Our firm has recently contributed to the "Crisis Management: Surviving and thriving in a post-pandemic world" guide published by IR Global, the multi-disciplinary professional services network that provides legal, accountancy, financial advice to companies and individuals around the world.
In this publication, we have shared our expert opinion on crisis management and business continuity, addressed questions relating to post-pandemic workplace processes, and shared examples of the new ways of working with our clients. We have also discussed how Turkish data protection law is addressing these issues.
Please see below our contribution to the guide and click here to read the full text.
Will the professional service business model change as a result of the Covid-19 pandemic?
Change usually comes from necessity or disruption. While the world has seen creative disruption in the past decade with technology and internet start-ups, urgent change deriving from strong necessity was rare. That was until Covid-19 emerged.
The outbreak marked a new era for teleworking. Businesses are now aware that teleworking "works" and that they can do without renting prime locations in cities. Many businesses that would not have otherwise tried teleworking are now transitioning to a completely new way of doing business. For instance, most, if not all, call centres service their clients in remote working environments, which would be considered inconceivable in the past. The crisis proved in real-time that with adequate technological infrastructure and digital literacy among employees, any business can migrate its processes to the online world. It also showed that the transition is not as hard as it looks and that it can even happen instantaneously with the right motivation.
Remote working will undoubtedly be more mainstream after this crisis. It used to be considered by many businesses and employees as a fringe benefit, but the perception is likely to change now. Remote working might become the new "normal." Covid-19 pushed business to their boundaries and made them notice the alternative models of employment, which, as a bonus, provide more flexibility and reduce costs. Further, businesses are now more prepared and better equipped for remote working, meaning the remote working trend may continue after the crisis. Employees are also more familiar with remote working now, as their workplace and home have become one and the same. The key priority at this point should be to listen to the employees, identify the unique difficulties of remote working, and make necessary changes to ensure an even more efficient working process. This will surely require investing more heavily in remote working practices and digital collaboration tools in the future.
In the remote working era, the key differentiator among professional services firms will continue to be their people, but the focus will be more on digital skills. Businesses should accelerate efforts to build key digital skills, capacity, and efficiencies to build and sustain their reputation as "top tier." They should also consider the employment of professionals from a variety of specialities such as automation, artificial intelligence and analytics, the cloud, and cyber resilience. Mastering digital transformation is a source of competitive advantage now more than ever.
Firms will also need to adjust their new working ways to their clients' expectations. Reactivity and rapidity seem to be the most important qualities that a client looks for. Many businesses might fail to deliver the expected results, owing to the insufficient capabilities and the inadequate technologies.
As more people using remote working as the new normal, how will this affect the culture of professional services firms?
Remote working constitutes a major threat to businesses adopting traditional ways and rejecting innovation in work processes (i.e. businesses with conservative company culture). If these businesses do not welcome new technologies, they might not be able to survive while remote working is becoming the new norm and other firms reduce their costs and increase their efficiency. Those who never invested in digital skills training, online collaboration, and technology infrastructure in the past will struggle to overcome this crisis as it would be difficult to allocate funds to these now.
On the other hand, remote working is an opportunity for businesses who built the capacity to welcome change and new norms into their work processes. The businesses that were able to instantaneously transition into an online servicing model and avoid any interruption in their service have already scored several points with their clients. Moreover, businesses that were able to maximize the benefits of remote working by reducing costs, increasing efficiency, and allowing flexibility have gained a significant competitive advantage.
Firms who turn Covid-19 crisis into an opportunity for digital transformation will be able to showcase their innovative side to their clients, changing the view that professional services firms are traditionally conservative. This will certainly have an impact on client relations and future work processes. It is reasonable to expect an accelerated adoption of "smart work," which means utilising remote working, reducing travels and meetings, and increasing the efficiency of processes in general.
With so many people now working from home using unsecure internet networks, should there be updated rules for data protection compliance? If so, should they be more relaxed given the crisis wrought by the pandemic?
Privacy and data protection are fundamental rights enshrined in the Turkish Constitution and the Charter of Fundamental Rights of the European Union. However, they are not absolute rights and can be limited under certain conditions. The key issue is to determine such conditions that would justify a limitation. Under the current circumstances, processing of personal data in the fight against the pandemic is generally allowed under Turkish law. However, this does not mean that healthcare trumps data privacy and data protection obligations are suspended during the pandemic. Businesses should carefully consider the general principles under the Turkish Personal Data Protection Law ("PDPL") such as proportionality and transparency in their efforts to fight the coronavirus. Processing of health data is a particularly sensitive subject and as a principle, businesses should always prefer less intrusive methods, where possible.
Considering the fundamental nature of the right to privacy and data protection, regulations protecting these rights should not be relaxed due to Covid-19 crisis. However, data protection authorities should also act reasonably. Leaving personal data vulnerable in a remote working arrangement cannot be tolerated. However, deploying cybersecurity measures in such a remote working environment naturally takes time. Therefore, the crisis wrought by the pandemic should not eliminate the possibility of fines, but they might have extenuating effect in the determination of the fine amounts within the legally defined limits.
Covid-19 has also reinforced the importance of cloud computing in ensuring business continuity. Businesses utilising the cloud were able to access and manage their corporate data remotely, while most on-prem systems required the use of additional remote access software, which raise many security concerns. It is reasonable to expect business to accelerate their digital transformation projects as well as increase their reliance on the cloud during and after the crisis.
Key Guidelines for Dealing with Crisis Management.
1. Create smart workspaces with technology. Businesses should continue maximizing their efficiency with digital collaboration and servicing tools and minimizing their reliance on paper and physical processes. After the crisis, businesses will have already achieved the know-how and experience required to adopt remote working in their processes. They should build on these and continue utilising remote working.
2. Train employees and increase digital literacy. Technology and digital tools have no use if people cannot use them to their maximum potential. Businesses should train their employees and make sure that their investments in IT and software services are properly utilised.
3. Continue implementing sanitary measures. Businesses should maintain most of the sanitary measures they have implemented during the crisis as Covid-19 may persist in the upcoming months or years. Reasonable social distancing, masks, and hand sanitizers will ensure employees' physical health and prepare the business for a potential rebound of the virus.
4. Promote well-being and resilience. Mental health and motivation of the employees are key in providing quality services to clients. Being empathetic and connected with the employees will remain an important trait. It is crucial to promote a two-way communication to listen to and understand the needs of the employees.
5. Adjust to the rapid change of technology. This crisis proved that it is of paramount importance for businesses to take immediate steps when faced an extraordinary situation. Businesses should be open to innovation and change instead of sticking to habits and customs. The circumstances surrounding Covid-19 resulted in people questioning the conventional methods of doing business, which is likely to continue after the crisis.
Originally published by Ersoy Bilgehan, on June 2020
The content of this article is intended to provide a general guide to the subject matter. Specialist advice should be sought about your specific circumstances.