Sputnik discussed the business climate amid the pandemic with Ekaterina Trofimova, chief of the Deloitte rating advisory and corporate governance practice in Russia and the CIS.
Sputnik: Most businesses, including large firms such as Deloitte, had to "switch gears" to acclimate to the "new reality" during the pandemic. How did the company adapt to these big challenges?
Ekaterina Trofimova: Deloitte, being the largest consulting company globally, knows how to adapt really well by its own experience, because of more than 175 years of our history and also because of the vast experience of our clients, which we help all around the globe. We've been through many crises – global, local – and the experience which we've gained through the years really helps us.
We were no exception from the adaption policies of everybody in the market, which means that we had to move most of our employees, working at distant spots, mainly at home, and we will certainly continue this practice even with this pandemic going down. We also had to adapt to the changing needs of our clients, which means that many of them were really frustrated by this new reality.
Being a consulting firm, we do have experience working on a distant basis, on a remote basis, even during normal times – which is not the case for many traditional, classic companies; we had to advise them how to work in this new reality.
We also see digitalisation gaining pace all around the globe, and even the most conservative companies are adopting new digital forms of everyday work, more and more, which is a great challenge and a great opportunity for all of us.
I think now it's crucial that these new forms of work, new experience, stay with us, helping efficiency going forward, and because we should not consider the pandemic going away as something which puts life back to pre-pandemic times. This is the new working environment which brings new opportunities.
Sputnik: This is probably the first in-person meeting of entrepreneurs and top government officials within the past 14-15 months. Is there a lot to discuss this time? And how important is it to finally – I know you've mentioned distance working over the Internet – but how important is it to meet face to face? What are the advantages of this format?
Ekaterina Trofimova: This is very important and I think now, meeting face to face for this forum is much more important than even the discussions which we have. I think there are a lot of emotions in this forum, recovering business partners after a very long break. Business is very much about trust. Remote working helps efficiency, but does not always help to build trust.
That is why I think even with new forms of work, face to face will not disappear. This is true that it is now considered that face to face, for example in education, is becoming an exclusive good. Which means that this type of forum is also becoming more valuable and more exclusive, because I am pretty persuaded that remote working will stay with us.
In accordance with Deloitte's analysis, many companies will keep at least 30% of their employees, especially in the service industries, working remotely going forward – either in a mixed form, meaning partly remote, partly in office, or purely remote working.
Business is very important to be built on trust, as I said, and this forum is a great opportunity to meet with our partners after a very long break. And the discussion agenda is also very full and important. This is about catching up after this long break, but there are many new topics that have been brought by the pandemic times – ESG for example.
Sputnik: You've mentioned the discussions, the question of trust, and people are trying to reconnect here at this forum. Is there a lot of optimism in people's speeches?
Ekaterina Trofimova: There is some optimism, but it is very measured. I think there is still a lot of frustration, which is typical for businessmen, who are learning by mistakes, who are trying to be realistic about what to expect – that is why I think optimism is not a good word to describe first of all the times we are going through, but also businessmen.
I think there is a lot of realism in our discussions; there are a lot of new topics, because I am a frequent – I would say serial – attendee of the St. Petersburg economic forum, and it's interesting to see that the agenda evolves together with the times. And I am sure that the discussions we have here will set the agenda for internal discussions and business developments going forward.
At least for the next few months, at least until the next big forum in Vladivostok in September. And I think the St. Petersburg forum opens a very interesting page signalling that times are again new.