The COVID Diaries: sales 1

The following interview is with an Australian-based fixed-income salesperson. It was conducted on 8 May 2020.

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

In the next few weeks we will go back to a team A-team B schedule, which we initially started doing before deciding to send everyone home when the crisis started. Only critical staff have been allowed back in since then. Of course the timeline and final planning will be determined in light of the federal government’s outline today.

I find that if you are not in the office and your intent is to be productive, you can actually get a lot done. But it has made me aware of how much time is lost in meetings that go nowhere. There is something to be said for coming out of this being mindful of creating proper productivity versus a meeting for a meeting’s sake.

A lot of people have talked about how everything is taking longer in this environment. How have you found adapting to working from home from a functionality perspective?

One of the ways we are going to challenge that is to let people make more decisions without having to place a call to get unnecessary approval. We want to try to eliminate the requirement of sign-off for sign-off’s sake. In some cases, we are attaching firm deadlines to be more efficient.

Big organisations have spent a lot of time getting sign-off from their stakeholders and finding they have more stakeholders than they thought. It spirals out of control quickly in an environment like this. People and businesses need to be accountable for their decisions.

We are not being overly casual about this. We are entrusting people to make the right decisions and to back themselves in making the right decisions. We have seen huge productivity gains around customers getting greater clarity quickly. This has been one of the positives coming out of COVID-19.

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?

Reflecting back upon what happened during the GFC, there were unintended consequences for banks. The federal government helped the banks a lot but in turn it created a poor image of them among the public.

I am hopeful the unintended consequences of COVID-19 become intended, by which I mean easing the burden on the planet, investing in public health – including being compensated properly – and changing the way people think about issues. The dramatic impact on people’s lives – people who have the capacity to vote – means governments will have to think hard about getting people back into the workforce.

Governments will also have to think about how they can avoid a similar pandemic and economic fallout from occurring again.

The old formula of cutting business taxes might have to be dispensed with. Yields are incredibly low and this provides the opportunity for governments to borrow money to reinvigorate the community rather than corporations.

“The old formula of cutting business taxes might have to be dispensed with. Yields are incredibly low and this provides the opportunity for governments to borrow money to reinvigorate the community rather than corporations.”

As restrictions are lifted, are you more or less optimistic about the crisis and the potential for a second wave than you were during the early acceleration period?

I am much more comfortable with the social distancing and personal hygiene people are applying at the moment. It has the ability to be a permanent structural shift amongst the population so I am not as concerned as I would have been two months ago. People are now very aware. Clusters will pop up but hopefully the government can sweep in and stop them spreading.

I am comfortable with the app the federal government has put together and that will be helpful for contact-tracing.

I think Australia and New Zealand have done a very good job at stopping the spread, too.

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

Society has had an enormous shock. There will be an immediacy to reopening and re-employment, followed by a serious rethink by some companies on the risk they have taken on in their business models.

Interest rates will stay at these levels, if not go lower, for an awfully long time. The obsession with lowest cost delivery as a good thing, such as farmers being squeezed for milk, will not be the raison d’etre among corporates.

The potential for technology during this crisis has been on display. I can see a lot of changes to how some businesses, as well as industries, operate.

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 am reading the most recent Winston Churchill biography. I’m doing so to get some perspective on the claims of how bad the current situation is.

I also recently got into Wim Hof – “The Iceman”. He promotes breathing exercises as a way to relax and focus your mind. I find it helpful for maintaining my quality of life during lockdown and not drifting into boredom. He is an unusual cat, but very interesting.

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