During this unprecedented Crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, we see the usual references to the Wall Street Crash of 1929 or that of Europe during the 1940’s. Whether it’s 1929, 1940, or 2020 – we’re surely living in historical moments that will leave lasting impacts our future generations will refer to for decades to come. There will be defined eras referred to as pre and post coronavirus pandemic – just as there is with WWII.
The cost of social distancing
The difference is that while the crisis affects everyone, it doesn’t have quite the same impact on an individual basis. My thoughts go to the “physical” industries, like restaurants and pubs, or cinemas and theatres going through unprecedented crisis where new business models will have to be invented – probably at the cost of significant restructuring, closure, and pain.
Those companies who are in complete shut-down are unable to produce even a short term operational plan in the current environment, and they and their staff must be feeling considerable pain. I commend the governments for the support they are providing to the physical economy, locally and as a whole globally. It is an absolute and long term necessity when you consider the cost impact on every single country and person globally.
The rise of knowledge workers
At SETL, we are fortunate enough to belong to the B2B digital economy and to have a younger population than most, who are used to working with technology. It’s my belief that knowledge workers and the digital sector will primarily come through this relatively untouched, in so far as that’s possible in this truly unprecedented time.
This is not to say that we are not affected. We are, but our changes, while they will be long-lasting, are more subtle when compared to a few other companies and sometimes even for the better.
I remember commuting to our London office a few months back. At the time, my mind was focused on which mode I should use to travel and whether I would have to be standing for 30 min pressed against other potentially sick passengers. Although I am not sure how Transport For London (TFL) will address this issue – and it has to address it before we at SETL will agree to reopen fully our London office- I am glad not to have to go through that worry at this moment.
Embracing home and remote working
Thus far, we are also fortunate not to have had any team member or their direct family sick with the virus. We hold virtual company meetings regularly to check on how everyone is doing and ensure we continue working in solidarity as one company, irrespective of the time zones we find ourselves in. All company meetings, Team Leader meetings, and Friday Socials are now done across our new favorite team meeting platforms, and it’s helping us to keep our people working.
Of the key risks we had identified as we were going into lockdown, the first was the safety of all our team members, followed by the unity of SETL’s community. In terms of operating from our two locations (London and Ipswich) – we are used to working remotely from each other and using technology to communicate.
Yet, I must say that the unanimous feedback we receive from everyone is that we have remarkably adapted to the lockdown. Communication between team members is more fluid. We are used to VCing each other on a regular basis, often several times a day. And the social link between us, if anything, has improved.
I don’t know if it’s the fact that we are spending more time talking to each other, communicating from our kitchen or sofa in our shorts, exchanging tips about hobbies or coping with the lockdown- but the result is here: Almost unexpectedly for a country where (I can say as a foreigner) pub culture is so essential to building links, the affection societatis between us all has actually strengthened – something that I would not have bet ongoing into lockdown.
Ensuring business continuity
Last but not least, our productivity and creativity have increased. I was struck by a story about Sir Issac Newton, which resurfaced as people are looking for what past epidemic crises can teach us. While Sir Issac was isolating himself from the great plague of 1665-1666 somewhere in the North-West of England, he laid the foundation for his motion and gravity theory.
Well – in a sense, it looks as if 2020 might be SETL’s annus mirabilis: we are currently negotiating our biggest contract ever, bigger than the two other pieces of infrastructure we had delivered in 2019 (ID2S and Iznes) combined. We have delivered, together with our Partner DXC and Clearbank, a new CBDC-based Government to People payment (G2P) system -which hopefully can help governments throughout the globe distribute the much-needed support to every part of the economy.
Has the boundary between work and home altered forever?
Although this crisis is nowhere close to being over, we all hope that it will be soon. But we know that, as Nietzsche famously said in one of his aphorisms – what doesn’t kill you makes you stronger. At SETL, we are well aware of the pain and the lasting consequences on the economy and society that these changes are having.
We are, as much as we can, trying to contribute to alleviating the pain on our teams and on our broader communities. Our G2P initiative was actually triggered by this simple question: how can we use our DLT to contribute to broader society? Only by pulling through this global crisis together, can we build a better, stronger SETL.
Thought piece written in lockdown by Phillipe Morel, CEO of SETL.