Published on in Reshaping Business

It’s safe to say that everyone’s attention has been rightly on the here-and-now in terms of personally and professionally managing, what is, the great crisis of our time – COVID-19.

But while the temptation is to stay focused on the immediate, it’s also hugely important and helpful to look ahead at what comes next: How will we react as a society, and as a workforce, when restrictions begin to ease?

This lockdown will have lasting and profound effects on us both in our personal and professional lives. With that in mind, I wanted to share some thoughts on how life could look post lockdown.

Remote working

It’s safe to say that for many of us who are traditionally office-bound, the concept of working from home has been thoroughly proven. Within Fujitsu Global Delivery, we transitioned form 5% regular homeworking to 90% in ten days, without any impact to service. The toothpaste is firmly out of the tube and it is not going back in.

I think it’s likely that remote working will become a firm fixture for many workplaces, as part of a dynamic working environment. Everyone has, rightly, been very accepting that we need to be flexible and understanding of everyone’s home environments. Kids and pets invading video calls is no longer a cause for embarrassment or something to be apologised for. I think and hope this empathy will be one of the lasting legacies.

Working from home requires a high level of trust between employees and employers that goals will be met and businesses can function with little interruption. I think the Irish work culture is well disposed to these changes and will thrive from it. It’s my experience that people are very self-motivated and feel responsible for their own work both to themselves and to their teammates.

The likely increase in working from home as well as other government restrictions could have major implications on all sorts of other behavioural patterns like how and when we travel. Working remotely inevitably means less travel and commuting which will help our strained public transport systems, reduce commuter traffic and will have the welcome by-product of lowering our individual carbon footprint. We’ve seen the welcome data of reduced pollution levels in many countries that have enforced restrictions, as well as images of nature regenerating during lockdown. A continued slow down of some elements of society would be a welcome prospect from a sustainability perspective.

A hopeful further implication of both these changed travel and working behaviours is an easing in pressure on our major cities’ housing capacity. With less of an emphasis on needing to live near to where you work, people will be in a position to expand their radius for where they may want to live. Less demand for a concentrated area means a reduction in house prices and rent costs. A degree of market reset may hopefully assist some of the high-profile societal issues including emergency accommodation shortages and the tragic homeless crisis that has affected far too may for too long.

Beyond the day-to-day, I also believe people will be more discerning about what business travel they undertake. With people now accustomed to video conferencing and virtual meetings, I imagine there will be less and less business travel for stand-alone meetings. That’s not to say that it won’t happen, but I think the volume will decrease substantially. Similarly, large scale international conferences and trade fairs will have to adapt and perhaps start selling virtual tickets to their keynotes and panel sessions. That said, having attended a lot of these events, much of their value comes from the physical networking and the chance encounters that take place. It’s hard to achieve that in a virtual environment. Now is a time for creativity.

Another area where the virtual and physical experience must learn to coexist is in the retail sector. As in other countries the Irish retail sector (non-essential goods) is suffering terribly during lockdown. It is a sad truth that some business will not recover from this period. High street retail was already in a very competitive battle, but the situation has been exacerbated greatly. Even those businesses which have entered lockdown in relatively good health will struggle to rebound and there may be more closures to follow even after the lockdown begins to ease. Rents, rates, insurance and staffing will all prove to be challenges in the competitive retail environment.

The positives are that those with good e-commerce platforms and technology strategies are certainly best placed to recover fastest as consumers move more of their purchasing online. Another selling point where I think we will see retailers recover lost ground is to emphasise the experience of shopping. As restrictions are eased, consumers will be craving enjoyable physical shopping experiences with friends and family. Those who can provide this will benefit the most. Something which will likely aid this is the increase in the tap and go payment limit to €50. Anything which can make the retail experience as frictionless as possible while retaining the necessary security measures should be welcomed.

A further trend which I think, and hope, we will likely see continue is the great sense of community that has been fostered and engendered throughout Ireland. Irish media and social media have been reporting and highlighting the great lengths our communities, clubs and societies have gone to, to look after our most vulnerable in society. I think, and hope, as restrictions ease you will see people retain these bonds and continue to be more mindful of those in our communities who need some extra help and attention.

In times of crisis we band together well. In this spirit I think you will see Irish people making a concerted effort to support local shops and buy Irish products and services over the coming months and even years. This will be hugely important to stimulate the economy. As highlighted in a recent Seanad report on small and medium sized businesses (published in May 2019), the SME sector is vibrant and diverse, accounting for 99% of active enterprises and 65% of all employment in Ireland – in excess of 1 million people nationwide. The same report notes, however, that SMEs have not yet fully embraced digital technologies with just 30% of SMEs selling products and services online. There is certainly scope to innovate this part of the economy and get it back on its feet quickly.

Thank you for your service

Finally, we will not forget the work that has been done by frontline staff in our hospitals and care settings; as well as those making and selling essential goods. Their contribution to keeping Ireland going has been indelibly inked on our psyche that should never be forgotten.

 

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Tony O'Malley

Tony O'Malley

Tony O’Malley is CEO of Fujitsu Ireland and Chairman of the Fujitsu Ireland Limited board. He is leading the delivery of Fujitsu’s innovative ICT services to the public and private sectors.

As CEO, Tony is committed to creating value for customers and putting into practice Fujitsu’s vision to create a Human Centric Intelligent Society.

He also oversees significant research programmes in Ireland in collaboration with Fujitsu Laboratories Japan, in particular addressing Data Analytics and Healthcare systems for assisted living.

Tony sits on the Dublin Chamber of Commerce Council and is a member of the Insight Centre for Data Analytics Advisory Committee.
Tony O'Malley

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