What is the “new normal”
Given that the economies in the Middle East were softening in 2019 before the pandemic hit in 2020, doing business has changed dramatically for all of us even in 2021. Local governments in the Middle East took immediate remedial action when the pandemic began leading to an upswing in the economy, judging by the numbers from PMI data which saw a rise over 50 for UAE and Saudi Arabia in December.
Businesses continue to streamline their processes evaluating resources in how they do business reflecting the way their customers interact or buy their products and services. Consumer behaviour has changed the way businesses work and communicate.
So, what are they doing differently and should this continue in 2021? The consensus has been going online and digital. “Much of the economy has gone digital – from the way we work and study from home with video calls, to shopping and purchasing behaviour,” said Fares Ghneim, Director for insights and strategy at Anavizio, a social listening company.
Natalja Kissina, HR VP for the Gulf at Schneider Electric, agreed that digital and sustainability was a focus for their business. “Our focus is on driving digitization and sustainability for our customers across the region. Last year emphasized the need for organizations be digitally-ready, and this is understandably the key priority for many businesses to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on their operations. Longer term, the biggest challenge we are going to face is the climate crisis, and we’ve got to prioritize technologies that make us more energy efficient and reduce our carbon emissions. This is especially true in the Gulf, which has the highest carbon emissions and energy usage per head of any region globally.”
According to Ghneim, companies have a much bigger stake in needing to know what is happening in the digital sphere and how their reputation is impacted. There is a need for businesses to not only be aware of customer experience and reviews but ease online accessibility or the availability of their products and services online.
Data has been key for some time in the business world but Ghneim thinks that social media intelligence and marketing analytics will gain more importance as the shift online continues.
Collaboration, says Massimo Cannizzo, CEO and Co-founder at GELLIFY Middle East. He adds that the new normal is not really new, it just means that businesses have realised that innovation, digital, and smart human mindset are becoming essential. GELLIFY supports collaborative and creative tech start ups in the B2B space through their fund.
According to Cannizzo, the business shift should be to focus on “never normal” situations where the agility to innovate, adapt and create is the new competitive mantra. He added, “The driving factors for businesses will be the combined effect of exponential growth of technology that implies lifestyle changes not just for every new generation but a shorter cycle of 5-8 years and the labour market that is moving from long term careers in large corporations to entrepreneurship in founding new start-ups on even just working on gig-engagements.”
The gig economy could definitely see an uptake, and this could also mean working with outsourced teams that include other organisations and freelancers. Vinayak Mahtani, Founder and CEO of bnbme, a holiday home management company, says they have outsourced a lot of their work to their teams around India and will be continuing to leverage Zoom and Zoho to manage their resources and ensure that their work continues apace.
Kissina added, “Our employees have been able to remote work for a number of years. They’re provided with the tools they need to be able to do their job from anywhere. And our solutions allow for remote management of electricity infrastructure and data centres. However, we’re still a people business, and we’ve taken extra health and safety precautions to keep our people and their loved ones safe. That means reducing the number of people in the office, mandatory health checks on arrival, and regular communications around medical guidance on mask wearing, social distancing and good sanitation.”
Including health and safety regulations in 2021, businesses will continue to embrace the world of digital as it takes a bigger hold, enabling collaboration and leveraging technology especially as 5G comes into force and smart city services, changing the way we do business.