there is no existing playbook for this kind of situation. So we find ourselves in a situation where we’ve had to shorten our cycle of planning and really look at the situation from a much shorter point of view.

“Let me just divide our new planning mode into three segments. The first phase  of this much shorter oriented planning cycle  is really preparing for the re-entry of the work force. The safety and health of our employees has been  a primary concern, both pre ECQ and post ECQ, and the same  will be as well for re-entry. We are worrying a great deal and thinking through how do we get our employee force back to be productive but at the same time healthy and safe in this new environment. That is something very much at the top of our thinking in this next period.

“Phase 2  would be ensuring our resiliency over the few months after the ECQ and really figuring out how to remain productive at a time like this. There is no playbook and we will be spending a lot of time readjusting to a new work environment as the ECQ lifts. We will be monitoring consumer behavior, market behavior, industry and regulatory shifts during this period of time and just make an assessment of how the world has changed for us and how we will need to work in this environment.

“There will be so many changes that will take place. One that is clear to all of us is the renewed role of technology in this new world where we can not move as freely as we can and as we wanted to.

“And finally, Phase 3  (Q3-Q4) of our planning will involve what we call the “new normal”, as we start to understand the  situation a little better and then adjust our work force and our market tactics to this new reality. In the case of employees we will have to see how we balance their well being and  productivity, keeping them safe and productive as well. We need to figure how to retain our customers   over the long term in this new environment and how to handle our operations and financial stability in a productive, innovative and intelligent way as we move along.”

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