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Remotely Speaking

The truth is that we did not need the COVID-19 to prove to us that, after all, we do not have to travel to most meetings and that most meetings need not take place in person. We of course knew it but most of us were used to a system and a pattern that was familiar and with which we were comfortable. We love familiarity and patterns. We cling to them.
 
Then came the COVID-19 crises and most businesses had no option but to change the way all internal and external meetings are held and more importantly the way the internal decision-making process had to change. In less than two months, the digital communications skills in our country soared across the entire spectrum of society. This is clearly one opportunity from the COVID-19 crisis that businesses and government must embrace.
 
 We should all try and go through all the meetings we had in our diaries for the last three months of 2019 and see how many of those meetings could have been held via Skye, Zoom, Microsoft Teams or whatever method. We will be surprised! Why now and not then? What has changed? Change is a critical part of business. In business, we need to change before we have to.
 
For a business, there are significant costs that can be saved by holding more meetings remotely. Understandably, not all meetings can be held remotely but going forward businesses should continue to practice the change brought about by COVID-19 and encourage, as far as possible, remote digital communication.
 
Working Remotely
 
What was once a sought-after benefit, post COVID-19 crisis, working from home could be here to stay. EY predict that remote working will be the new normal, even after COVID-19. In a recent research paper on the subject, EY state that “remote working is an opportunity for companies to change their way of working sustainably and reap the benefits over the medium to long term. Think of less office space, less commuting, fewer business trips, shorter breaks and greater focus for employees. Feedback from the market seems to indicate that remote workers are also less likely to take short absences due to illness. It can also have a positive impact on the remuneration system of companies and provide insights into (HR) opportunities. Remote working on a larger scale also offers companies the flexibility to deal with unexpected events in the future, such as the COVID-19 crisis. Finally, remote working can give a renewed boost to cooperation and cohesion”.
 
Environmental Gains
 
There are also important environmental gains that arise from both meetings and working remotely. The Financial Times recently reported that, “daily carbon monoxide emissions have fallen almost 60 per cent across the EU since the Coronavirus lockdowns put the world economy into reverse.” Emissions from just cars and motorcycles were down 88 per cent. Other potentially harmful gases emitted by vehicles and industry have also declined during the pandemic. The Financial Times further reported that the European Space Agency said that its satellite observations showed sharp reductions in in nitrogen dioxide pollution in the big cities including, Madrid, Paris and Milan. In China, where the pandemic began, the lockdowns and the economic slowdown improved the country’s notoriously poor  air quality and wiped out the equivalent of the UK’s carbon emissions for six months.  The Financial Times suggests that those who are truly concerned about global warming and climate change believe the Coronavirus crisis is the ideal moment to rethink economic models.
 
On 21 March, the Times of Malta reported that nitrogen dioxide readings from morning rush hour in the period before and after the measures were implemented show an average 70 per cent drop in just one month, with experts pointing to less traffic on the roads. Nitrogen doxide is a noxious gas emitted by motor vehicles.  
 Holding meetings through digital communication also means that these meetings can also be held from home which means that the hours of people travelling to work in the morning can be staggered.
 
Role of Government
 
What applies to businesses equally applies to Government. In times of a crisis, it is critical that Government and its agencies must continue to continue to operate in a truly digital mode.  E-Government has big limitations and hardly ever provides a start-to-end solution. Government should take the opportunity from this crisis to embark on a massive digital transformation of its services to its end users. Digital agendas are led from the top. Every citizen should look up to a tech-savvy and digitally mature government to boldly set the standards, and lead the way. Armed with technologies and the capabilities to use them, government can be more agile, efficient, data-driven, transparent and connected to citizens. Government should, as far as possible, seek to serve people’s requirements digitally without the need to require them to visit ministries, government departments and agencies.  Singapore is clearly one of the countries to emulate. Government should encourage and promote more interactions with citizens digitally in an environment where issues are truly resolved and citizens properly served.  
 
One of the benefits of the COVID-19 crisis is that it requires us to think differently and to challenge what we have been doing. It requires us to reshape our economic recovery to one that is built around an “Economy of Hope” where growth is smarter, more sustainable and more inclusive and where economic and social sustainability is balanced. Where our mission should be bigger than just growth. It is not surprising that some have already taken the lead. The city of Amsterdam, for one, declared that it will base its economic recovery on the so called “Doughnut Economy.” The doughnut economic model aims to create a circular economy that people can all thrive in, rather than to target constant never-ending growth.
 
In the words of Howard Zinn, “we don't have to engage in grand, heroic actions to participate in the process of change. Small acts, when multiplied by millions of people, can transform the world.”
 David G. Curmi
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