At the time of preparing this report, the COVID-19 virus pandemic is having a major impact on populations and organisations across the world. As we write, confirmed cases of the virus have been recorded in 187 countries1. With the global crisis still unfolding, it is impossible to predict the extent of the disruption the virus will cause over the months and years to come. For many people what was considered normal just a few weeks ago has changed unrecognisably, both in their personal and working lives.
Amongst the economically hardest hit are the SMEs that are the subject of this report, a fact which has prompted governments of all persuasion to step in with unprecedented measures to support small companies – ranging from soft loans, tax holidays, and even paying employees’ salaries. On a regional level this has been reflected in many of the regulators and authorities taking active steps to lessen the impact on small businesses; many of the UAE freezones for example are reducing licence fees and waiving late renewal penalties.
We have seen from previous reports2 that SMEs in the Gulf region are generally resilient, and our sincere hope is that they will continue to be despite the scale of the challenges they currently face. Of course, a small organisation’s financial vulnerability can be mirrored in its ability to pivot and adapt to a new reality, and we’re already seeing companies innovating in the face of adversity – whether that is in changing delivery models, serving the needs of newly house-bound customers or adapting product lines to support national efforts to fight the coronavirus.
Other positives have not escaped our attention – the opportunity to spend more time with our immediate families away from the pressures of normal daily life; reduced traffic and pollution in our skies; and a renewed sense of unity as communities pull together to address our shared challenges.
So what does a post-COVID-19 future look like? If history is any guide, major upheavals and national crises can lead to radical social change, and questions are already being asked about our future workplace. Is this the end of the traditional office as we know it? Will our experience of working from home become a lasting habit leading to reduced business travel? In a period of pervasive uncertainty, social mores and conventions are being upended and we can only hope for positive change. From all of us at Diligencia, Gulf Capital and MEED, we wish you and your families the best of health and happiness.