Covid has impacted business operations immensely and startups have been taking measures to acclimatize to the challenges presented by the pandemic. Startups are experimenting at an unprecedented rate to keep up with the Covid-19-induced challenges with policy reforms and changing operational dynamics.
Even regulators took measures to mitigate the impact of the pandemic on companies’ day-to-day operations. The focus of these actions has primarily been on compliances and that too as a stop-gap arrangement. As far as changes which would have far-reaching consequences in re-shaping the ways business operations are structured, the only critical aspects have been the emphasis on digitization, decreasing the number & level of compliances and consequences for not meeting the compliances.
The Ministry of Corporate Affairs (MCA) issued several notifications relaxing the deadlines for filings and requirements to pass certain resolutions through a physical meeting or even holding physical meetings in relation to matters restricted only for physical meetings. The Companies Fresh Start Scheme provides an opportunity to the defaulting companies to enable them to file the belated documents in the MCA-21 registry.
The Securities and Exchange Board of India (SEBI) also granted several relaxations regarding provisions of the SEBI (Listing Obligations and Disclosure Requirements) Regulations 2015, including relaxing timelines and permitting the use of digital signature certifications for authentication/certification of filings/submissions.
In terms of managing compliances and regulatory steps, digitization has, by allowing online processes for registrations, filings, returns, certifications, etc., provided greater ease and will continue to be the trend. The decrease in the number & level of compliances along with digitization will not only facilitate easy accessibility through electronic means but also reduce the cost of compliance and increasing transparency.
The focus has shifted from imprisonment or stringent action to monetary penalties and compounding options. While the emphasis is on improving compliance mechanism, the focus is also on deterrent penalisation and an increase in the cost of non-compliance.
The other major shift has been on the HR front. While the conflict between WFO and WFH continues to be at the epicentre, WFH is evolving as the latest model of work prominently encouraged by employers because of compulsions created by the pandemic. WFH is changing the work culture in a similar way the last depression in 2008-2009 had impacted wherein the focus had shifted to engaging more contract employees rather than retaining permanent ones.
The air of uncertainty surrounding this pandemic has encouraged companies to re-look at their work culture and add more flexibility, empathy, intelligence, transparency and honesty to meet the WFH requirements. The systems are also encouraging the policies to change and adapt to the new requirements related to leave management, prescribing a novel method of mapping productivity that is useful for WFH method and introducing concepts like furlough.
The health & safety practices and related policies came to the fore and the requirements prescribed by the concerned Ministry of Labour & Employment helped companies in providing necessary tools & mechanism to ensure health & safety of employees while WFO.
Lastly, learning from the practical experiences of the last few months, companies have also shifted some focus on contract management as they either struggled to enforce clauses or face consequences for not having resolute contracts. They have also started looking to reduce dependency on physical presence and simultaneously building an ecosystem with more remote control and consistency.
Building greater safety, flexibility & productivity into operations and embracing systems thinking in corporate decisions are also being encouraged. Finally, companies would have to invest more in digital platforms and cybersecurity. Companies are already taking ample measures for cybersecurity and data protection to provide necessary confidence to business counterparts and safeguard the data in any sector of operation. They are adopting digital technologies, cloud storage, virtual reality and artificial intelligence to simplify complex tasks in a cost-effective manner.
While the pandemic is far from over but startups have learnt to live with it and coming up with strategies to make the best use of these times. Some have used this time for house-cleaning exercise, while others have restructured their business to keep the focus on core strengths; some have kept a focus on R&D while other have explored new aspects of their business and worked on expansion plans.
But overall, the business operations have changed a lot and are no longer what it used to be when the year started. Hopefully, the New Year will see more experiments and innovations in business operations and consequent better results as well.