New business working models: what has changed with Covid-19

The Covid-19 pandemic has forced companies to undertake the most significant social experiment in recent history. Many workers now find themselves performing tasks they could not even have imagined a few weeks ago, while companies have adapted their plants in order to produce masks, surgical scrubs or lung ventilators. While reinventing corporate organisation around today’s challenging economic situation may bring about inevitable obstacles and negative spill-over in the short term, it may also accelerate the future of the world of work and business organisation and allow for greater resilience, efficiency and sustainability. The dramatic situation the entire world is experiencing because of the Covid-19 pandemic is giving rise to new trends that, once the emergency is over, will have to open a serious and in-depth discussion on the new working models.

The wide-spread use of smart working among companies, for example, is an opportunity to further encourage inclusion. The development of new technological platforms which facilitate working from home may push companies to hire people with disabilities, reduce geographical distances and favour people – mainly women – who take care of children, the elderly or unwell family members. On the other hand, the possible risks triggered by such a transformation remain: in a letter to the Italian Minister of Technological Innovation and Digitalisation, Paola Pisano, the President of the Italian Economic Association, Alberto Zazzaro, recently stressed that “given the unequal roles in the distribution of care and domestic work (OECD data shows that Italian women work 1.5 hours a day more than men when counting paid as well as unpaid work), it is very likely that the Covid-19 pandemic containment measures will further increase women’s workloads with potential negative long-term consequences for female employment and gender pay gaps”. While it may be interesting to ask how attainable gender equality actually was before the pandemic, it is now essential to structure the aftermath in a way that makes equality a permanent reality. And the starting point is the crucial role that women hold, especially in times of crisis, in the family.

Working remotely can also promote increased diversity and inclusion as it allows companies to tap into a much more diversified talent pool and opens up working opportunities for people in geographically isolated areas. Remote work can also foster a more inclusive environment by providing a safe place for those who may feel discriminated against in the workplace. And working from home can be particularly useful for workers – mainly women – who are responsible for taking care of children, the elderly or unwell family members; provided that this is done under normal conditions, in other words under true gender equality, which in turn must be accompanied by an adequate pluralism of ideas, especially where decisions on the economic future of the country are made.

This crisis is also accelerating the pre-existing move towards digitalisation. In confusing and worrying times, technology can help entrepreneurs and support customers: innovation accelerates response times to the current situation and guarantees the safety of workers in their daily lives and activities. South East Asia is a prime example of how politics has encouraged investments, specifically in the case of Gojek and Grab, the redistribution and delivery companies competing for market share in the region. Other good examples include the Polish company MedApp that has invested in the Baltic states, allowing cardiovascular diagnoses through telemedicine, and Interswitch, a payment processing company based in Lagos, Nigeria. A strong basic digital infrastructure is therefore the key to the development and growth of the digital economy. Attracting digital investments, however, also requires favourable regulatory frameworks, such as policies and measures that encourage investments in payment processors. Successfully attracting foreign digital investments can bring significant advantages to local businesses, especially small and medium enterprises. Only if there is tangible progress in this area will it be possible to enable the growth of digital goods and services by attracting investments, thereby helping the global economy to recover from the current crisis.

Digital Technologies, an Italian company based in Milan, is an interesting example that showcases the usefulness of technology in ensuring the health of employees and clients, as well as allowing businesses to resume production. They have created digital anti-coronavirus tools, such as the Tupucheckpro thermal scanner, which are enormously helpful for daily business management: in less than a second the thermal scanner reads a person’s temperature and determines whether they are wearing a mask. This is done autonomously, without the help of trained personnel and with no contact between people; simply stand in front of a tablet and it will respond in less than a second with audio and visual signals. The scanner also permits maximum integration with the company’s pre-existing security and access systems. To ensure social distancing and a safe reopening, Digital Technologies has also proposed a technological solution for institutions, companies and people: an app called DT Shield, an integrated ecosystem for prevention and protection in the workplace for employees and clients, that can be used on a mobile or wearable device. The aim is to identify and trace potential contacts with people found positive for the coronavirus and notify users.

Supporting digital competitiveness can, therefore, help economies recover from the Covid-19 pandemic: from virtual meetings to automated factories to online ordering, digital services are becoming increasingly important, permeating a growing number of sectors and activities. However, we are still a long way from a new model: to make this happen, it will be crucial to support digital competitiveness in the post-pandemic era, especially through foreign direct investments (FDI) which contribute to generating technology, know-how, jobs and growth. It is no coincidence that in its annual country specific recommendations, the European Commission has underlined the need to invest in the environment and digitalisation. As part of the next long-term EU budget – the Multiannual Financial Framework – the Commission also proposed a programme centred on reinforcing strategic digital capacities and promoting the wide-ranging use of digital technologies. With a total planned budget of 9.2 billion dollars, the programme aims to shape and support the digital transformation of Europe’s society and economy.