In view of the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, people around the globe have been forced to switch to working from home in order to protect themselves from contracting the viral disease.
In numerous parts of the world, individuals and businesses are finding inventive ways to cope with what many see as a "new normal", and Ian Colebourne, chief executive officer of Deloitte CIS, has shared his views on how businesses may adjust to this new reality.
Sputnik: Most businesses around the world, including Big Four companies, are adapting to this “new reality” – hopefully a temporary one – with restrictions in place and the economy in most countries working in an “emergency mode”. How is Deloitte overcoming these difficulties? What are the main projects that you’re working on at the moment?
Ian Colebourne: From my perspective, we’ve been looking at our business in terms of how we are responding and then recovering from this position. So, the response, I’ve been leading as we call it a "project management office" internally, which is dealing with how we have been able to move our business in response to the challenge. That encompasses team members from legal, from the tech team, from the markets team; and we’ve been looking at how we were navigating in what feels like a completely different world, as this started, including putting in sanitisers and thermometer health checks for our people when we were still in the office.
And then quite quickly, sort of migrating, you have 3,900 people across the CIS and I think within the space of a week we had moved everybody to remote working mode. So, the focus from the PMO team had sort of been shifted to ensure that we were enabling our people to be successful with that. So we’ve made some investments around enhancing some of the technology infrastructure the business has. I'm speaking to you using Zoom, so all our people across the CIS are using Zoom for team meetings; I use it on a daily basis to check in with my teams.
We’ve used different bits of software in terms of ensuring project management tools. But beyond that, in terms of ensuring that deliveries for our clients remain seamless throughout this transition, we have also done a lot of work to support our people, in particular guidance on being effective in remote working mode with a lot of recommendations and items about how to hold remote meetings, how to arrange remote sessions with clients, with ourselves, with project management, keeping on top of engagement as we are moving along.
From the client side, on a variety of things we continue to focus on seamless delivery and we’ve been successful in that. I think that as a process, it has really challenged a lot of the old assumptions that we had about the expectations of everybody in the office. We’ve done a lot of work actually on a pro bono basis working with some of our NGO charity partners, supporting them with some pro bono services on resilience and some strategy work. Our team in the infrastructure and capital projects have been supporting one of the rapid deployments of three hospitals in Kazakhstan where we’ve been overseeing construction work to make sure it’s done on time and efficiently.
So, there’s been a lot of engagement in that space, and beyond that we’ve done a lot with our clients. Very quickly, I think, we were among the first to launch a webinar programme that we called "Not Home Alone". We’ve had over a hundred webinar programmes delivered; we’ve had over 10,000 people dialling in or watching the videos, we’ve had about a 100,000 downloads.
We’ve had a lot of outreach in terms of how we, just like our clients, are navigating this challenge, some of the issues that we are experiencing, some of the things which are on our clients’ minds. We have had webinars around things like force majeure implications, some technical points on accounting; we’ve also shared a lot of our experience with the talent side of things with webinar programmes that we’ve supported our own people with.
Sputnik: Deloitte has always paid a lot of attention to human capital - investing in state-of-the-art learning experiences and facilities, introducing e-learning, and online education technology. Now, when so many companies and private individuals have switched to online communication, has this strategy proven to be a wise one?
Ian Colebourne: I would first of all endorse your comment, we do invest a lot and focus on our people; a lot of our strategy, in terms of the respond and recover phase, has had our people at its heart. A lot of the decisions we are making are about protecting our people, first and foremost. In terms of learning and training, you’re right, we do use digital platforms a lot.
I think that investment was absolutely the right thing to do, and looking forward, we are likely to expand that digital learning programme, supporting people. Because, simply, the current situation is that uncertainty is the only certainty. We don’t know how long this will last; we don’t know how profound the change to remote working will be. So, for us, continuing to use that digital learning platform and expanding that is a priority. We do have some fantastic infrastructure assets; as I think I’ve mentioned in previous conversations, we have university facilities across Europe, the US, and Asia.
Those are currently not being used, but we are looking at how those facilities will be [used] for landmark sessions with face-to-face personal interaction for our people, being one of the world’s largest professional services, to be able to come together and meet with colleagues to share experiences. This is an important part of being what Deloitte Professional is. The technical and the core skill training is clearly switching – it already was – and I think that the switch to a digital platform is being accelerated by this experience.
Sputnik: We see that many countries, including Russia, are on the path of easing the restrictions. What are the key trends which will emerge globally when it comes to trade and the economy?
