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Life after COVID-19 lockdown: the view from EMEA

On 18 March 2020, it was reported that some 250 million people were in lockdown in Europe alone*

When COVID-19 hit Europe, it hit hard. Within weeks, the region overtook China in terms of the number of recorded cases and became the active centre of the pandemic. Three months after measures were introduced to protect lives, Europe is now easing out of lockdown - slowly and cautiously.

It’s not surprising given the size of the region, that we saw vast differences in how governments responded to the crisis. The Italian lockdown was one of the strictest seen in Europe and indeed the world. Conversely, Sweden has taken a lighter touch, opting for an approach based on the “principle of responsibility”. Denmark and Germany have both won praise for their swift action in restricting movements before COVID-19 infections were able to spread across the population.

Listen to the second of our Great Conversations Podcasts in which we look at life after lockdown in EMEA.

And these differences are mirrored in how business are now coming out of lockdown, explains Murray Watt, Baker Tilly's EMEA Regional Director.

“Although we’re all weathering the same COVID-19 storm, each business is in their own boat, having to manage and work out changes to their client and market drivers whilst trying to forecast government lockdown measures and the releasing thereof”, says Watt.

And let’s also not forget the implications Brexit will bring. For two years, a day rarely went by without commentary on Brexit. Then COVID-19 stole the headlines and relegated Brexit to the side lines. But that doesn’t mean Brexit has gone away.

“We’re also navigating through an oil price collapse to a negative value for the first time in history. This is a huge setback for the Middle East, Nordics, Eurasia and parts of Africa”, explains Watt.

“Africa is faced with infrastructure challenges, hyperinflation on domestic goods and limited internet, which in some countries makes remote working near impossible.”

The shape of recovery

Businesses are navigating through difficult times, and each owner needs to ask: “how or where can we gain advantage amidst this position of uncertainty?” In order to do that, the key question to consider is the likely shape of the recovery curve for your business?

A v-shaped recovery assumes that a business will effectively return to normal once lock-down measures are lifted. A u-shaped recovery assumes that once lock-down measures are lifted, it will take some time before a business will return to normal. A L-shape recovery means that there will not ever be a return to normal once lock-down measures lift.

There are several factors that can influence the shape of recovery, explains Watt. But one key fact is changes to existing client and market drivers.

“Can I expect my clients to buy the same products and services, or will demands change? What are my competitors doing and what should my reactions be to maintain my market share? The answers to these questions will influence how businesses emerge. Can one expect the original conditions to return, or does my business model need to pivot to answer to the changing client and market drivers?”

Will working from home be a legacy of lockdown?

Nearly four-in-10 people** in the EU began working from home as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic. And with productivity high as a result of time saved on commuting, naturally, all arrows point to the question – do we need so much office space?

“The problem of maintaining empathy is that for someone to truly be themselves, it takes time. It’s easy for all those Zoom calls to crowd out the space that empathy requires.”

While the relative ease with which the majority of people have adapted to working from home is one of the success stories to come out of lockdown, Watt believes firm leaders need to assert a degree of caution when considering how virtual they go and what their work environment post lockdown looks like. He believes that while we may see a decrease in demand for office real estate in the short term, longer-term we are likely to settle into a blended model of remote working and in person time.

“The success of professional services firms rests in relationships with clients and relationship internally within the firm. Relationships are built through trust. Despite the incredible advances we see in technology, there is no such thing as virtual trust. Relationships can start online, but that authenticity and building trust to forge meaningful relationships can only come through face to face time.

“Secondly, the social impact [of remote working] on staff is huge. It’s easy to focus on the positive impact a reduction in space can have on our profit and loss statements. But let’s not forget the social side of the office: the relationships and what impact culture can have on employee engagement. Maintaining relationships, culture and employee engagement becomes extremely difficult in a virtual environment.”

Whilst it’s clear that remote working is something that looks to become more accepted, if we don’t get this right, it could result in disengaged employees, impacting their willingness to sell our services and placing strain on retention.

Listen to the full podcast: Great Conversations: Life after lockdown EMEA edition.

* Source:

** Source: Eurofound e-survey, Living, working and COVID-19

Meet the expert

Murray Watt
EMEA Regional Director


View profile

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