The COVID Diaries: corporate borrower 3

The following interview is with an Australian-based corporate treasurer. It was conducted on 1 May 2020.

Does your business have a timeline for returning to office working – and are you looking forward to it?

We have no official timeline yet. The company’s view is that it will take guidance from the state and federal governments, but at the same time we are planning for how we might go about returning to the office.

I am not sure what the government restrictions may be when we are encouraged to return to the office, but I think we can envisage social distancing to be a part of the messaging for a good while. We are planning for what that might look like in our workplace.

Has your view of the crisis and the nature of the challenges it presents changed? It seems Australia has prioritised public health over the economy, at least in the medium term. How are you thinking about that trade off?

I was monitoring the COVID-19 crisis from the start. I had travel plans in early March so I had a heightened awareness of what was going on globally.

It is an evolving situation. Three weeks ago I would have been a lot more pessimistic about predicting the short-to-medium term outlook but now there is a lot of room for optimism about the health crisis recovery in Australia.

I hope the economic recovery, as a consequence, will be quicker given the improving health situation. The prime minister announced today that the government is bringing forward the discussion for easing lockdown restrictions to next Friday [8 May], which sounds like a great step.

The trade-off between public health and the economy was absolutely necessary at the start of the crisis. The rate of escalation in Australia at the beginning of the crisis was alarming, but since we have got on top of it so well I think people are quite rightly asking whether we can come out of these restrictions earlier so the economic situation doesn’t worsen.

“Employees will want more flexibility than they have received previously, and quite rightly so. From what I have seen and hear from others, this situation has proven to employers that their staff can work at home and be productive.”

What about the potential for a second wave of the virus to hit the community when the restrictions are lifted?

We seem to have exceeded the expectations of health experts so I think people will do the right thing to prevent the virus from flaring up.

The uptake of the COVIDSafe app has not been as strong as the government would have liked. But as we come into a winter, a time when people generally get sick, I think there will be less interaction in the community – which is a good thing.

How do you think things will be different when we get back to normal? What changes can you see to work practices, social changes and the economy?

I have thought about the work changes quite a lot because it is very topical. Employees will want more flexibility than they have received previously, and quite rightly so. From what I have seen and hear from others, this situation has proven to employers that their staff can work at home and be productive.

Prior to this, I would have said I was easily more productive in the office. But technology has held up really well and we are using it a lot to make ourselves more integrated and productive. Microsoft Teams, which we have just started using, has made it very easy to collaborate with people. I lose track of the amount of video calls I do every day – it is well into the double digits.

I am actually interested in how we may integrate the functionality of Microsoft Teams as a team when we get back into our normal office-based working environment. I have staff in different locations and we never used video calling before but now it will become second nature.

As a treasurer, I have the opportunity to socialise quite a bit but I think that will be different in the future. The banks will need to find different ways to leverage their networks. I am not talking about the lunches or dinners – it’s the educational opportunities they present with their economists, strategists that it will be interesting to see evolve over time. More generally, how social engagements as a working community will be different in the future.

The other aspect I am interested in is how building personal relationships will evolve when you are behind a digital wall rather than face to face. People will need to adapt and develop new skills.

We have been asking people what they have been reading relating to the crisis but we think everyone has seen enough by this stage. So what are your entertainment recommendations for lockdown?

I have been focused on my health. My partner said to me we can either come out of this fat or fit. I have always been quite active anyway and noticing early on that your step count can be significantly reduced when working from home I have been doing a lot of walking and a bit of running to keep active. Exercise is also good for mental health, so that has been helping me get through this.

KangaNews is your source for the latest on the COVID-19 pandemic’s impact on Australasian debt capital markets. For complete coverage, click here.