Reopening UK - A solution for workers and
companies in the COVID-19 era

Date: 9th July 2020

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Our second edition of the Webinar saw us talking on the topic Reopening UK conversations on possible solutions for workers and companies in the covid-19 era. We were accompanied by our esteemed panelists.

Tony Scott

Jon Cornwell

Roderick Beer

Kaushal Chokshi

Our panelists started with

How will the business world particularly the SME world cope with the change in dynamics.

Tony started with his views on the SME sector, Placing technology and platforms for collaboration is an important factor and companies who were equipped or already working on such collaboration platforms such as Zoom, Meet or Teams have an added advantage. Work has always been about what you do rather than where you are at, and this one word difference means a lot – ‘I work for Company X, not I work at Company X’..

The virtual way of working has been a leveller and has enabled democratising the workplace as there is no longer prestige for example for being based at a corporate headquarters. This also causes company hierarchy to disappear when everyone is a rectangle image on a screen.

Most companies now have expensive technology infrastructure languishing in offices, but is that reason alone for sending people back to the office? How are companies changing the support for home based users who necessarily don’t have the same infrastructure available?

Mental health is also one point where companies must ensure the welfare of employees is maintained. Some employees do like working in this new manner but some also find working remotely quite stressful.

Hiring in this new normal is one of the processes that needs to be thought through. How do we recruit people into this new culture of working, as they won’t understand the company culture and won’t have met anyone in the company, and might not for some time?

The world is going through a massive transition. We are in the very early stages of dealing with the pandemic, and some major cities are going back into lockdowns. We can easily see further restrictions for 12 to 24 months coming ahead of us. Remote working has enabled a lot of people to work flexibly, and this will only continue.

We can all agree that things will not go back fully to the way they were in the past. We can therefore all look at a more hybrid way of working combining the best of yesterday's ways of working with the elements of the remote ways of working we are enjoying today.

Smaller companies are more agile and able to adapt to this way of working. Larger corporations will have multiple steps before they can move fully to this means of working as they will have to check with their legal, risk, HR and other teams before such a move is made permanently.

I have been a proponent for the last 10 years of the concept of a 'digital workplace' that is centred around recognising people as individuals who are all productive in their own ways. The concept of the digital workplace can be simplified to 'any device, any place and anytime working' which primarily means working anywhere, not just from home. I see this as the new normal, though it is not that new..

Our priority should be to ensure people have the right tools and infrastructure to work from wherever it’s best for them.

Jon mentioned on his experience of a conversation with other entrepreneurs in the market makes everyone realise that they need to work on the product market fit, cutting costs for making changes won’t be helping as they have to question the fundamentals of taking to market. Consumers have changed, employees situation has changed what we are seeing is a multi faceted changed where some of it is positive.

In media in particular there is a crash in traditional media like print outdoor and dip in digital media functions with a drop in advertising rates. It’s when people migrated to new ways to reach customers which helped the recovery in media. This brought in a sudden new revenue lines for agencies.

SMEs need to consider their survival, few have been fortunate. Many founders and owners are right now deciding how long to wait before finding new avenues of revenues by changing the traditional way of doing business. There is multiple factors to consider but the key thing will be to be adaptable.

In a recent survey conducted with a batch of employees on meeting remotely there were interesting points which were shared where they like the fact that they don’t have trouble booking a meeting room, they are not kicked out of a meeting room, they don’t have problems joining meetings on time, there are no problem with being on multiple devices on meeting.

We do need a hybrid world which accommodates the best of all worlds. What is that everyone likes to be in office for and what value would be there on being in office and when can we establish that back.

Rod started with his views on the current situation where there are a lot of people who are avoiding the long commutes and which is defiantly not being missed, the only thing that is missed is the joint team times and get others the we had. There was a though to understand what do people actually like to work gather on, when it was thought about do people actually work when together ? So can we do co-creation meetings together so smash out sessions ideate on something, team social together. It is a real step change and its a real step change for the investment industry in particular.

The angel, early stage investment ecosystem there are going to be some issues there yet to be played out like when an investor invests in a business they would like to look you in the eye before replying their capital. Though there have been many cheques written during the covid time there have been very few which are new conversations with someone who has never seen before.

How has the ecosystem responded to the changes a lot of investors have been doubling on their portfolios as equity might become expensive, valuations might come down in next 6 months time. The engaging customer phase will have a much longer tail as it will take much longer time.

