Many of the technologies and techniques that have been “forged in the heat” of the coronavirus crisis will usurp old ways of practising when life returns to normal, Professor Richard Susskind has predicted.
He also said that those who looked after their clients in the early phases of the pandemic will find their loyalty “rewarded” in the long run.
In a joint article, Professor Susskind and his son Daniel – who collaborated in 2015 for their book The Future of the Professions – said most professional firms were likely to progress through five stages in recovering from the Covid-19 crisis.
The first, mobilisation, involved the rapid move from office to remote working and a focus on near-term survival.
“During this phase, the finest firms are caring for their people, and helping their clients as well as themselves. Long-term relationships and reputations will be won and lost during mobilisation.”
In the second phase, where we are now, was lockdown, with professionals communicating and collaborating online.
“As firms re-orientate themselves as best they can in the time available, much will be lost. But at the same time, new efficiencies will be gained and new operating practices established,” they wrote.
With demand falling significantly in many markets, “the wise firms will be those who most creatively use the increase in the non-chargeable time of their fee-earners” through training.
“Firms will also need to provide online support for staff who suffer mental health difficulties arising from solitude, disconnection, and overcrowding.
“Some firms, even those who claim their prime concern is the health of their people, will no doubt dismiss many members of staff; in this phase, profound questions about the values and purpose of individual firms can and must be asked.”
The third phase – of a return to ordinary life – was hardest to predict given the possibility of the virus spreading again, leading to a reversion to lock-down.
“In any event, during the emergence phase, there may be a novel schism in society – between those who have recovered and are at large and those whose lives are still heavily limited.
“This could mean, for a while at least, that two markets will need served (clients who have emerged and those who have not) and a divided workforce too. Again, challenging operational and cultural issues will arise.”
Once the great majority of people have “fully emerged”, the Susskinds said a surge in economic activity and market confidence was likely.
“Some lost ground will be regained” during this fourth phase, with deals and projects being conducted in compressed time frames.
This will mean great demand for professional services, with many unemployed professionals re-engaged. “Those who looked after their clients in the early phases will now find that loyalty rewarded.”
But after the initial surge, a “new equilibrium” will be established that will not be a reversion to professional life of late 2019.
In this fifth phase, “many of the technologies and techniques that have been forged in the heat of mobilisation and lock-down will be regarded as preferable to the traditional ways”.
They continued: “Clients will have seen the great inefficiencies of conventional working practices and insist that the digital alternatives are maintained.
“As many have predicted but in a far shorter period, great swathes of professional work will be automated and transformed by technology.
“Leading firms should have strategies and plans for each of the five phases.”