Ian Colebourne: I think that everybody is watching. As I said, “the only certainty is uncertainty” at the moment; clearly there are concerns around the potential for a second wave. We are very much watching the experience of our China firm and the China market in particular. We are doing a webinar for our clients next week, including our China firm's chief economist, he is joining us to to give some insights into what is happening with the Chinese economy and the broader Southeast Asian economies. I think there the view is that they will clearly come out earlier than the sequence of infections and the revamp could be quite quick.
So, rather than a U-shaped recovery, what we are seeing from our China firm’s experience is that this is a very sharp dip, but there’s a quick recovery. I think that more broadly Europe and the US will come out in the third quarter of this year in terms of recovery, and hopefully a meaningful recovery over the fourth quarter, although, as I said, all of this is contingent on whether there will be a second wave of infection and that may knock all of that into some challenge. I think COVID has really created a lot of disruption, but clearly one area in which all our clients are focused at the moment is looking at the impact on supply chains, when supply chains were designed for just-in-time and maximising profits.
That has created a lot of vulnerabilities for this type of disruption; so I think we are seeing a lot of our clients looking at how to reshape their supply chains. And that’s something that, across Asia as well, where there was concentration on one country, it may be that clients are now looking at how they can shift to spread their supply chain sources; they can build in some redundancies, they are looking at how they can add in contingency stock rather than operating on a just-in-time basis. I think the implications of COVID are really profound, but that’s just one example where we are already seeing quite a lot of change.
Sputnik: Right now we are seeing explosive growth in some industries, such as online retail and delivery businesses. Is it only a temporary trend, or might we see online businesses becoming even more powerful in the long run? Who will be the big winners in the long run?
Ian Colebourne: I think that you’re right. That was a trend that was certainly seen before COVID-19. The impact of COVID on that is that more people, more consumers have been forced to use digital supply and retail platforms. Those who might not have been enthusiastic adopters have had a period of time to try that experience and many will adapt to that.
As I’ve said, unfortunately, currently the reality of COVID is that while we do see that the curve is being flattened in many economies, and that is a great thing, unfortunately, we still don’t have an effective therapy and we are probably further away from a vaccine. So, as a health challenge, outside the economics, that will remain; and I think that that will continue to embed some of those consumer changes to a digital experience. And that is likely to continue exist in the post-COVID world.
Sputnik: In many countries we see people discussing whether they will be returning to their offices after such a long period of working remotely. Do you think we may see remote work becoming dominant as opposed to working at the office, and which professions in your opinion are likely to move online after COVID-19 or, perhaps, become extinct?
Ian Colebourne: Hopefully, not extinct. In terms of our own experience, I think that the experience of moving all our people into a remote working mode - and effectively without any disruptions in delivery or engagements - means that has broken some of the old thinking about the need to be in the office. At the same time, I recognise that I’m quite fortunate, I have a spare bedroom, and in the place where I live I have a home office; unfortunately, a lot of our guys and girls don’t have that, so it has been quite stressful for them to be in a remote working mode.
We have had to adapt quite a lot of the way that our teams are acknowledging; we have inclusive leadership guidance about how to acknowledge that people might not have the same benefits that others have experienced in a remote experience. What I think that means is that it will in the longer term provoke broader thinking around real estate: how much space is actually required; at the same time, how do we ensure that the team remains effective if they are working in a remote capacity. But as I said, as we are looking at our own strategy for the return to the office, we are taking a very conservative line.
We are taking a people-first approach and the health and safety of our people is paramount; we are going to slowly start to reintroduce people [to work], once we are comfortable that the infrastructure is in place and we can meet all the guidance from health authorities on social distancing, on all the things, including personal protection required for our people. We’ve been effective; we are very happy with the way we’ve been able to adapt to remote working. I think that this is likely to change and it is likely to continue for us. Does that mean that the profession has changed? Not at all.
So, it will definitely change, but it is not going to completely remove some of the traditional ways of working. In terms of the professions, I think that the traditional professions have all adapted to this; so, people have experienced telemedicine at a level that they probably never expected to experience three months prior to this. The number of consultations which are happening with doctors through Zoom and Skype calls I think they are at completely unprecedented levels; the ability of how you can get prescriptions digitally and in a remote mode is at a different level.
Our own business, our whole team in a remote mode - 3,900 people as I said - is all working effectively using digital tools to work as a team. It has been really profound, and I can say quite humbling in terms of leading that group that I’m just immensely grateful to the flexibility that they’ve shown, and adaptability. We’ve always believed that we are a resilient business, but I think that this has really proven that.
The views and opinions expressed in the article do not necessarily reflect those of Sputnik.