Oswald Jansen participates in the IR Global Guide – Crisis Management: Surviving and thriving in a post-pandemic world

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?

Currently, the market of hiring office space has been hit hard by the COVID-19 pandemic. This applies to the market for new contracts or for expanding current contracts. Small law firms in the Netherlands have experienced a considerable drop in their turnover. Depending on the specialisation of these firms it is expected that in the second half of 2020 they will experience a boost in demand as their clients want to catch up on their own drop in business. Landlords of their offices with a long-term vision should act flexibly with the rent payments due. In the near future significant change could be expected as a result of so many employees working
from home. The limits of the capacity and features of ICT hardware and software have become painfully visible, as well as the traditional approach by lawyers. The efficiency of online meetings as well as the pros and cons of employees working at home will have an important and lasting influence on decisions about the office space needed, and the way offices will be furnished and organised. Dynamic office space with reliable and secure printing and mail handling on demand – as well as support and attention for a secure working space at home with safe and secure ICT facilities – will need more attention than before. Probably new forms of sharing these services or new business models focused on outsourcing these services will evolve.

Remote working is being seen as the new normal, how will this affect the culture of professional services firms?

Team building and ways to manage teams of professionals will have to change. Working from home or outside the office will offer new opportunities for employees. At the same time more and new forms of stress will need the special attention of management. Nevertheless, more sustainable forms of international business meetings will remain. People need some element of social interaction and physical meetings will need to be organised, which means there needs to be a balance between working in the office and at home. Similar developments have occurred and will occur at the offices of our clients, and no doubt this will permanently change the traditionally conservative approach of law firms to meet and serve their clients.

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?

The past few months of the pandemic have revealed the vulnerabilities of ICT systems. This involves not only the unsecure internet connections used while working from home, which creates risks of breaching data protection rules, but also the limited capacity of these networks. This includes outdated hardware and a lack of experience by people using the tools available to work from home or remotely. Already data protection authorities are alert to the risks involved of remote working. Certainly, law enforcement action is necessary here. Professional services firms should give high priority to increase their efforts to improve the systems they use and the facilities they offer to the people working for them, as well as their clients.

These systems should be ready for the post COVID-19 era. Online meetings or meetings for remote workers will need high speed connections and an assurance that they’re compliant with all the latest security and data protection. If data protection rules are relaxed through political pressure during the COVID-19 restrictions, this relaxation cannot continue in the post COVID-19 era.