It goes without saying that the world changed in 2020.
Business disruption had previously been associated with a myriad of issues and innovations such as blockchain, protectionism, 5G and cyber security. Very few could have predicted that it would be a pandemic that would be the catalyst for accelerated change across all sectors.
The way we interact with the world around us has altered. Our wants and needs have shifted. As we begin to transition away from lockdowns and restrictions, a question mark hangs over what life will truly look like post pandemic.
Businesses must now begin to plan for a future that is anything but clear. Will offices become a thing of the past? Have the needs of the workforce changed? Is Brexit no longer a concern? The road to a real "new normal" leaves uncertainty for many.
Focusing on what comes next, we have brought together the insight of lawyers from across our practice areas to identify the potential changes we can expect to see in the coming years and what businesses need to be aware of as they navigate the after-effects of COVID-19.
Vaccination programs are seen as the key to unlocking a return to normal life.
As programs progress globally, restrictions are gradually being lifted with businesses beginning to be able to open up and resume their usual operations.
Our international Life Sciences team has played a crucial role in the global efforts to develop effective vaccines, advising on a trio of landmark COVID-19 projects. Our UK team advised on the Pfizer/BioNTech vaccine, while our Canadian team acted for Precision NanoSystems, Inc (PNI) on its agreement with Can Sino Biologics Inc. to co-develop an mRNA lipid nanoparticle (mRNA-LNP) vaccine.
We also advised longstanding client AstraZeneca on its landmark collaboration agreement for the development and commercialisation of the University of Oxford's recombinant adenovirus COVID-19 vaccine (known as ChAdOx1 nCoV-19). The arrangement enabled the two organisations to globally develop, manufacture and distribute the university's COVID-19 vaccine, which has now been approved in many countries and is a key part of the global vaccination programme.
Our cities and the way they operate is evolving.
The need for connected, intelligent and data-driven transport and infrastructure has been accelerated by COVID-19, forcing cities to re-evaluate how they operate.
With roadmaps now in place for economic recovery and the end of lockdowns, there is now a rare and pressing opportunity for government, business and the public to come together to accelerate the much-needed change in mobility.
This is our chance to not only address the pressing environmental issues around carbon, emissions and air quality, but also to tackle far-reaching socio-economic issues from health and active travel, to inclusivity and the future of our city and town centres.
The pandemic has forced changes to established travel habits. Many cities have rapidly expanded space for cycling and walking, and the 15-minute city model, developed by Professor Carlos Moreno well before COVID-19 arrived, has quickly become a familiar concept.
The model identifies improvements to quality of life by creating cities where everything a resident needs can be reached within a quarter of an hour by walking or cycling. The 15-minute city could have a huge potential impact on future mobility, as well as our towns and city centres.
One of the most difficult challenges is understanding just what changes will establish in the new normal. As the vaccine rollout and the potential for an end to restrictions has come into focus, some businesses are adopting hybrid approaches to home and office working, with others calling for a complete return to the office, changing the potential narrative for mobility and how workers travel.
The future of cities hangs on a number of factors. While decisions from national and local policymakers are needed to help drive mobility forward, funding and behavioural change will also play an essential part in the shift towards smarter cities.
"The changes that have been forced on us present an opportunity for a different future for mobility where effectively nurturing and investing in the right behaviours can drive both economic recovery and more sustainable cities and towns.
The role of the office was evolving long before COVID-19.
The headlines of the past 12 months would suggest that the concept and benefits of flexible working are new to many businesses, but this is not the case.
From hot-desking to an increased use of remote technology and collaborative work spaces, organisations have been adapting to changing working patterns for some time.
As the pandemic literally forced companies out of their offices and into their employees' homes, a discussion began surrounding the benefits of remote-working vs offices, turning more recently to the purpose of offices and how they can support companies in achieving their objectives.
In our report 'A more flexible future: Redefining the role of the office', we commissioned research from almost 500 senior decision makers at companies with at least 20,000sq ft of office space in a metropolitan location to understand their perspective and how that might influence their future needs.
GETTING BACK TO WORK
Every job has been affected by the pandemic in some way.
Whether it was furlough, redundancy, remote working or even an increase in demand, COVID-19 made its mark on every form of employment.
11.5 million jobs have been supported at various times under the Coronavirus Job Retention Scheme (CJRS) in the UK, with 4.2 million employees on furlough as of 31 March 2021. Organisations had to take the time to understand ever-changing guidance as the roadmap out of lockdown continued to evolve.
As restrictions begin to ease, employers must now tackle the challenge of returning to the workplace. Questions surrounding vaccination policies, data protection and health and safety continue to be on the agenda.
