Tweaking business practices during a second wave

After containing COVID-19 with relative stealth at the start of this year, parts of Australia continue to face a second wave of the virus.

Metropolitan Melbourne remains in stage four lockdown, with daily cases falling but still the highest in the country. While the lockdown is isolated to one part of Australia, there are ramifications for those in other states as well.  

Most businesses adopted COVID strategies earlier in the year, many of which have had to be refined as the threat remerged.

The state of play

According to the Australian Bureau of Statistics (ABS), almost three quarters of Australian businesses (73%) had modified some aspect of their operations due to COVID-19 since the pandemic began.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the most common changes were hygiene protocols and limitations to the number of visitors onsite.

How businesses are currently operating depends largely on their location.

In Victoria, businesses have returned to remote operations en-masse, while in other parts of Australia, a hybrid model has been adopted by many.

Some advisers are offering face-to-face advice with limits on how many clients in the office at a given time and social distancing protocols. However, others say clients are overwhelmingly happier with remote consultations.

Changing client expectations

The anecdotal sentiments are echoed by a COVID-19 survey from KPMG last month, which found 80 per cent prefer digital advice to the face-to-face model in the current environment.

The report said clients were increasingly viewing digital advice as “the new normal”, but there was still a stronger preference for the model among younger people than over-65s.

“While nearly two-thirds of consumers now believe they should be able to deal with providers solely through digital channels, an older minority still need to have their trust earned and convinced of the benefits,” Tim Thomas, a spokesman from KPMG FS strategy, said.

Those who preferred the face-to-face model stressed they were keen to return to it when safely able to do so.  

The survey of 1,500 people also found a strong post-COVID preference for digital communication methods – such as email – compared to pre-COVID times.

“Despite the financial pressures many people face, there is much here that financial planners can take heart from,” Mr Thomas said.

“Personal relationship with advisers is often as important as the funds invested in, so regular engagement is critical, and this must be through a variety of channels, given that two-thirds now want to go wholly online.”

Here we go again

Having been through a shutdown previously, many businesses have identified what works and what doesn’t in terms of daily communication practices and workflows.

However, for those that have made the move back to the office then swiftly returned to remote working conditions, the second transition hasn’t been easy.

For businesses with employees working from home, SafeWork Australia recommends making sure working hours boundaries are set and there is a ‘log off’ time, allowing flexible schedules and appointing a contact person at the company who employees can reach out to if things become difficult.

Key takeaways:

  • Regular communication is key for all clients about how the business is adapting its response to changing health conditions and government regulations. Some businesses are doing this weekly.
  • Advice delivery models are often being dictated by client demand – whether that’s safe face-to-face meetings or remote consultations.
  • Psychological fatigue is a risk with a second wave. Systems should be set up and clearly communicated to reduce and manage the risk.

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