Foreward by Andrew Chilvers
Businesses across the world are undergoing the biggest remote working experiment since Europeans first sailed from their home ports to set up trading posts in Asia 500 years ago.
This time around, however, companies are moving colleagues out of their plush city centre locations to set up offices at home. What was unthinkable only a few months ago is now the new modus operandi for professional services firms and their clients. Crisis management and business continuity have indeed come of age thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.
All this may be difficult for businesses that prefer traditional ways of operating, but most are changing their habits of a lifetime out of necessity. The old adage of preparing for the worst while expecting the best has never been more apt.
Will the professional service business model change as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic?
The overall professional service business model has been in a state of change for years, primarily caused by technology changes but change has been slow and challenged by established norms. Change will be accelerated out of necessity for survival. Some will be able to resume business as usual, when operating in a local economy that resists change but those ‘small towns’ eventually fade away.
The professionals of the future will be nimble and entrepreneurial, creating change for their clients through visionary and strategic consulting. Those that restrict their services to measuring historical data or documenting past events will find themselves in a much less valuable commoditized service environment. Those with vision will create value for their clients and for themselves and align themselves with other professionals having similar cultures and outlook.
Resources for providing services will shift from expensive facilities in prime locations for all of their staff, to utilization of less expensive locations for staff performing routine or ‘commodity’ tasks, and investing in multiple, smaller, premium locations for business development and recruiting entrepreneurial partners. Executive office or co-working spaces will become much more prevalent. The high cost of real estate will be re-invested in digital branding, premium technology and cyber security.
As an example of what we see the future to be is that our current physical location in the Central US is already an advantage due to the lower cost of living, centralized transportation access by road, rail and port and labor costs are lower than many other parts of the US. As a result, recruiting businesses from other regions (east/west) as well as international locations has been on our agenda and will continue with even greater success.
Remote working is being seen as the new normal, how will this affect the culture of professional services firms?
A remote work environment has been in place for several years at CCK on a limited basis. When COVID-19 hit, we were able to react quickly with the use of technology and procedures. As we progressed, we were able to evaluate those staff that thrived in a remote environment and those that struggled. It will be similar moving forward as we move back to a modified model. Our recruiting has changed to account for this new model, and our facilities requirements will change.
Recruiting for staff has opened unlimited new markets geographically, which in turn creates business development access to new clients in other markets. This new model then allows for accelerated growth and expansion of the strategic professional services we provide. The more traditional services can be centralized as needed.
Everyone has been impacted by this change to our global economy and our immediate goal is to assist clients with how they can react well to the change. Clients who are looking ahead to opportunities created by this new economy will adjust and succeed, just as we must adjust to succeed.
A solid culture within a healthy organization will survive change. In fact, a healthy organization is ever-changing to avoid stagnation and meets growth head on. We have been able to continue our all-firm meetings, weekly, and other large group training sessions, all through Zoom conferencing. We also have creative staff who have been able to add some fun with contests around Zoom backgrounds, creative remote work space, theme-based family contests, and the like. Our staff “get together” for Zoom Happy Hours and Wellness Meditation.
Meetings among staff and partners continue to occur for strategy meetings, mentoring meetings, evaluations, along with client service team meetings.
With so many people now working from home using unsecure internet networks, should there be updated rules for data protection compliance? If so, should they be more relaxed given the crisis wrought by the pandemic?
Professional service firms cannot afford to operate in an unsecure environment. And should not have to rely on government to enforce behaviour that should be expected of professionals. However, we all do in fact operate in regulated environments regardless of industry or jurisdiction. Although our firm has operated in a virtual space for years using secure VPN technology, we are constantly monitoring and updating our technology to protect our data and our assets. Continuous education and reinforcement to staff is crucial in a remote environment. As remote technology changes, professional firms will be required to stay current in order to protect data.
Self-regulation and enforcement will be most effective within an organization that has a culture that is trained and held accountable for maintaining strict standards for data protection. Clients must be trained as well, which can be challenging. But best practice for any professional services firm is to communicate the processes and procedures you are following to your clients and encourage them to do the same. There are many qualified data protection providers including those affiliated with our IR Global family.