As organisations begin to build their version of the new normal, it is essential that they understand how the pandemic has affected employment law and guidance. Our Employment team has been at the cutting edge of developments throughout the pandemic, providing concise yet comprehensive insight.
"For many employers, the return to the workplace will be a return to a new normal rather than to the pre-pandemic norm."
Following lockdown restrictions and mass remote-working, our homes have become the centre of our worlds more than ever before.
In our latest sustainable housing report 'Building and Buying Better Homes', we spoke to more than 300 UK housebuilders and over 2,000 homebuyers to understand their priorities for the future.
There has been a marked change in priorities since the pandemic, with homebuyers desiring gardens and separate spaces for homeworking.
As the government pushes forward on the Future Homes Standard, which comes into effect in 2025 and sets out obligations for housebuilders in line with the UK Government's commitment to net zero by 2050, it is clear that sustainability will also be integral to future homes.
As we begin to prepare for a sustainable post-pandemic future, it is worthwhile considering what developments are on the horizon that might either affect or inform housebuilders' plans and progress.
The conversation surrounding mental health and wellbeing has been growing louder for a while. As the pandemic unfolded, it was clear that we would all have new pressures to face.
As we move towards a post-pandemic future, the focus on wellbeing in the workplace is not going anywhere. It is important for employers to continue supporting their people as they unwrap what life will look like moving forward.
While in most cases working from home can be said to have had a positive impact on people's work/life balance, removing the commute and allowing for more personal time, it is easy for things to swing the other way. As the majority of businesses adopt a hybrid approach to the office and homeworking, it is essential that we continue the conversation around mental health and wellbeing.
We have pulled together a central resource of tools and information to help manage some of these issues and address common questions we are seeing from among our own people and clients.
"We all have a real opportunity to embrace a positive mindset and new approaches as we respond to the changes around us."
It's not just a post-pandemic world, it's a post-Brexit one too.
For four years, Brexit was the source of uncertainty for many businesses until COVID-19 emerged. With the agreement now delivered, we must now navigate legislation that has changed and is still changing.
Brexit will affect every business in a different way, whether it's through supply chain, customs and border tariffs, workforce, regulation, intellectual property (IP) or economic issues.
The changes to the UK's legal framework will cause headaches for organisations as they attempt to navigate how the changes affect their operations including their contracts and employees. It is vital that decision makers are managing risks appropriately and are aware of any potential opportunities.
Our Brexit Unit plays a regular part in the conversation surrounding Brexit. Businesses now need to move past the uncertainty and move forward with investment decisions, planning supply chains, managing workforces and meeting bank and customer expectations.
5G underpins many of the technologies that will drive digital transformation.
With people isolated from one another and workforces scattered across multiple locations, connectivity has never been more important and is crucial to operating in a changing world. The power, flexibility and resilience of a telecoms network needs to be a strategic international priority.
5G is being gradually deployed across our global telecoms network and is arguably the big bang from which industries, homes, travel and society will be reshaped.
Exploring the key challenges and opportunities that arise from the deployment of 5G is essential for any business that is looking to secure its long-term future. This means general counsel and leaders of businesses need to fully understand where the ownership, regulatory, deployment and security risks lie when looking at how 5G can drive their business forward in their future plans.
Doing good means doing well.
Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) issues continue to remain high on board agendas. The benchmark of how a company ethically behaves, ESG takes into account various activities including: climate change, biodiversity, human rights, staff diversity, executive pay and regulatory compliance. With these topics gaining increasing focus in the media, it is clear that understanding where ESG risks and rewards may lie underpins the potential success of an organisation.
As the discussion surrounding ESG continues to grow, your priorities will need to shift to ensure strategies minimise risk and meet increasing expectations. The way you address these issues will reflect your values and standards - with the potential to thrive or to fall.
With expectations higher than ever before, understanding ESG regulation and best practice from a legal and risk management perspective is essential for any business leader. While the stakes surrounding ESG are high, there are also opportunities to seize and businesses that are forward-thinking in this area will be well equipped for the new normal.
"As we now move forward, it is clear that the impact of the pandemic is not the only item on the agenda. "
We may have been isolated from each other in the past year but that doesn't mean you have to be on your own.
Since the beginning of 2020, businesses have tackled unexpected challenges. COVID-19 made its mark as we navigated economic uncertainty alongside ever-changing restrictions and guidance.
As we now move forward, it is clear that the impact of the pandemic is not the only item on the agenda. The likes of wellbeing, ESG, disruptive tech and Brexit were gaining momentum before 2020, but in the post-pandemic world they are even more prevalent.
With more challenges on the horizon, it is critical that businesses have legal advice they can trust to make confident decisions to overcome them. Recognised by multiple industry awards and directories, our lawyers are focused on finding commercial solutions to help you manage risk and leverage opportunities.
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