COVID-19 Coercion

COVID-19 coercion

By Shermann Razal

The coronavirus requires a mental shift to adapt to the times

Everywhere we turn, there seems to be but one topic on everyone’s mask-covered lips. After months of festering in East Asia, the pandemic has the world’s attention, and has economies at their knees. Singapore is no different, where, according to the SCCB, more than half of all payments have been late–a clear indication that businesses are struggling to adapt to the challenging times. 

Out of all the turmoil and chaos that it has generated, one thing that has been inadvertently exposed is how far behind some businesses and individuals were, and continue to be, in their ability to adapt to the new (but hopefully temporary) circumstances. Just last December, Channel News Asia ran an article that illustrated how ill-prepared many companies here still were. Although nine out of ten acknowledged the need to implement upgrades, only 31% of SMEs followed through with tangible changes. 

Not many outside of already-digitally-savvy enterprises knew how to sustain operations and run their day-to-day without the need to meet face-to-face. One would have thought the digital renaissance of the past decade would have meant that most modern economies would have had ready-made contingencies. Yet, do a quick Google inquest, and you’ll still find “how to use Zoom” at the top of searches. 

Adopting technology and upgrading operation structures had been relegated to the realms of “nice to have” for the longest time. But this lazy approach isn’t surprising. Take Singapore, for example. Long heralded as a hub for innovation, we still found innovation had not been readily embraced. COVID-19 unearthed a severe chink in many industries and practices, which took weeks to muddle through a plethora of advised alternatives. 

Many found themselves attempting to reinvent the wheel overnight, having been lulled into false senses of security. The relative peace and tranquility of Singapore’s buffered economy delayed any urgency to upgrade their systems, and upskill their workers when circumstances were a lot less dire. 

Unsurprisingly, one of the local government’s first salvos was to urge workers to use the enforced downtime to upskill and attend courses to upgrade themselves. The funds and grants were there. They always had been. Yet not many grasped it with both hands. 

In its pilot year, only around 5% of all eligible Singaporeans and PRs used the SGD$500 credits given to them. According to a Straits Times report, subsequent years saw a doubling of that figure, but it still languished at a paltry 12% in 2018. Perhaps it was companies resting on their laurels, too dialed into their existing standard operating procedures. Maybe it was workers not wanting to challenge themselves by picking up skills outside their comfort zones. 

Well, comfort zones seem like things of the past now. Many have lamented that they are out of work, having been forced to take unpaid leave and accept fewer shifts as industries grind to a near halt. Employees seem at the mercy of their organizations, hapless victims unable to redesign themselves to offer employers solutions and sustained ways of keeping themselves relevant. 

Even the attempts to attend said courses were rudely curtailed when Singapore’s government implemented social distancing measures in the final weeks of March. Many such upskilling courses had to be postponed indefinitely per the new stipulations. 

So, what does this all imply? Firstly, the need to continually upskill and upgrade, both on the part of employers and employees alike. We keep harping that the future is uncertain, yet not many took heed to their warning. Well, the warning period is over, and COVID-19 seems here to stay. It’s time to buckle down and start reimagining your business models. 

There is and always has been plenty of aid to get where you need to be. You just need to know where to look.

About the Author

Shermann is a Wordslinger at Bebop Asia. Being the self-proclaimed gatekeeper to the artistry and science of words, Shermann balances effective messaging with the necessity to appeal. Seventeen years of crafting for both public and corporate projects will see you get the jazzed-up PR treatment you deserve.

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