As lockdown restrictions begin to ease, professional services firms will be considering what the “new normal” will look like for them. The long-term consequences of COVID-19 may still be unknown, but one thing is certain – the crisis will shape the way we all do business in the future.
With the government announcing its Return to Work Safely plan, it is a crucial time to assess the impact of the crisis on company strategy and begin laying the foundation for a more resilient and brighter future.
In terms of key developments, considerations, and opportunities, there are several that are likely to dominate the agendas of firms moving forward.
Digital optimisation and transformation
Many professional services firms have had to quickly adopt and adapt to an increased use of technology. It is likely this speed will set the pace for digitally optimising existing business operations and fast tracking a digital transformation agenda across the company. Firms will need to consider technology as an essential cost and a key driver of growth.
Many businesses were forced to change their working practices overnight when lockdown and social distancing rules were announced back in March. Virtual ways of working have become the new norm and in many cases this has proven successful. There is no doubt video client meetings are here to stay. They save travelling time (which should improve efficiency) and make it easier to catch up with clients more regularly, not to mention the cost-savings on travel expenses. This may lead to some companies questioning the importance of traditional client “face time”, which has always been at the centre of professional services. While the need for in-person face-to-face meetings is unlikely to go away, the future is looking much more digitally focused.
Returning to the office
COVID-19 has made firms reconsider what role the office has in their overall business strategy as well as weigh up the pros and cons of home working. The realisation that the vast majority of work can be carried out from home will inevitably have an impact on future planning and budget decisions. So is there still a need for offices? In reality, home working can be a blessing and a curse, depending on an individual’s circumstances. Communication is certainly easier face-to-face and training new and existing employees is more effective in person. Plus, the social aspect of an office environment shouldn’t be underestimated from a mental health perspective.
In reality, while home working has proven successful, it’s likely that most firms will keep some sort of physical premises and give their employees the choice of where they work. However, they may be smaller and fewer premises as it is unlikely everybody will be in the office every day post COVID-19.
One key risk professional firms should be focusing on is cyber threats. Many of you are spending more time at home and online, and you are using more technology to connect and collaborate virtually – often in a less secure home working environment.
Action Fraud has reported a significant increase in the number of cyber attacks during the COVID-19 crisis as opportunistic criminals take advantage of the pandemic. Cyber security has become an even more pressing issue that needs to be addressed, no matter what the size of your firm.
Phishing scams are still the most popular type of attack, with criminals often impersonating legitimate organisations and services such as HMRC or WHO to compromise accounts and gain access to company data and resources.
This is not a unique trend. Hackers often prey on victims shortly after disasters or high-profile events. They target the computer networks and systems of individuals and businesses at a time when cyber defences might be lowered due to attention being diverted elsewhere – in this instance, the health crisis.
Many firms will need to assess and adapt their company strategy to respond to a new way of working and adapt to evolving client expectations and service delivery models. Digital optimisation and a digital transformational agenda will be central to business growth and profitability – however investment and commitment is needed from business leaders to make this a reality and a success.
With digital transformation comes increased vulnerabilities, threats, and security pressures. Cybercrime will continue to increase and firms must make sure they have the necessary IT infrastructure/security, risk management, and cyber insurance in place to protect their business. Should the inevitable happen and an attack occur, a cyber insurance policy will kick in and help a firm get back on its feet as quickly as possible, with minimal down-time.
Despite these challenges, it is important to recognise that there is also opportunity in this “new reality”. Firms who adopt a “digital-first” way of thinking and operating may be able to secure first mover advantage and benefit from increased efficiencies, streamlined operations, improved client engagement, and a more agile, flexible way of working in the future.