Reimagining the workplace and economy

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We are very fortunate to have reliable, online infrastructures, coverage and connectivity to facilitate our working from home at this time. The crisis has laid bare many organisational and structural weaknesses and strengths.

The deficiencies must and can be reworked by simply modernising existing systems and procedures and by better utilising technology.

I am convinced, however, that some enterprises will not survive the stay-at-home order, and will not, or rather cannot. reopen their doors upon return to “normality.” Some of them have, and continue to operate, entrenched legacy systems, practices and models.

Additionally, some were either slow or outright resistant to adopt best-practice business strategies and remained stuck with outdated technologies and methodologies. These entities will certainly be the authors of their own demise.

Then there are the start-ups or fledgling companies which, owing to their new arrival, don’t have the power of market share, or the luxury of deep pockets and robust cash reserves.

Previously, our way was to invest in adding what are now redundant and unnecessary layers, then transferring those costs to our customers. These old ways must change if companies are to survive, much less thrive in the post-pandemic period.

Oil is now trading at record low levels and in some instances has dropped into negative territory for the first time in history. This highlights the severity and urgency of this global problem. While most governments are moving cautiously with their internal lockdown restrictions and duration, we can all accept that the length of global closure is uncertain. Since we do not exist in a bubble, we will continue to feel the impact for some time to come. Recovery will not be instantaneous when the restrictions are lifted.

My question is, “Can this government provide the right stimulus to reignite commercial activity in order to drive demand and find new markets?”

One major lesson, apart from the obvious new essentials, is that businesses can operate much more efficiently than previously envisioned. The pandemic pushed our creativity to the point of make or break. You either innovate or lag and die.

I found it quite surprising recently, as I worked remotely with a unionised client company, when its operations manager spoke about changes to his production process during this period. He was full of praise for the flexibility demonstrated by the union and wondered why the parties had not come to an understanding on these new systems long ago. I was forced to ask if these changes had ever previously been proposed to the union. He did not think so. This is truly a case where circumstances drove outcomes.

My hope is that in the future, we (me included) will adopt a more streamlined approach by utilising technology and best practices. This is imperative for us to reimagine the workplace.

Why do we still have to physically see workers when more work can be produced remotely and virtually? According to a recent Bloomberg article, workers are eager to get back to the office because of their inability to better structure work/life balance, and hence find themselves working more at home. So why do so many employers in TT lack the confidence that employees can complete tasks remotely?

In my line of work, I would like to see the introduction of virtual meetings, especially at the Ministry of Labour, as well as case management, mention and reports and conciliatory fixtures at the Industrial Court. Our daily press conferences and the recent innovations within the judiciary are not only consistent with the requirements for social distancing, but have now established new standards for improved efficiency and time management.

Even in my own business, most of my retainer clients are no longer paying by cheque. They have instead adopted the more efficient method of direct deposit. Just think about the many steps in producing one cheque payment, from issuance to deposit. Most of these steps at both ends are eliminated simply with the click of a mouse.

The reimagined workplace may also have to rework safety regulations for companies in the face of a public health crisis, which in this case of course is novel. Our OSH laws certainly did not contemplate how the workplace responds to keep employees safe during a pandemic. There should be guidelines for both employees and employers.

According to a recent article in the Economist Magazine, economic performance during the lockdown will hinge on three factors, and these separate countries with bad outcomes from dire ones. They are a country’s industrial structure; the composition of its corporate sector; and the effectiveness of its fiscal stimulus.

If we are to examine effectiveness, the determinants will not be how much, but how and where money will come from and how it will be allocated. Will the government be able to help support the gig workers, the conglomerates or small and micro businesses, or all three, in this reimagined economy? A reimagined economy is a key factor for a reimagined workplace.

Some of the ways we are doing business have drastically changed over the space of about six weeks. Technology is now the prime driver to a successful post-pandemic workplace and economy. We must therefore become flexible and adaptive to new workplace changes and evolutions.


"Reimagining the workplace and economy"

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