Dubai awaits a return to normal business hours... for now, CEOs and owners are intent on one priority - continuity. Image Credit: Gulf News Archive

Dubai: Sometimes a relaunch can be more difficult - but Dubai and the UAE economy will be better off trying to get businesses back on their feet now rather than wait a while longer. For one, it will offer businesses and the sectors they are in more time to make adjustments to cope with a virus-ravaged economic environment, leading businessmen and economists say.

Those few weeks gained by re-launching full-scale commercial activity now will come in handy when the growth engine finally catches some momentum.

But some of the rules of dealing with COVID-19 will still apply. “We must stick on the practices of social distancing to prevent a spike in the curve,” said Dr Azad Moopen, Chairman and Managing Director, Aster DM Healthcare. “Let us be aware and behave as a responsible populace.”

But the easing of restrictions is the done thing to do - “This is required to restart businesses,” he added.

Let us be aware and behave as a responsible populace

- Dr. Azad Moopen, Aster DM Healthcare

The ins and outs

Having effected a strict lockdown regime and exhaustive sterilisation all through April and most of May, postponing the return to activity would have meant lost opportunities.

“As important as getting the timing right to launch a lockdown is to know when to exit it,” said Abdulnasser Alshaali, an economist. “That balance is vital and Dubai is getting it right.

“As the situation eases, it will take a while for the private sector to get back. It remains the most vulnerable to a drop in consumption and cashflow.

“But what COVID-19 has done is hasten the further shift towards a digital economy. In that respect, the virus will be for the Fourth Industrial Revolution what the steam engine was for the first.”

What COVID-19 has done is hasten the further shift towards a digital economy

- Abdulnasser Alshaali, economist

Survival for the many

In the short-term, no one expects a turnaround to take place overnight. Key growth and sectoral indices will give troubling numbers, and for some it will take far longer for a recovery. Job losses will be there as businesses shrink to cope.

Most businesses have had the experience of passing through the 2008 Global Financial Crisis and its aftermath. The same questions were asked then about whether local economies were equipped to deal with it. But emerge, it did.

We have no choice but to learn to live with coronavirus

- Paras Shahdadpuri, Nikai Group

A return to economic activity must “continue… otherwise we can face financial disaster,” said Paras Shahdadpuri, Chairman of Nikai Group. “Today, the buzz is “cut costs” to survive.

“All businesses need to follow this for survival. Other than the austerity measures being taken by investors, businesses are looking towards government support to reduce costs for revival.

“Until the time a vaccination is developed, we have no choice but to learn to live with coronavirus.”

Opening up is the only way

So, even with the resumption of normal working hours (except for between 11pm to 6am), businesses and individual need to do the right thing.

We wholeheartedly welcome the decision to reopen various sectors of Dubai in a phased manner

- Adeeb Ahamed, LuLu Financial Group

“The pandemic has been a period of self-reflection for all of us, and by placing trust in the capacity of its residents to act responsibly, the UAE government has set a positive example,” said Adeeb Ahamed, Managing Director at LuLu Financial Group. "I am confident the people and business community of Dubai will adhere to the guidelines keeping both short-term and long-term recovery in mind.

“We wholeheartedly welcome the decision to reopen various sectors of Dubai in a phased manner… to maintain a sense of safety and business continuity within the country.”

Don’t rush back

At the same time, business heads are counselling consumers to engage in all possible precautions. And not to let the “guard down - we are still improving our business continuity planning processes and will be ensuring we have more people within our organization trained on different aspects of the job, whether front- or back-office,” said Ashish Panjabi, Chief Operating Officer at Jacky’s Electronics.

“Because if we've learned anything, it is that you need to be more versatile by being ready to step into roles that you weren't necessarily doing earlier.  We have worked out a new set of internal trainings to ensure we can keep running operations even more smoothly just in case we need to isolate or have more staff in quarantine.

“I would recommend others also look at doing the same.

“While we are able to operate from 10am to 10pm in most of our mall locations, we'd again recommend customers only come to the mall if absolutely necessary and by taking the proper precautions.”

If we've learned anything, it is that you need to be more versatile

- Ashish Panjabi, Jacky's Electronics

Incremental gains

Bharat Bhatia, who operates two steel mills under the Conares banner, plans to restart with "lesser volumes". "It could be with a 40-50 per cent of our installed capacity in both the plants in Jebel Ali Free Zone - in line with the demand and construction activities happening. However, it is still unclear what the future direction will be.

"Post COVID-19 challenges, Conares is looking for opportunities for ‘Made in UAE’ steel products reach the next level. We believe manufacturing will have the greatest potential."

Been doing this all along


The only constant going forward will be business continuity

- V. Nandakumar, LuLu Group

For some categories, tomorrow and the resumption of activity is just another day. “And a continuation of whatever we’ve been doing all these weeks,” said V. Nandakumar, Chief Communications Officer at LuLu. “The hypermarkets/supermarkets business has been running continuously - whatever we’ve learnt about operating in a pandemic will continue to be used.

“The only constant going forward will be business continuity.”

Keep these steps in mind
1. Every business needs a dedicated team for the authorities, employees and customers and to implement precautionary measures.

2. Operational management must act calmly and with authority when dealing with returning employees and customers. There is much anxiety out there. More than ever, a smile and reassurance will go a long way.

3. Businesses should always take their lead from the authorities. Relevant regimes for disinfection, cleaning, face-mask wearing, temperature testing and social distancing are published. In addition, many landlords and authorities such as DIFC and ADGM have guidance on workplace measures.

4. But other measures will need an assessment of the workforce and customers - you may need to survey or consult employees and customers to understand issues such as transportation to work, avoiding rush hours, home help issues and other issues that have yet to emerge.

5. Let’s not forget common sense. We had it before the pandemic and we sure do need it now. But it is not the time for guesswork. If you have any queries, speak to peers in your industry and contact the authorities. Chances are you will not be the only one with the query.

- Sachin Kerur, Head of Middle East Region at Reed Smith.