9th March 2020

Coronavirus – a human disaster? Or a push in the right direction?

As the UK sees its biggest daily increase in the number of Coronavirus cases and the government announces plans to move to the ‘contain’ phase, businesses everywhere are bracing themselves for potentially very challenging times. If we look at how 2020 has started, even putting Coronavirus to one side, it has been disruptive to say the least. We are dealing with the uncertainty and volatile conditions created by Brexit and the UK has suffered some of the worst flooding it’s seen in decades with February officially the wettest on record smashing the previous record set in February 1990.

Is it a sign of things to come? The world has changed enormously over the last ten years and whilst we have hugely advanced communication channels and more capable medical facilities there is still a question of whether global warming, over population (It took over 200,000 years of human history for the world’s population to reach 1 billion, and only 200 years more to reach 7 billion.) and the impact of highly mobile individuals could potentially be the causality of the intensely negative situations we have been experiencing, particularly (certainly in the UK) of late.

Whether the modern world is making things worse or better is a massive philosophical discussion, and one for another day… What I do know is that for businesses like ours, and those of our clients, we need to find a way to move forward with confidence. Coronavirus for some can be devastating but thankfully for most, the actual health symptoms will be reportedly, uncomfortable but manageable.

The news is changing by the minute and last week I saw HSBC had evacuated a floor at Canary Wharf, and with Apple and Microsoft closing their offices in London I can’t help but feel like it’s only a matter of time before more and more of us will be choosing, or are already being requested to work from home. And even in the unwanted scenario that one does have to self-isolate, imagine being alone for 14 days? I for one still want to be able to be productive and if anything, will make the most of this quiet time with far less distractions.

Last week we heard that the Zoom conferencing call platform shares had risen by 15% and it seemed rather timely when wandering through my near empty local train station that I saw an array of adverts for Microsoft’s latest Teams platform. The prospect of the virtual office is fast becoming a reality – much sooner than some of us might have wanted. But if there was ever a time to encourage people to adopt new collaboration technologies and change their culture then surely now – when they have no option – is the best time?

For the past few years I have seen people carrying out studies about whether employees are more productive working from home and hey – this could be one of the best research activities ever carried out.

So how does technology, and firms like ours seize the moment? Just like in nature at times of disaster there will be those who rise up from the ashes, how quickly the land regenerates itself after a volcano eruption or an all-consuming bush fire. We could sit here and be negative or we could look at ways in which we can provide more flexible technology solutions which enable our clients to work from anywhere, any time, on any device. Reliable tools which can be delivered via the cloud and integrated with standard office packages like Microsoft Office 365.

In the last few days we have heard reports that some of the largest trading firms have contingency plans in place to split or divert their trading floors to more remote locations. They are under pressure from regulators to ensure their trading activities are conducted in a secure and controlled environment. For them the reality of decamping to their home office is very unlikely. But for the middle and back office there is scope to be much more flexible.

Our core business is providing financial services firms with reliable and proven data collaboration solutions. For example, we are currently working with a well-known tier one bank to help enable their front, middle and back office to collaborate more effectively in real-time from a range of interfaces including Microsoft Excel. To dramatically improve workflow, allow them to share key pricing information and react more quickly to volatile and fast changing market conditions. We have developed ‘Electronic White Boards’ which enables teams to share key market data and enhance trade execution. All of these solutions are developed to be used anywhere, from any device.

Despite the hype and especially within the financial services arena, Coronavirus is not an opportunity to take a few days off. For the banks and Inter-dealer Brokers these are the times that make or break them. It we cannot use public transport or are banned from the office then we need to allow technology to empower firms to continue to operate on a global scale supporting their front office trading activities. And who knows, although a well-used cliché, every cloud (pun intended) may well have a silver lining. Maybe, just maybe, the virtual office or modern workplace, a subject which we have all deliberated over for so long is actually a reality, driven by modern and reliable collaboration technology solutions. It might just work?

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