Should All Businesses Be Going Virtual?

Should All Businesses Be Going Virtual?

Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and our local Circuit Breaker (CB) measures, online counterparts of activities such as watching movies and shopping have already become booming industries with well-trodden paths, whereas for others, not so much.

For education-based businesses such as tuition centres, digitalisation appears to be a natural next step as everyone began rushing to put their curriculum online. But for sectors such as travel, arts and events, the options appear limited, though that did not stop people from trying.

Remember when Singapore ordered the shutdown of all entertainment venues on 24th March? “Cloud Clubbing” became a thing where DJs performed live via social media and video-conferencing platforms. Some people were impressed, while others couldn’t hide their sarcasm.

Most recently, event planner Invade also announced that their upcoming Taiwan night market-inspired Shilin Singapore will be launched as an online event featuring livestream performances and food delivery options from vendors. Once more, reception to the news is mixed.

One might simply congratulate these businesses on their digital ventures and ignore the naysayers. Afterall, hadn’t the government been encouraging businesses to innovate and explore technology all along?

Invariably, many concerns and questions will surface due to the speed and rate at which businesses are taking stabs at maintaining profit despite the pandemic — just look at Airbnb’s recent Online Experiences proposal to allow those stuck at home to “travel virtually”. Needless to say, the move would have been more impressive had Airbnb settled the more pressing issue of refunds for existing cancellations beforehand. 

Comments under the official Airbnb announcement of Airbnb Experiences on Facebook filled with complaints about lack of refunds for prior cancellations due to COVID-19

At this stage, we expect to see many more attempts from hard-hit sectors looking to venture onto digital platforms — and we should be cheering them on for trying. But as for whether these attempts are successful hinges on a multitude of factors; the most basic of which is whether the business or group is aware of the immediate issues faced by society in crisis. Although it is important to ensure the business survives, we should also be thinking of how to do it without coming across as insensitive. 

Another issue that has become evident as observed by theatre artist and writer, Nicholas Berger, in an article on the sudden proliferation of artists taking their works online is the awkward justification behind these actions: “It seems desperately important not to let this virus slow our production of art…Quality? I hardly know her. This is a pandemic, we need Quantity!”. As our own local arts groups/performers take turns jumping on bandwagons of collaboration videos and pandemic-themed artworks on social media, it does bring to mind the question of whether these contents were done out of creativity or desperation.

And what about art forms that depend on social interaction such as theatre going live online? Some remain doubtful about whether these can be fully appreciated if conducted through a screen. Just as clubbing, a social event, becoming an online music appreciation session; or the hustle and bustle of a night market becoming an opportunity to eat delivered exotic foods…can a play also become just any other online video? More importantly, should it?

The COVID-19 ride may be short, but the road is long afterall. At the moment, everyone else seems to be struggling with the word “Quality”: what it really means to digitally enhance for long-term rewards instead of for instant boosts that will become forgotten when the crisis is over. Will the next business, product or service please make their bid for virtual territory with grace? When the storm blows over, it’s not the quantity or speed of action that will tide us through but well-planned, sustainable actions that enables us to truly emerge as victors, ready to face the next wave when it comes.

Written by : Ron Ma
Edited by :  Ling Weiming
Published on : 16/04/2020
Image : Source / Jesus Kiteque –

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