Covid-19: Brave New World

Insights - 05/05/2020

John Andrews, Head of our Corporate and Commercial team, looks at the possible changes to the workplace and the way we will do business after Covid-19.

Over the last seven weeks, we have all had to become accustomed to a whole new way of living and working. We have developed a new vocabulary: Vast numbers have been ‘furloughed’; the country has been placed on “lockdown”; many are “self-isolating”; our daily exercise or occasional food shop can only be undertaken with the appropriate amount of “social distancing”. Many have the feeling that the brave new world predicted by Aldous Huxley has truly arrived.  There is some light at the end of the tunnel, however, with the recent relaxation of some of the lockdown rules, the clear aim of which is  to start the process of getting us back to work and getting the economy moving again. Whether or not you view this is as too soon or too late, what is certain is that Covid-19 has had, and will continue to have, a fundamental impact on the way we work and do business. These are my own four brave new world predictions of how the core ways in which we currently do business will change.

Home working and flexible working will be more widely accepted

Prior to lockdown, many businesses remained sceptical of home working and flexible working. Slow, and sometimes begrudging, movement in these directions has been forced onto the business world, almost overnight. The speed and relative ease with which many businesses, including my own, have migrated to these working models is surprising. “Working from home” will no longer be seen as a euphemism for a day off. Starting and finishing work later and split working days (all of which seem to be likely conditions for relaxing lockdown) will become the norm. In reality, it seems to me that these ways of working simply bring business into the 21st Century. The nine to five job sitting at a desk after a gruelling commute in rush hour is a thing of the past.

The demand for large office space will reduce

Unless and until a vaccine becomes available, Covid-19 will ensure that there will be no short, or even medium wholesale return to fully staffed office space. As businesses realise that they can run effectively and efficiently with staff working from home, the requirement for large, densely staffed offices must be called into question. People are going to be far less willing to work in them (particularly if they are open plan) and business owners will question why they need to carry such a big overhead. The CEO of one of the high street banks has already indicated that he no longer considers their head office in Canary Wharf to be viable or necessary.

In person meetings will become less important

The last seven weeks have taught us all that technology can be leveraged in a highly efficient manner to operate remotely and carry on day to day business. Zoom, Skype, Windows Meetings, apps, many had previously used infrequently, if at all, have now become the norm. Face to face meetings will always, ultimately, have a role to play, but they will be fewer and far between. This will result in services being delivered quicker and in a more cost efficient manner (for example, I can foresee more negotiations regarding sale and purchase agreements taking place online with the document being screen-shared and amended/agreed in real-time, saving travelling time and the delay caused by numerous travelling drafts).

There will be a greater move towards paperless working

Paperless working is key to truly embracing flexible home working and taking full advantage of the benefits technology has to offer. Many areas of business, such as travel and insurance, have been paperless for years. Others, such as some areas of law, have been slower in the uptake. In some cases, this is because they are forced to retain and use paper documents. In other areas, there is still an element of the comfort syndrome offered by a physical file. Homeworking has, I believe, made people realise that paperless working is no less secure or difficult and that they can be liberated from the shackles of their paper file.

There is no doubt that Covid-19 and its impact on business and the economy has been challenging, unprecedented and all the other words ascribed to it in recent weeks. However, as and when we emerge from its immediate aftermath, I believe we will be working in a brave new way which has the potential to be far more efficient and far more beneficial for the workforce as a whole.

If you have any queries related to the above or any Corporate or Commercial issues please don’t hesitate to contact John Andrews, Head of Corporate and Commercial by email on [email protected] or by phone on 020 8614 4589 

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Although correct at the time of publication, the contents of this newsletter/blog are intended for general information purposes only and shall not be deemed to be, or constitute, legal advice. We cannot accept responsibility for any loss as a result of acts or omissions taken in respect of this article. Please contact us for the latest legal position.