Adapting for the New Year
We take a look at the impact of COVID-19 on sectors and businesses across the US, and the necessity of investments for the future
Writer: Marcus Kääpä
Over the past two years, the entire globe has been linked by the collective experience of the COVID-19 pandemic. The virus and its multiple variants have impacted everybody directly or indirectly, as well as shaping the way most have gone about daily activities, work and business.
Prior to the pandemic, the idea of experiencing lockdowns, social distancing, and home-based work and education due to a global virus was considered a notion one would find in dystopian fiction, rather than a reality we would face in the near future. This attitude remained the case for many countries even as COVID-19 spread through Asia and was only realized in its entirety when Asian industry - the manufacturing and production powerhouse of the world - slowed due to the impact of the virus.
In the US, the necessity of digital facilitation bred challenges for many businesses, especially those small to medium enterprises (SMEs) that functioned via person-to-person contact and a localized physical customer base. Above all, a handful of industries were hit the hardest (food and beverage, commercial aerospace and leisure to name a few), with many companies and restaurants unable to keep both their businesses and staff afloat, often having to sacrifice one to save the other.
However, several underwent investments and changes to adapt to such a trying period, including many restaurants introducing home deliveries where they had previously been non-existent and riding the waves of a new kind of service to remain relatively stable or even thrive.
All the while, the technology sector boomed. Never before had web-services and online communication been so important to people, and critical to companies’ operations. The general reduction in office use led to businesses across the country scaling down their physical presence, and instead taking work to the digital realm. Online cloud-based software has increasingly become the center of work, and services such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Slack and others are now essential to fulfil the everyday communication needs of employees and management.
Moving into 2022
The mass rollout of COVID-19 vaccines around the US has quelled some fears for the future of business. At present, almost 61 percent of the country’s 329.5 million people (around 200 million) have been fully vaccinated, with a total of 484 million vaccines having been given out. This had hoped to be the beginning of the end for the negative impact of the virus on the economy, allowing industries to get up and running once more at pre-COVID-19 levels of operation.
Now, with the new Omicron variant of COVID-19 beginning to take root in countries across the world, experts in the US are predicting volatility moving forwards into the new year. 2022 is expected to be another year of disruption and instability at some level, especially in the supply chain; it is an issue at the forefront of many minds. From capacity and input availability to transportation and labor, all aspects of the sector are being questioned.
For many supply chains, Omicron has signalled entrance into a new phase of the unknown, with the repetition of potential lockdowns in various regions of the world, and the consequential impact on goods transportation that comes with it. Within the US supply chain there is a fear of running out of inventory, with businesses switching their mindsets from ‘just in time’ to ‘just in case’, this adding to the present supply chain strain amid the volatility.
In the US, over 99 percent of businesses are SMEs, employing around 50 percent of the country’s workforce. Many of these lack the cash reserves to weather drawn out periods of interruption, and with the constant changes in different states and forced technological investments, the future remains at the whim of chance for businesses all over the US.
This is the real challenge facing those in the food and beverage sector, with such digital investments necessary both to drive sales in the present, where there is a flux in purchasing between home deliveries and on-trade buying, and to safeguard the businesses against future lockdown periods at which point digitalization will become necessary for active business.
From witnessing the varying stages of the pandemic for multiple years, we can now assume that COVID-19 will not be leaving us any time soon, or potentially, at all. The transmissibility and ongoing variation of the virus could see its long-continued presence in society, much like the common flu. Therefore, in order for businesses (especially SMEs) to survive and thrive, adaptation in service is a necessity to move forward and combat the potential reoccurrence of COVID-19 related impacts.