By Ferdous Samim written for BusinessDNA

Doing business in Afghanistan has never been easy. The COVID-19 pandemic adds another layer of challenges to the business environment– quite a bigger one. The bitter-sweet truth is that this time, it is not only Afghans but all over the world. However, the unfortunate reality is that while most countries will eliminate the virus, Afghanistan will be among the few countries fighting longer.              

Small & Medium Enterprises (SMEs) are the backbone of Afghanistan’s private sector, and the pandemic has affected them the most. Start-ups, in particular, had just started blooming when the COVID-19 came like a massive hailstorm. Yet, it does not mean that it is the end of the road for SMEs. The only direction is moving forward, and that is what we do. We have come a long and difficult way, and this pandemic is another, but not the last, obstacle.

How to Use the Best of the Worst?  

Adapt

Each pandemic closes one chapter for the world and opens another. It changes the rules, ethics, social behaviors, and universal norms. We should never have the same “normal” that we leave behind; instead, brace ourselves for a new one. It will take a while to adapt to the new norms; the world will lose weight and gain again.

The first thing is to realize the magnitude of the problem. Use the best out of what we have and plan for much harder hits, as the pandemic’s impacts might last a lot longer in Afghanistan. We must have the plan, courage, and patience in response to these impacts to survive.

Learn     

The COVID-19 pandemic pushed us to get out of our comfort zone and think out of the box. One of the significant elements businesses lack in Afghanistan is the dearth of business knowledge. Getting a business license, renting an office, and creating social media platforms do not necessarily mean business success. The majority of SMEs in Afghanistan have no or minimal knowledge of planning, finance, and management. These competencies are the essentials that every business must be familiar with to effectively plan, practice, and grow. It does not mean that a business must be professional and technical in these spheres. However, the basic familiarity of the fundamentals is required. For example, learning the basics of taxation, writing a business plan, or using social media to market your products or services is a must.  

Learning has never been more accessible than it is today. Technology has never been as helpful as it is today. Everyone can learn any skill in the best and quickest way possible. As David Fox, Founder & CEO of AMR Group, says, “The university of YouTube.” I couldn’t agree more. Hence, businesses must cultivate a learning culture to strengthen their business competencies.   

SME’s are the backbone of Afghanistan’s private sector, and the pandemic has affected them the most.

Ferdous samim

Improvise 

The COVID-19 precautions, such as Social Distancing, working from home, and lesser physical interactions, have not stopped the businesses entirely but derived them from discovering new working methods. Humans tend to get more creative at the most challenging times. Technology plays a crucial role at this point, from the rapid spreading of COVID-19 awareness to small and large-scale meetings worldwide.     

Technology has enabled businesses to run without having an office. You delegate more tasks and get them finished in less time than the office. You follow up on the working progress more often, regardless of how far you are from the team or office. Your employees finish all assignments on time and report back smoothly. These substantially decrease office administrative and operation costs. Running an office will seem more expensive post-pandemic. The operation cost will go higher, as you will need to disinfect the office environment regularly, as well as expand the working space for each person, and so on.

Change in Working Norms

Work from home does not necessarily mean working at “home”- employees can work from anywhere as long as the assigned tasks are delivered. Like The Hub and Co-Worthy, co-working spaces in Kabul are great examples. The pandemic is a golden opportunity for such shared working spaces to expand while taking all safety and hygiene measurements into account. Clients use these co-working spaces based on their needs having all the essential requirements of a standard office. 

Digitalization

Digitalization is mandatory for all SMEs to stay operative and competitive during and post-pandemic. Businesses can use the worldwide best and easy-to-access platforms. For instance, you are using emails to send an invoice to your clients or writing a proposal for designing a 100-bed hospital for the COVID-19 patients. 

Using digital technology in work-space eliminates unnecessary activities and increases employees’ productivity. Global communication platforms, such as Zoom – the most downloaded app for organizing a video conference or webinar – and BluJeans – a leading cloud video conferencing and video calls app – have invaded the market. In addition, Google’s newly introduced app, Meet, can be used to connect with teammates and customers for free. Technology has made it easier to run business virtually and smoothly, not only with communication but in all other aspects.

Future Strategy 

We learn one lesson from a positive influence, but at least ten lessons from a negative one. The COVID-19 pandemic has been eye-opening for us and a warning for future generations to come. Human beings are fragile when it comes to competing with nature. The human population has been growing rapidly. Consequently, the increase in population means consuming more natural resources, which damages our environment. Considering this, the pandemics shall happen more frequently.      

The architecture industry has already started working on solutions to minimize the spread of the virus by designing spaces with lesser physical interactions, for instance, no usage of doorknobs in public facilities.

Like the architecture industry, all businesses should prepare strategies for crisis management, same as fiscal strategy, operational strategy, exit strategy, and so forth. Like other developing countries, Afghanistan requires such approaches to manage these negative impacts and survive the crisis. The present pandemic showed us that everyone is on their own.