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.
According to Global Workplace Analytics, a quarter of employees will probably be expected to work from home for the foreseeable future. Furthermore, when businesses open their doors again, social distancing will mean a staggered, limited on-site workforce that will need to fall in line with emerging health and safety laws.
Remote working will typically mean using the latest technology, with home workers relying on social media networking apps (think WhatsApp, Facebook Teams) and video networking apps (think Microsoft Teams, Zoom). Digital collaboration will explode with the use of these diverse technologies and competitive companies will need to innovate like never before.
Until recently, the remote working experiment was much discussed among professional services firms and their clients but approached with a degree of caution. No more. Out of necessity, businesses have adapted to circumstances. According to a recent Gartner survey, a huge 74% of global CFOs expect to move a number of previously office-bound employees to remote working locations permanently post-COVID-19.
Similarly, with legal and financial services firms, the integration of technology and more flexible working patterns have been accelerated by the pandemic’s impact on the workplace. What’s important here is that this shift has not only affected professional services, but also had a huge impact on clients’ expectations of future services.
In a recent Bloomberg survey of 600 law practitioners in the US, eight out of 10 firms stated clients now expect them to increase their use of legal technology to be more efficient post pandemic. In the same survey, two thirds of corporate legal departments said they were prepared to increase their use of legal technologies, while three-quarters said outside counsel is expected to increase its use of technology.
This sea change in activity brings with it benefits and drawbacks. Businesses will need to re-evaluate their expensive prime city locations now that remote working is not just achievable but, in many cases, preferable. This could result in a huge cost savings for professional services firms and their clients. The flipside to home working means that new IT processes around data protection security and compliance need to be adopted – and often at some cost.
Recent research by business ISP specialist Beaming revealed the number of cyberattacks on UK businesses increased by a third in the first quarter of 2020. Respondents with internet connections said they had experienced 157,000 attacks each in the first three months of the year, an average of more than one a minute. This attack rate was 30% higher than the same period year on year. Beaming claimed networking apps were the most common targets for hackers, with 19,000 online attacks per company.
In the US a recent poll by threatpost.com reported an astonishing 40% of American businesses had increased cyberattacks since starting remote working in March. Only 30% of companies said they felt prepared for remote working, while 23% said there had been an increase in phishing attacks, and 10% reported that there had been an increase in coronavirus-themed scams. Some 70% of respondents said they were new to remote working while, rather ominously, only 37% reported that employees were using VPNs (secure virtual private networks) at home to access corporate resources.
In this timely and unmissable publication, IR Global members from across the world share their expert opinions on crisis management and business continuity in their different jurisdictions. They address questions relating to post pandemic workplace processes and share examples of the new ways of working that they are their clients are adopting. Members also discuss how different data protection regulatory bodies are addressing these issues. Their responses illustrate the diverse working practices that exist across the globe.
The next normal is here and businesses everywhere will need to change like never before if they are to survive and thrive.