View: Back to the 'old normal'

The more things change, the more they remain the same.The transformative impact of the pandemic was such thatmanyof usthought that things and situations will never be the same again. Surprisingly, they are falling back in place and that too rather quickly.

It took months of pandemic-driven lockdowns for businesses to carve out an online ecosystem. However, within a couple of months of the third wave, there has been a discerning and rapid rebound to offline.

The nascent edtech industry in India that got the much-needed stimulus due to the closure of schools amidst Covid has now accepted the ground reality – literally. Early this year, edtech industry major Byju’s decided to open 500 physical tuition centres across 200 cities in 2022. This month, Unacademy announced that it is foraying into offline education and will open its first offline centre in Kota, the country’s largest private coaching hub.

Multiplex companies PVR and cashed in on the success of movies such as RRR and KGF2 both on the streets as well as on the Dalal Street. In contrast, popular OTT platform Netflix faced decline in subscriptions and its valuations.

Direct-to-consumer (D2C) brands that owe their existence to e-commerce and online marketplaces have now started establishing their presence in the physical world. Several top consumer goods makers, including

, and , are rolling out their online D2C brands in the brick-and-mortar stores. Dabur, for instance, has taken its baby-care range, mustard oil, ghee, pickles and apple cider vinegar offline to large chains.

For those who thought people hardly visited bank branches and that the pandemic further reinforced the future of banking to be digital, it will be interesting to note that the country’s largest private sector lender

opened 563 branches in the quarter to March 2022 bringing its total number of branches at the end of FY22 to 6,342.

Telemedicine took off in a big way during the pandemic, but hospital outpatient departments and operation theatres are full again with patients queuing up for check-ups and surgeries. E-pharmacies have opened offline stores realising the need to be omni-channel rather than pure digital. Several offline pharmacy chains have made investments in digitalising their supply chain and delivery services.

During the pandemic, few companies such as

had said they will have 75% workforce working remotely. But most others are now scampering to get their employees reporting back to the offices even as some of them are battling with high attrition.

To be fair, the pandemic did teach the world to live and function online – triggering ideas of meta verse and Web 3.0. But the two-year period couldn’t change the practices evolved over several decades before that. As if driven by a strong sense of inertia, we are comfortably going back to our lives led before the pandemic. The only difference? The world today is more hybrid than what it was before the pandemic.

Incidentally, the pandemic has made us future-ready for circumstances such as lockdowns and voluntary absences. Today if a child misses her school, she may not completely miss out on what is taught if the classroom sessions continue to be recorded. An employee can work from home or anywhere, whenever a need arises since a precedent has already been set. Working from home is nothing but the modern form of small scale and cottage industry that was essentially undertaken from home. It can also help improve the female participation in the workforce that has been on a decline in India.

In some ways, the pandemic also triggered changes that we desired or deserved. Countries across the world have seen the ill-effects of urbanisation and globalisation. Lockdowns suffered by city dwellers have reduced the glamour from urban living. According to the World Economic Forum, at least three countries in the world – Portugal, Ireland and New South Wales in Australia are considering paying workers to move to the countryside in a bid to revitalise rural communities and boost local economies, by tempting younger people away from the cities.

Supply chain woes have turned the opinion of the policy makers in favour of deglobalisation. India may have openly pronounced its policy of being
Atmanirbhar but most large countries are looking at securing their supply chains.

Till it was feared, the pandemic was thought to bring structural changes in the way we function and live. Once we realised how to cope with it, it became an opportunity to make money by introducing new products and services. As the world emerges out of this pandemic, some of the pandemic-born businesses are likely to undergo changes.

Views are personal


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