The economic and cultural impact of the coronavirus crisis is so severe that it will change business forever, a top Deloitte executive has said.
David Sproul, Deloitte’s global deputy chief executive, told City A.M. that rapid changes in working habits and use of technology since the pandemic outbreak would likely never be reversed.
“I’m absolutely certain that business is not going to go back to how it was in any aspect and certainly in terms of the way work is done and office locations,” he said.
Speaking on the City View podcast, Sproul said it was “extraordinary” how well companies had adapted to remote working since the start of the lockdown, adding that this would help them to implement a gradual return to work.
But the professional services chief said that many businesses would choose to adopt flexible working policies permanently for at least some of their employees.
“We’re going to see a very slow return to the office for obvious health reasons, but we may see that slow return being in advance of a gradual shift to only perhaps half of people returning to offices full-time,” he said.
Yesterday RBS said that more than three-quarters of its staff will work from home until at least September, while Facebook chief executive Mark Zuckerberg said he expected half of his company’s 48,000 employees to work remotely in the next five to 10 years.
Sproul, who previously led Deloitte’s UK operations and has more than three decades’ experience in the sector, said that while global economies had been in the early stages of a “secular shift” to technology, the Covid-19 crisis had accelerated this process.
“What this pandemic has caused is change to be instantaneous,” he said.
In addition, Sproul said he expected “serious dislocation” in the way offices — and even cities — were used.
However, he stopped short of stating that the pandemic would spell the end of traditional offices and urbanisation.
“There’s a vibrancy and a combustion that still comes from people coming together from different backgrounds and you can’t replicate all of that remotely,” he said.
Sproul echoed the downbeat sentiments of many economists, saying the chances of a v-shaped recovery from the downturn were “very slim indeed”.
However, he insisted that businesses and economies would be able to adapt to the changes.
“I think we’ll adapt… I think the real challenge is the pace of adaptation that is required. This is something that no one had a plan for.”