A great article by one of our Council Members; William Carson, Ascensos.
The GSA Council held its quarterly meeting on July 29th 2020. Top of the agenda was a roundtable discussion inviting Council members to share key learnings they wished to highlight as a direct consequence of adapting professionally and personally to the COVID19 Pandemic.
With over 4M people still on furlough in the UK and the global economic outlook uncertain at best (catastrophic at worst), it was also an opportunity to corral the views of Council members, all in senior roles working nationally and internationally, regarding the future evolution of the sector from both buyer and supplier perspectives.
Technology and Business Services Success
Notwithstanding the regrettable circumstances of the Pandemic, there was broad consensus that the global technology and business services sector had performed well. Indeed, in those markets and specific sectors serviced by many GSA member service providers, many brands had had a 'good crisis'. Aside from the success of the health services in the UK in coping with the outbreak, the success of online retailers, media, telco and cloud data businesses were highlighted along with associated technology and platform providers:
- Microsoft reported 75M people used their Teams app on a single day in April 2020, up 20M from late 2019
- PayPal added 7.4M net new users in April 2020
- Netflix subscriptions were 23% up YoY by end of Q1, at 183M globally
- Zoom calls reached 300M participants on a single day in April 2020
- Amazon has hired an additional 175K people since lockdown began
A key focus for businesses will now shift from mobilizing the response to the pandemic to stabilising and normalising operations into the future. Analysing partnership and organisational resilience should be top of mind while corporate reflection on requirements and objectives should drive structural, operational, and developmental review.
The Home Working Conundrum
The dramatic switch to home working for all businesses that could do so has been well documented, however, the more dramatic consequences for the commercial property market were called out. Where office space may remain significantly under occupied for some time to come, hard questions are now being asked at board level regarding the exposure of businesses to commercial property costs and lease charges. A stalled commercial property sector will impact on city centre footfall, transport networks (and their owners), and small businesses. Pension funds may also suffer as rental yields and property values recalibrate, although there had already been a reduction in recent years within the pensions community to investing in this market. At the same time, individual companies continue to grow and some are even considering new office space for the future.
As many begin to accept and seek a new ‘family-work-life-wellness’ balance for the foreseeable, Council members pointed to the health and wellbeing issues for employees as these differ significantly across personal circumstances, sectors and demographies. While a genuine sense of relief was expressed by all regarding the reduction in commuting and international travel, there was also a need to properly plan for long-term, work-at-home, employee engagement strategies for onboarding, ongoing review and exiting, that are truly meaningful and effective. Meanwhile the loss of the commute has generally increased employee productivity and allowed people to use their time for personal pursuits including volunteering support for good causes, mentorships and coaching.
The Council also highlighted the many improvements experienced by our planet over the last 3 months from an ecological and sustainability perspective, and hoped that many would continue.
Politically, views were more polarised between those that saw the recent actions of the UK government in a positive light, including the Chancellor’s interventions to support employees and businesses, to those that considered the performance to have been less than adequate with worrying portents for the success of the trade talks with the EU. That in its turn is expected to further exacerbate an already challenging economic position for the UK and it's near neighbours in continental Europe in 2021. At the same time, efforts to support the vulnerable in society and address environmental issues have benefited from collective political will and financial means, at least at a regional level.
Offshore - Not Out of Bounds
The impact of COVID on offshoring is yet to be fully understood. While it appears the long term viability of the mega - sites in the Philippines, India and near-shore BPO sector is at odds with the requirement to work from home, the risk analysis, planning and detailed business continuity strategies that many global brands have invested in has paid off and worked well. At the same time, as UK salaries stagnate and come closer to some offshore geographies, the business case for keeping or returning work onshore and/or in-house may strengthen. With more talent in the marketplace and ability to work anywhere in world, the gig economy model to operationalise frontline and back office support is expected to benefit, alongside an acceleration in the digitization of services, products, and the growth of subscription commerce.
Internationally, EMEA is the most advanced in terms of infection rates and arguably in terms of its response. A great deal of the rest of the world remains in crisis with increasing infection rates. Continued localised lockdowns are likely until a worldwide vaccine is discovered. That being said there is still huge amount of change and business being done.
On a more personal level, council members agreed that the upsides for many included embracing a new found personal & professional confidence, better quality business and personal relationships and increased trust between friends, family and colleagues.
The Future View
Looking ahead, in the next 12 months increased deficits and job losses are expected in businesses and sectors that are critically dependent on foot fall, travel, hospitality and events. This will inevitably lead to organisational reviews and restructures, and in some cases – revaluations. In turn, this may lead to the state taking a more active role through socio-economic interventions. An increasing divide between those that are digital savvy and those who are not is also anticipated. Consumerism - arguably the life blood of the nation and the services sector that support it - doesn’t appear to have slowed down. Those businesses with good ecommerce solutions and progressive logistics partnerships have flourished. However, the link between job security, a possible rise in unemployment post-furlough, will impact consumer spending at a time in the year when the economy would expect a significant positive gear change in growth.
In summary, where businesses could operate effectively during the pandemic, most proved more resilient than expected giving rise to more optimistic perspectives on the future. Other sectors, particularly travel, down 97%, and the arts, have been particularly hard hit with no clear road path back to full capacity. The Pandemic has expedited protracted business decision making and jettisoned long established operational models that were the mainstay of 20th century corporate norms, proving we can all change and adapt, and at pace, especially if there is sufficient risk identification. The near future will be dominated by the continued pandemic, a challenging global economy, digital transformation, and more locally – departure from the EU. Road mapping for shortlisted outcomes to support long-term business goals will be key and the global technology and business services sector will be critical in delivering these.
The world has become smaller, and the same technologies we’ve enjoyed for many years in home entertainment, communications and digital solutions have become operationalised to support every business, every employee and every sector in less than a business quarter. This is a monumental shift.
Ultimately, we will find a cure, we will get a vaccine, and although businesses may feel adrift in an ocean of unknowns, there is already enough evidence and demonstrable creative thinking to help companies plot a course through 2021 and beyond.
We have changed dramatically and won't be going back.