What is the ‘new norm’ for work patterns? What challenges will we have to overcome and what are the opportunities to rethink the way we work / operate?
Peter McKinlay from McKinlay Douglas Ltd. shares his insights into what the future holds for businesses and what opportunities there are in a world remodeled by COVID-19. This is part of a regular series – you can read his previous articles here:
The future pattern of work will be both the most challenging and most exciting aspect of post COVID-19 recovery. Landlords, businesses, employees, every single business, government or community sector will find that the status quo has gone. We can grieve or we can look for and seize opportunity.
Maria Mexi, a gig economy specialist working with the International Labour Organisation and the UN research Institute for social development has recently observed, “Looking at the broader picture, COVID-19 may prove to be a major tipping point for the digital transformation of the workplace. It looks near impossible to put that digital genie back in the bottle, once the health emergency is over.”
If you work in a factory or on a construction site this may seem ‘not for you’. Don’t be so sure. First, there will be pressure on every sector to minimise costs and lift productivity. This will impact not just within the four walls of the firm, but on every significant supplier to the firm whether of services or physical inputs. Next, the exponential evolution of technology and its applications will rapidly accelerate. Space limits our coverage, but consider first a few immediate challenges and then the opportunities/responses:
- Hundreds of thousands of people have had their first experience of working from home. Many will see the benefits outweighing the costs. Demand for commercial office space may slump.
- The retail sector is on the cusp of a major downturn driven partly by closed borders and partly by reduced spending power in the domestic economy. The flight to online retailing may exacerbate the impact.
- Industries such as kiwifruit will no longer get most of their peak labour force through the recognised seasonal employer scheme and backpacking tourists.
- SMEs will find a number of the external cost structures they face no longer acceptable and are likely to demand serious reductions from providers.
Many landlords will find that relying on the terms of their leases may be the best way of destroying their own businesses. At least in the short term there is likely to be a very significant oversupply of commercial and retail property. Terminating the lease of a tenant who can’t afford to pay may guarantee your property is vacant for a very long time to come. A possible solution? Landlords and tenants will need to find ways of working collaboratively to rebalance current arrangements to match the new reality. A challenging task especially as it will require major compromises and a willingness to share the cost of risk management.
Retailers faced with a combination of business downturn, cost burdens and a greater awareness from experience under alert levels 4 and 3 of the possibilities in online retailing will look for ways of changing their business models. Other businesses will see opportunity. Don’t be surprised if we see the emergence of combinations of IT firms and couriers offering a seamless support package for online retail and many retailers moving from bricks and mortar as a result.
Businesses which have simply assumed (increasingly against the evidence) that there will always be seasonal labour available when they need it will need to rethink this approach virtually regardless of existing unemployment levels. Expect to see a combination of a shift to full-time employment and an increased use of technology. There is an opportunity to make the Western Bay a centre of excellence in de-casualising horticultural and agricultural labour.
SMEs which have generally accepted provider determined pricing for the services they purchase (legal, accounting, management consulting, advertising and public relations, leasing…) may start insisting that their service providers share some of the pain of reduced revenue. For service providers the alternative may simply be loss of business end of story. Alternatively they may rethink their own business models using IT and flexible working arrangements. Do it well and there is a real opportunity for service providers to turn a potential threat into a growth opportunity.
Place-based management which has become something of a buzzword term for flossying up business and other areas will become deadly serious. Take a walk around Tauranga’s CBD. Bringing it back to life will need the concerted effort of every business (public, private or community) and every person. It needs a real sense of urgency and broad-based community leadership. It’s not a time for half measures. Let’s see the Council, the community, local trusts and others come together to make reviving the CBD a stand out international case study in place-based turnaround management! Call in the best of the best from across the country and around the globe. Draw on the multiple heritages which have built Tauranga. Recognise that whatever the cost of doing this, the cost of not doing it will be greater.