Challenges and Tough Choices

By Ennio Vita-Finzi

There is no doubt that over the last six months our status quo has been shaken. We have all faced many unusual challenges and have had to make life-altering decisions about things we have long taken for granted. While many are suffering, others are benefiting from the situation.

Corporate examples:

Losing money – with fewer people working in offices, many tenants are stuck with expensive commercial leases for corporate office space and related services. Commercial landlords are learning that their real estate is no longer as profitable and are desperately looking for ways to make up their losses.

Saving money – simultaneously, a 2015 Stanford University survey found that workers are just as productive working from home as they did at the office. In addition, a 2017 study by The American Economic Review reported that workers were generally willing to take up to an 8% pay-cut to work from home.

Available expertise – many companies are now relying on retired seniors with appropriate business experience who are seeking a new career, or simply want to keep busy. According to The Economist, the world’s senior population that is expected to double by 2050 and employers are already finding this a valuable source of expertise.

Overlooked source of profits – hiring fewer full-time employees drops a company’s overhead costs in salaries and benefits. Replacing permanent staff with outsourced contractors is an attractive option. Hiring consultants on a per-project basis (whose costs can be written off as an expense), improves a company’s bottom line. When seeking contract work, many new “independents” are emphasizing this point when promoting their contract expertise.

Less work-related stress – several studies show that employees’ stress levels have generally fallen by more than 10% when working from home and many employers report that working hours have increased by almost 20%. A Stanford University study found that people who worked from home made fewer overtime claims and were more productive.

Client relationships – interaction with clients is quicker via the internet and sales staff generally find it easier and faster to access clients. No time is lost traveling to visit them, and networking online is something most people are knowledgeable about because of their personal social media expertise.

Future working habits – Facebook, Apple, Netflix and Google have largely emptied much of their office space and their employees now enjoy working from home. Facebook and Google will reportedly allow them to do so till the end of 2020 and Twitter has even said that staff may never come back to work in offices.

Commuting – a survey by Britain’s Office for National Statistics reports that commuters are less happy and have higher levels of anxiety than non-commuters. The extra time spent at home has resulted in higher productivity, happier workers and better family life.

Real estate – downtown office landlords are seeking ways to replace lost rental revenue and are looking at creative ways to make money. Thinking ahead to a post-COVID-19 world, owners of some downtown towers are considering turning half of their buildings into “plantscrapers”, based on the Swedish Plantagon concept. The tower would contain automated indoor hydroponic farms whose vegetables and fruit would be sold to downtown restaurants.

Personal examples:

Health considerations – a Canadian exporter’s top salesman risked getting fired by refusing to travel to the US for the company’s annual visit to a trade show. In spite of the CEO’s insistence, the increased potential of catching the virus in the US and infecting his family was too great. The boss eventually postponed the trip when he also weighed the doubtful profit of participating in a poorly attended trade show against his own family’s health.

Finding your voice – as part of her official training, a rookie opposition MP had been instructed to find ways to criticise any proposals tabled by the party in power, regardless of their value. One day, rather than blindly disagreeing with the Minister on a topic she believed was being handled properly she spoke out in favour of it. As a result, she soon found a different career.

Family concerns: concerned parents who naturally wanted their children to have a proper education nevertheless chose to keep them at home, finding other ways to educate them while the viral danger was unresolved. They felt that haphazard plans and unfulfilled promises by educational authorities were insufficient to protect their family.

Life lessons: a young anti-masker thoroughly enjoyed participating with her boyfriend in various downtown demonstrations. Although she was secretly bothered by others’ racist comments, she loved being part of a movement that demonstrated against a government apparently bent on robbing her of her civil liberties. She discarded the media’s reports of victims of an unproven virus till she also developed a cough and could not breathe. Only when surrounded by other hospitalised infected people who were also trying to survive, did she understand how wrong she had been?

These examples prove that the COVID-19 pandemic has made us all rethink our goals and taught us many valuable lessons. Re-evaluating our previous comfort zones is something we can all learn to do on a regular basis, but, especially when faced by new life challenges.

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