COVID-19 and the Business World: A Risky Return to Reality
03 July 2020
MANY BUSINESSES have been able to make the transition from on-site to remote working, but the time will come when the focus is back on the office environment. Alistair Enser outlines why security companies need to help their customers address the changes in their risk profiles and assist them to navigate the potential shift from cyber security threats to civil disturbance, for example, and from commercial theft to on-premises abuse or even violence.
In the 2018 film ‘Ready Player One’, humanity lives in an online fantasy and, as a result, people have lost any grounding in reality. Everyone spends their time effectively living and communicating through their online persona. Sound familiar? Those readers of Security Matters who’ve spent the last few months working from home and who are now suffering from Zoom or Teams fatigue (or both) might be able to relate to this situation.
Their predicament sprang to mind when reading an interesting report by the Digital Health and Care Institute which addresses the various ways in which organisations might now plan for a return to work.
What’s particularly striking are the two contrary positions within. The report cites a McKinsey study suggesting that 80% of respondents have enjoyed working from home. Yet another study, this time by the British Council for Offices, found that just one-in-five UK adults plan to work primarily from home in the future, with only 16% hoping that home working will become a norm. The situation, then, is far from clear.
I’ve written before about the successful transition that organisations like ours have made to remote working, and how it has freed people to be more productive and creative. However, we must never discount the human element and the need for intimacy, connection and belonging. These are difficult to nurture from a remote location.
There are clearly benefits to be had from working in a shared environment, whether this is the sharing of information or the creative spur that working in an office provides. I also read recently of how important it is for those who are starting out on their professional lives to work from an office as it helps them learn how to interact with their peers. A nation of remote workers may be convenient, but in such a scenario people do risk losing the social skills and satisfaction built through working in a shared office environment.
As an industry, we can do much to help our customers prepare for that journey. Whether it’s repurposing existing technology to assist with visitor management or temperature screening, there are many opportunities to add value and protect people.
With the re-opening of pubs, restaurants and hairdressers on 4 July (which has been dubbed ‘Super Saturday’), there’s a very real possibility of offices beginning to re-open in the near future. For some, after months of home haircuts, a return to reality has never looked so appealing.
However, reality, as they say, has a tendency to bite. No doubt the future will be bright, but we’re experiencing bumps in the road and, as a security industry, we must remain focused, look beyond COVID-19 and play our part.
We’ve been understandably preoccupied with the pandemic, yet we were reminded only recently that risk takes on many forms. A horrific terrorist incident in Reading was followed by harrowing scenes of knife violence in Glasgow. There were mass brawls on Bournemouth beach as half a million people escaped the frustrations of lockdown and took to the sea. Up north, having won the Premiership, hundreds of Liverpool fans congregated outside the city’s Liver building where there were inevitable scenes of disruption.
Elsewhere, police officers were attacked when they tried to break up a street party in London, while outdoor raves attracting thousands of bored and frustrated young people are becoming more frequent.
Worryingly, this week when non-essential stores began opening up, the Union of Shop, Distribution and Allied Workers warned that abuse against retail workers has doubled since the outbreak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
We’ve been warned to expect a considerable dip in GDP this year and much higher rates of unemployment. Economic downturn creates social pressures and, typically, brings about a potential rise in crime and civil unrest.
So while social, economic and environmental conditions may explain much of this behaviour, we’re still faced with a challenging question: ‘How do we keep control of this as a nation?’ COVID-19 is here for a while and is clearly a focus for all of us, but let us not lose sight of the bigger picture.
Faced with this shift in risk, businesses need to ask themselves if they’re more susceptible as a result. Are businesses; people, property and assets at increased risk? Our industry was borne out of physical crime, safety and risk. In recent years it has evolved into smart buildings and cyber. At least for the short term, it appears that the profile of crime may revert or change. We need to help customers address the changes in their risk profiles and assist them to navigate the potential shift from cyber security threats to civil disturbance, for example, and from commercial theft to on-premises abuse or even violence.
Technological solutions do exist to support businesses faced with these new challenges. There is light on the horizon and we have much to be positive about, but we’re not out of the woods just yet.
Alistair Enser is CEO at Reliance High-Tech