Actually is a lot of data which depicts that there hasn’t been a major down during the lockdown period. It is the new investment and new raises for new companies which have considerably reduced.

Lot of VC are wrapping around their businesses and being supporting it will be challenging times to help and providing them support.

We are optimistic but given the current situation it will cause bit of a fallout in new investments in early stages.

Q: Who will survive the tide?

Tony mentions it is being said a lot that 5-10 years of digital workplace transformation happened in a matter of weeks or months due to Covid. It did happen but it happened because there was no choice. Most companies already had policies in place for working from home with necessary infrastructure in place. The digital workplace transformation may paint a picture for many organisations who might think digital transformation is done and that its easy but it isn’t actually.

The biggest factor for me in the new digital workplace is trust. Organisations with set an ethos for working digitally and remotely to ensure success into the future. Most importantly people need to be judged by the outcomes they achieve and not by the time spent in achieving them. The companies that will really ride the tide are the ones that put people first and provide flexible and agile ways of working, and that use technology as enablers of modern ways of working.

The one thing that is a constant between the pre-pandemic and post-Pandemic pandemic worlds is data, which is why we’ve based our company on using data science and AI to create solutions for a better world.

Rod, added that we are some instances where there have been spectacular inventions or growth purely due to the pandemic and lockdown being imposed that he is aware off. There is a thought that this might kick start an inertia for come of this big corporates to embrace digitisation across and really would be opportunities for smaller companies with a level playing field. I am definitely opprunitisic for the medium and longer term.

Jon adds verticals like media are blessed as towards digital transformation with more video and OTT based content rather than traditional print based business is a option while there are some verticals like travel and hospitality where there is no substitute for them. They will be quite depressed and sometime time later it might come to a point where there will be a case where which one the government’s will allow and which one will bail out. It is also going to be matter of question as how much issues like climate change which were ongoing before the pandemic will play a role. Businesses which have a more greener or sustainable future might have a greater chance with such a selection.

Kaushal adds the the hybrid way of working was always there we had second life 10 years back its just that we weren’t fast enough to change the worry in the future will be stakeholders with vested interest of moving everyone back to previous way of working like the commercial real estate industry who have a big reason for everyone to get back to office might being thoughts like phycological aspects of working from office vs home to subvent the change. It will be upon all of these nomadic people to maintain a hybrid model where by it is about doing work from anywhere and where is a meeting place or some kind of office for social gatherings which millennials are already doing it.

Tony mentions that the hybrid way of working will likely take a lot of people out of city centres. Commuter towns will no longer be commuter towns if people are not commuting. People will be looking to move to more commuter comfortable places to live. What this will mean to city centres is yet to be answered. We’re all familiar with facilities teams cramming in more and more desks per square metre. That world is gone. Offices will become places to meet and hold ideation sessions rather than places to go to work.

Tony adds on the emphasis of the word 'digital' itself. His idea of digital is that it is about using innovative technology to provide solutions that were previously thought impossible or that had never before imagined. It is the never before been imagined part that really excites me as this is where true innovation comes in.

Rods adds in that this has phase some key verticals which are booming and might be the next things to watch naming a few like Edtech, GreenTech and Medtech which are all gaining lot more transition than others. Where its all about how can be find simple solutions to problems using technology. Which justifies the general shift towards impact investing.

Q: What about be the key parameters for corporates, startups and companies to rank in terms fo workplace as the traditional factor of office space will no more be available?

Rods responded, it will be about companies who agree on the fact that it will be tough for employee and the employer and we have work along together. The new gen of workers are much more engaged with work life balance by having a great time where you are and its not about having a fancy office or filled fridge. Its all about having a great work life and company culture. A lot of companies are investing in company culture consultants and is becoming big. This will enable companies to attract top talent. Start-ups can only attract now with great culture, existing mission and decent culture to offer. Lot of companies are working heavily on attracting and retaining great talent.

Tony mentions people wanting to join our company want to understand what the mission and the opportunity are. People don’t need a physical workplace, but they do need to be part of a community and part of a company culture. People have to experience what it means to work for us rather than working for someone else. It is important to encapsulate that and to reward people for the achievement of outcomes. People really need to understand the purpose of their work that they are valued as individuals.

To sum the discussion we can say:

We are in a perfect storm with this change and it brings us to the reality on how to face the future!