When I agreed to write this article at the end of April we had been in lockdown for just over a month and I was looking forward to a fairly swift exit – a trip to France booked in late May beckoned.
The trip has since been moved to mid-July and is looking increasingly unlikely as I write. Brittany Ferries have been excellent at keeping us informed: three times a week the CEO posts an update on the website. In one that I read earlier this week his frustration with the lack of clarity and co-ordination between the governments of the four countries to which they sail was evident.
Like all other businesses across Europe we long for the return of a more normal life but we’re not yet clear on what that normal will look like. For a ferry operator it’s obviously getting ships sailing, but they will operate differently if social distancing is to be maintained once sailings do resume. Airlines are facing a similar challenge in terms of how many people they can take on planes. In both cases fewer travellers on board has to mean increased costs for those who do travel.
Several companies are questioning whether they will need the same office when ‘normal’ resumes
As I have been talking/zooming/skyping/MS teamsing (is that a word??) with my clients over the past 13 weeks one thing has become apparent: working from home isn’t so bad. It has been an opportunity for firms to test their business continuity plans, consider the data protection issues around IT devices and support (multi-factor authentication anyone??) as well as the mental health of staff.
Some tough decisions have had to be made by some firms in terms of which staff are essential and which need to be furloughed – how much resentment will there be from both sides when everyone is back again? My workload has been as high as ever but there are moments when I am a little jealous of one of my sons who has been furloughed and gets to be with his wife and two year old daughter all of the time.
Several companies are questioning whether they will need the same office when ‘normal’ resumes – indeed one firm that I work with decided not to renew the lease on their office when it expired. Several people have said to me that their staff are just as productive, if not more so, working from home.
Much as I have enjoyed interacting with my children and grandchildren via devices it is not the same as being with them. I feel the same about my clients: we can keep in touch but face to face meetings remain important. From many conversations, firms are looking for some kind of balance between the efficiencies (and cost savings) of staff working from home and the need to maintain communications and the sense of being part of a team. Maybe a smaller office with regular team meetings at hotels or coffee shops will be the solution. The planet will benefit from fewer people commuting every day.
On that subject, there has been a noticeable increase in webinars, particularly around ESG offerings, as a way for firms to continue their marketing and this helps with meeting CPD targets. It seems to me that this will continue – my professional body, the APCC, has decided that its Autumn conference will be remote even if lockdown has been relaxed. Will the likes of the PFS return to their quarterly conferences around the country or move to an online approach?
With the technology at our disposal many firms were already using their systems to carry out much of their T&C monitoring remotely. It will be interesting to see how observed meetings develop once clients can more easily come into offices or advisers go out to them. Will they want to, or can supervisors join in a remote meeting where everybody is in the comfort of their own homes sharing documents on screen?
My sense is that many individual advisers and firms were already looking to increase efficiency but were concerned about how people would adapt. The current pandemic has forced us all to get used to an approach we wouldn’t have expected even six months ago. As a nation and as individual businesses we need to increase productivity, spending less time and undergoing less stress travelling will mean that we can be more productive and still have time for the other important things in our lives such as our family, hobbies and our communities.
I think the challenge for T&C professionals will be to ensure that our processes adapt to the changing environment but retain their focus on the competence of all staff, however much time they spend in the office.