Foreward by Andrew Chilvers
Businesses across the world are undergoing the biggest remote working experiment since Europeans first sailed from their home ports to set up trading posts in Asia 500 years ago.
This time around, however, companies are moving colleagues out of their plush city centre locations to set up offices at home. What was unthinkable only a few months ago is now the new modus operandi for professional services firms and their clients. Crisis management and business continuity have indeed come of age thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All this may be difficult for businesses that prefer traditional ways of operating, but most are changing their habits of a lifetime out of necessity. The old adage of preparing for the worst while expecting the best has never been more apt.
Will the professional service business model change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
What the COVID-19 situation has taught us is that some key roles or functions that were previously believed to be on-site critical can be easily addressed remotely. Mobility, has therefore, moved to the forefront of importance when analysing business continuity and cost containing strategies. While, firms may not want to reopen completely and immediately to remote work, they will most definitely rethink their service offering strategy and re-evaluate the added value of paying premium rents for prime locations. Depending on the business type, firms may consider moving to a more flexible model, using their main office for periodic or key client visits and meetings, while resorting to video conferencing and periodic travel for personal and face-to-face meetings.
As companies will need to comply with new health protocols as part of the ‘new compliance’, many will need to abide by health monitoring procedures, maintain social distance and apply hygiene and health-oriented guidelines. Moreover, it is not unthinkable that some sectors will be faced with new mandatory compliance guidelines that will require organisations in the future to report relevant COVID-19 related information to the health authorities. As a result, sectors and businesses may need to implement new requirements and procedures to safeguard the health of their workers and clients/customers. This will, therefore, undeniably lead to a move towards more remote working practices to better cope with the increased pressures of health compliance.
Clients, customers, and other business relationships will likely all apply different views and expectations towards use of products, programmes, services, meetings, and technology. The abrupt modifications that were required due to the lockdown, forced both companies and clients to adapt to a new normal. Accessibility, regardless of which form, is the single most aspect that prevailed.
Remote working is being seen as the new normal, how will this affect the culture of professional services firms?
We will face an unprecedented change in our lifestyles, our habits, thoughts, personal interactions, new behavioral paradigms, and new business models will have to be studied, accepted, and implemented. Company meetings will assume a more hybrid form as many organisations and entrepreneurs switch to the use of online tools. And there is a lot more possible than we used to think. But when issues in organisation get more critical and complex, online meetings will come under pressure and require companies to adapt. At the same time, the new online environment will present efficiencies as rescheduling of meetings due to travel delays will no longer be necessary, because you can simply check in from behind your laptop or even smart phone and connect for a meeting.
While many industries face increasing challenges of switching to an online or digital environment, they will need to guard against an emergence of new online fraud methods. Cybercriminals will try to take advantage of the fact that many businesses and institutions moved online as fast as they could, without adequate fraud prevention tools. So, companies will be wise to assess their strategies and policies towards e-commerce and ensure to learn about the latest fraud trends and get actionable insights into how to address them.
Strategic decision making will take center stage as strategy is about deciding, communicating, and resourcing the key things an organisation needs to do to secure a prominent, sustainable, and differentiated market position. The return to the ‘new normal’ will require strategic and out-of-the-box thinking by senior leaders. This is probably the best time for companies and service providers to rethink their strategies, adapting their services and developing new products in order to be able to assist clients in their efforts to survive and overcome the consequences of the crisis.
With so many people now working from home using unsecure internet networks, should there be updated rules for data protection compliance? If so, should they be more relaxed given the crisis wrought by the pandemic?
As the challenges that COVID-19 has brought about are so unprecedented, there will likely be some degree of relaxation of the protectionist measures applied to safe and reliable data sharing. We can expect close monitoring and a delicate balancing act between facilitation of data to save human lives and maintaining data protection and privacy rights. As all business and societal principles and practices have been challenged by COVID-19, the same can be expected with previous fundamental rights and related public interests that will likely see some revision or modification.
Governments will likely have to rearrange their priorities regarding the infrastructure to ensure communication networks are at a level to support increased remote work demand. Ensuring reliable and secure networks for home workers will depend on companies and entrepreneurs themselves. Depending on the nature of business or service offering, security measures and high-speed networks will vary greatly from business to business or profession. However, as there will be many crossovers since home schooling will also increase in popularity, access to internet and Wi-Fi coverage will become an increased priority of local governments.
Should healthcare trump data privacy? This is a complex and sensitive issue which will require a fine line to be walked. Data is the single most critical aspect when managing information and taking calculated decisions. When we look how the different countries have taken on the COVID-19 pandemic, those that were able to take the most effective measures are the countries that had access to the most timely and accurate data. As in the case of COVID-19 we are dealing with human transmission of the virus, it is questionable whether the data would be as relevant if identities of individuals were kept private. What will be crucial for the safeguarding of privacy is that information is used for its sole intended purpose.