Francesco Mazzagatti is in his home in Dubai. His companies, in the Viaro Group have offices in Dubai, London, Italy, Singapore and Hong Kong. The human suffering caused by this virus is, of course, the most important story but we cannot ignore the economic impact. While a great deal of attention in the current Coronavirus crisis focuses on individual countries and the economic problems this global health crisis has caused, the impact on global companies is correspondingly magnified.
“Our company spans the world, in addition to our offices, we have projects in Africa and South America. For us, the question is how we will do global business during and after this crisis”. For Mazzagatti and CEOs likes him who spend their lives on planes and whose interests span continents, this moment in history poses many problems. We highlight four of them in this article: different responses by different governments to the crisis, the challenge of home working, the difference between face to face meetings and skype ones and finally if we are seeing a massive acceleration of trends towards new ways of working.
Differences in government responses
Mazzagatti has noted very different responses between the governments of Italy and the UK, and those Singapore and Hong Kong. “We are monitoring the situation carefully of course. The most important thing is that our people are safe but there is also an economic impact.” The bailout proposals proposed in the different jurisdictions so far tend to favour domestic companies and the needs of mortgage payers. For transnational corporations, these packages may not help with the loss of income from the drying up of deal flows and trading patterns. The experience of our teams in different countries has also been very different. “Until last weekend the London team were still travelling, while the Italian team was shut down. I cannot now leave UAE.” While he agrees with all the measures being taken to protect people, from his unusually global perspective, he also notices the differences. As part of his business is as an oil trader, he is also facing the immense challenge of the collapse in global oil prices which began just before the coronavirus entered the current pandemic phase. It is a double whammy for a company like Viaro. “If ever there was a time when you needed to get on a plane and see people it is this time!”
Working from home
“For a company like ours home working is not particularly a problem because everyone is always moving around so much, we are rarely in the same office”. Most of the team have offices set up at home already, for some a secure phone and an internet connection constitute the home office. The problem is more the restrictions on travel mean that it is impossible to get to face to face meetings. Technology can do a great deal. In the same way that universities across the planet are moving to zoom and other video platforms to deliver the remaining lectures and seminars of the academic year, so the business world has moved to video conferencing. “For me, it is not the same”, says Francesco, “You need to meet someone in person to negotiate. Technology can only get you so far.”
Acceleration of trends
The experience of the Viaro Group at this time highlights that while this is most importantly a health crisis in which the welfare of people is paramount, it is also a moment of historical significance. The world will not be the same after this crisis. A number of key trends that were already present will be accelerated fast. In some respects, Mr Mazzagatti’s company was already ahead of the curve, in others they will face a challenging future. The flexible working pattern they already used in their global set of offices and staff teams was well suited to this moment and we will see many more companies adopt this kind of approach in the future. The world was moving in this direction. Covid-19 has speeded this up immensely. As meetings and other processes are redesigned for remote working the challenge will be finding ways to replicate the personal touch. If travel is going to be more difficult in the future, then the quality of the virtual meeting will need to improve drastically. And the oil price? Mazzagatti is sure that it will recover with time, but it is going to be a challenging period: “Global companies that survive this crisis will be those that change and adapt to the new circumstances the quickest. That is what we intend to do.