Doing Business Remotely

Business continuity in pandemic times

Mr. Steve Muscat Azzopardi co-authored with Dr Priscilla Mifsud Parker | 25 Mar 2020

Malta Launches the Nomad Residence Permit

At Chetcuti Cauchi we believe the global marketplace will never revert to the pre-COVID-19 reality. This is not meant negatively, rather the surreal Social Distancing experience forces us to re-evaluate our priorities, our needs and our concept of risk and preparedness. For some, it means irreversible changes in their long-term business curve.

Every so often the world is shaken up by critical events that irrevocably alter the way work is done and the way we live. COVID-19 (Coronavirus) emerged in December 2019 in China and quickly spread across the globe during the first quarter of 2020. The highly contagious virus triggered hitherto unthinkable government action.

Unplanned Business Restrictions

Governments around the world tried to curb the virus spreading through measures that restricted people from gathering in crowds. These actions included forcing academic institutions, entertainment businesses, airports and travel hubs to close as well as urging people to work from home. Unprepared businesses faced new challenges overnight, some of which could be resolved through the use of technology. Companies raced to secure laptops for remote workers, amplify connectivity and review cyber-security levels. Schools prepared themselves to deliver lessons online and businesses sought new channels of revenue.

Waves of Change

With the vast number of people who moved to work from home, we are now living through a moment of great change. The technological tools that permit remote work were available before 2020, and some were already used by relatively few people, companies or government offices. The response to COVID-19 prompted remote working in unprecedented numbers and this is a substantial lifestyle change that goes far beyond the act of working from one’s home. It is known that new habits formed are not easily undone. Once the dust settles and life reverts to a semblance of normality, we will witness a new way of working.

Contactless Services

Another result of social distancing is that organisations and states around the world are pursuing ways to provide continued service while avoiding human contact. However, from the moment a more user-friendly method is made available, there will be great resistance to revert to the less easy method. Consumers may be expected to demand that even after COVID-19 subsides, businesses continue to offer services such as contactless payments, online shopping, home delivery or any of the various ways companies are implementing to generate revenue. Similarly, business lobbies will pressure governments to permanently retain the services that they have started to offer to limit the virus spread, whether submitting and processing applications online, e-signatures, or faster payment processing as cash and cheque are relegated to the past.

Remote Working

Organisations will soon realise the many advantages to having staff work from home – assuming they are given the time to organise themselves adequately. Businesses may find that they require less office space, leading to savings on rent and related office costs including utilities, providing transport and/or parking for staff, and housekeeping expenses. Migrating from in-house servers to the cloud also reduces the need for physical space and maintenance costs, as well as offering the substantial benefits of decreased downtime, far easier potential for scaling, and increased business disaster recovery capacity.

There are further benefits for organisations: staff working from home cannot arrive late due to traffic or issues with public transport. Schools realise that once they have implemented a sound online learning platform, it enables them to expand their student numbers beyond the physical limitations of a classroom. Businesses that sell directly to consumers in stores or through direct contact are already rushing to set up online stores, hold virtual meetings and close deals without physically meeting their client. Some merchants are no longer accepting cash, known to carry bacteria: consumers are setting up e-money accounts as in some cases due to COVID-19 precautionary measures it is the only way to make payment.

Increasing Digitisation of Services

Many people have started to use services that until now they did not need, such as online platforms, online shopping and delivery services. Once consumers perceive these as the norm, they will increasingly demand these from businesses as well as from government agencies. The responses to COVID-19 may be expected to accelerate the conversion to digital national services: in Malta for instance, with the courts closed as a precautionary measure, all promises of sale of immoveable property had to be automatically extended. Still in Malta, work is already in hand for the land registry and property conveyance mechanism to move onto a blockchain platform that would reduce the necessity of physical contact without which a real estate contract may today not be officially registered.

It has been devastatingly tragic circumstances that ushered in the next wave of evolution in the way business is done; and there will be no complete return to the former practices. Businesses need to ensure that they are re-engineered for the new order.

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