Webinar offers tips from FICPI colleagues worldwide.

Last week’s webinar, ‘Life under lockdown in Italy, South Korea, China and the US’, offered insights into the changes that FICPI members around the world have made and are continuing to make to their IP practices due to the social distancing measures required by the Covid-19 pandemic. 

It also explored the knock-on effects that this is having in other areas such as productivity of staff, security of IT and the business development pipeline. (Click here to view the recording and enter passcode 9P%6572G).

As may be expected, China and South Korea were well prepared for a coronavirus pandemic, having already experienced serious airborne diseases such as avian flu and SARS. The use of masks, keeping a distance from others, frequent washing hands is much more ingrained in social consciousness than it is for Italy, the US and the UK (where I’m based).

In the UK we were slower to react than many other countries, did not have a culture where use of masks is the norm for the flu and other airborne diseases, and were in the position of having a Government where the Prime Minister has only been in post since July last year, and the Chancellor has only been in post since February this year. 

My personal view is that the postholders being relatively new undoubtedly had an impact on how quickly the government was able to react. This has been further compounded by the Prime Minister contracting coronavirus himself, being hospitalised and subsequently recovering at home, with more junior ministers caretaking his role during that time.

I think it’s fair to say that many professional services firms: lawyers, accountants, insolvency practitioners, and consultancies in the UK have continued to trade more or less as before. 

Many immediately ordered their staff to work from home when the government mandate was announced, many others had already started to put homeworking into place ahead of the mandate. 

In my own circle, myself and some of my professional contacts had already started to avoid in-person meetings, were avoiding social kissing or shaking hands when we did meet and were choosing not to attend larger meetings and events from towards the start of March. The official government announcement on working from home was made on 23rd of March.

Some firms here have decided to have a rota system whereby staff go into the office one day a week to preserve social distancing, and work from home the rest of the time; others have mandated homeworking for everyone.

In common with other countries, there are challenges with adapting to new processes, ensuring everybody has the right IT hardware in place, and of course ensuring that communications and documents are kept secure. Despite the broadband providers pledging to keep speeds high, there does seem to be a reduction in speed, anecdotally caused by homeworkers live streaming Netflix and other media services whilst they work.

The UK Government’s Health and Safety Executive took a number of weeks to clarify the impact of the government mandate on service businesses which caused some confusion. It did subsequently make it clear that “With the exception of some non-essential shops and public venues, we are not asking any other businesses to close – indeed it is important for business to carry on.” 

Whilst the guidance encouraged employers to facilitate employees working from home, they also added that “Employers who have people in their offices or onsite should ensure that employees are able, where possible, to follow Public Health England guidelines on social distancing (including, where possible, maintaining a 2 metre distance from others), and hygiene (washing their hands with soap and water often for at least 20 seconds).”

It now looks likely that UK government advice will be that people should wear masks when in close proximity to others, such as in the office, in a supermarket or on public transport. The special measures introduced for shops, such as 2 metre distancing when queueing outside, restrictions on the number of people who can enter at one time, and (for some shops) offering hand gel or wiping down shopping trolleys, will continue for some time. Indeed, our government is currently saying that they cannot say when the UK lockdown will be eased.

Professional services companies appear to be, broadly, one of the least affected sectors because the nature of their business means they can do the majority of their work remotely, and because arguably they have deeper pockets than others and are able to better ride out short-term drop in cash flow. However, productivity and staff morale is a concern for many who are using tools such as WhatsApp groups and regular departmental Zoom calls to ensure that staff are not experiencing isolation issues or other challenges with working from home.

FICPI’s webinars and other resources are designed to bring FICPI members insights and tips from colleagues around the world to help them navigate as smoothly as possible through these challenging times. 

NEXT STEPS

  • View the recording from the ‘Life under lockdown in Italy, South Korea, China and the US’ webinar or read the notes here (navigate to ‘on demand webinars’). 
  • Find our Coronavirus help, support and guidance on the FICPI website 
  • View the spreadsheet showing the latest coronavirus updates from Offices around the world, compiled by FICPI members and updated on a regular basis
  • Sign up for our upcoming webinar taking place on Wednesday 29 April: ‘Managing an IP Business through a lockdown

HOW FICPI MAKES IP ATTORNEYS MORE EFFECTIVE

FICPI has developed a suite of resources and information to help members of our global community to adapt to the new way of working under Covid-19 coronavirus restrictions, which brings opportunities for growth as well as some immediate challenges. The webinar programme we have introduced is a key part of the resource bank, offering insights from FICPI members and other professionals on topics from mental health to delighting the client in difficult times, and using LinkedIn for business development.