The pandemic altered traditional ways of working, and the last 18 months have been challenging for a significant number of companies. Some businesses managed to change rapidly and rise to the challenge, while others struggled to adapt.
Due to the difficulties of the pandemic, some will have reservations about expansion during this period. However, it seems that this reservation may be misplaced.
Ahead of the Globalization Partners’ PANGEO event, keynote speaker Kevin Smith, Head of KPMG Private Enterprise – EMA, sits down, virtually, with UNLEASH to discuss the current working climate and how companies can expand.
Smith explains the current situation: “All of a sudden, the global workforce is there for everyone to see.
“The world has changed, you can have 50 people now in 50 different countries, and you’re going to get the best of the best. Removing the geographical boundaries has really taken the shackles off businesses’ ability to grow.
“We’re doing virtual trade missions all over the world now. Which are infinitely more effective than dragging people on a plane. Overseas expansion has now become something which is digitally acceptable, certainly to explore.”
Smith notes that companies can now enter highly competitive and desirable markets like China, India, and the US with more ease.
While Smith outlines the benefits of the digital workplace, he is also aware of the difficulties companies face.
His primary concern is instilling company culture within geographically dispersed teams.
“People coming into the office is not the only way people get culture but it’s a very powerful and a very demonstrative way of doing it” because people are “physically seeing it, feeling and touching it.”
Smith notes: “I think the role of the people and teams within organizations now, has to be more to build a sense of community, because the community also engender itself to loyalty.”
While Smith acknowledges the ability to instill culture remotely he worries that “you lose the ability just to find out how things are done.”
Smith adds: “I’ve worried, for example, about our graduate recruitment and about people taking in people from universities and people coming into the world of work for the first time. That must be quite difficult, in some cases, to make that transition. Without all of the little things that water cooler moments happen around, having a cup of coffee together, the ad-hoc interactions that actually are just as powerful in creating the cultural environment of an organization and getting things done.”
Smith also explains that in a world where people often have multiple roles throughout their career, remote working may cut off chances for employees to reintroduce staff after they take on challenges with a new employer and improve themselves.
Tech firms and the pandemic
Globalization Partner’s PANGEO event will focus on the ability of tech firms to grow during the pandemic and Smith clarifies what qualities these kinds of businesses have that make them effective at tackling change: “Tech firms are certainly used to being more agile because they instantly think globally. So they automatically have a sense of agility.
“Tech businesses tend to be more experimental. They are used to failing, tech businesses try things and fail. So they’re not deep-rooted in things being the way in which things are done forever.
“The culture that’s built up within tech businesses, certainly in the last 18 months, the adoption of change has probably been more in their DNA,“ adds Smith.
However, not all businesses, tech or otherwise, thrived in a new working environment.
Smith comments: “Some of your tech businesses, particularly those raising money, struggled quite significantly in the pandemic. And a number of very good businesses, when I take tech companies as well as that, failed. This is because of the nature of the business or burning cash and the investment dried up”
In order to prosper, Smith notes the importance of work flexibility and the fact that successful businesses have given users a convenient product.
The future of work
Despite convenience and agility being key in the current environment, Smith warns of the continued problems that businesses, young and old, will have to overcome.
“We are not through this year, we might feel like we’re back to normal, but we’re not through this yet. And we’re only starting now to really see, in my view, some of the implications of what’s happened,” states Smith.
“For example, we had a massive reduction in the number of overseas students coming over to the UK to study in some of our top universities, for obvious reasons.
“Now that has several consequential knock-ons to the UK economy. A lot of these students take jobs and they stay for a period of time post-graduation, they often actually bring some of their family over with them to support to help them support them, they often buy property [so] the knock-on effect isn’t there yet.
“We haven’t yet seen this in the same way as sectors such as automotive. But we’re starting to see some of this stuff coming through” elsewhere in the economy.
Smith also talks about the emerging importance of environmental, social, and governance: “Of course, the thing that’s going to start to dominate everybody’s thought process is mobility and travelling that plays into the ESG agenda, which is loud and getting loud when rightly so.
In terms of how the environmental impact of business is being reduced by remote working, Smith notes: “I think about my own history, I probably got on planes I didn’t need to get on.
“I will not miss taking three days out of my week to attend a three-hour meeting.”
Smith adds that it has been interesting to speak to clients because they are used to doing this process. However, many have now realized that a 30-minute meeting can replace three days of travel.
Moving forward it is clear that technology and the pandemic are changing the way we work long-term.
If you would like to hear more of Kevin Smith’s thoughts on ‘How Tech Firms Can Grow Globally Faster Than Other Businesses’ be sure to attend Globalization Partner’s PANGEO event which will also feature our very own Marc Coleman.