As I write this editorial, the COVID-19 pandemic has had, and continues to have, a long-lasting effect on New Zealand and the rest of the world. Everyone has been affected in some way – to a greater or lesser degree.
During lockdown, our physical environment changed with significantly less pollution and fewer emissions. It was quieter with only a handful of vehicles on the road, and we could more easily see and hear our native birds. Our focus altered to our home and families, going for long walks and enjoying each other's company.
We have new words in our vocabulary – bubbles, clusters, COVID, zoom meetings, rental abatement, wage subsidies, essential workers, self-isolation and social-distancing. Nearly 1,200 have contracted the virus and 22 people have died here in New Zealand.
Back to 'almost normal'
We are now in Alert Level 1 where day-to-day life has almost returned to what used to be normal. We can enjoy close proximity to our family and friends, return to work in the office, and relish going out to a café. Buying goods in a bricks-and- mortar shop is possible again, as is playing sport, going to the cinema, travelling within the country and hopefully planning an overseas trip for 2021. Our border, however, remains closed.
Despite a return to almost normal, for most of us life has changed considerably. We are particularly aware of the need to wash our hands more often and some are wary of getting too close to others in a crowd. Now we all sneeze or cough into our elbows and know that if we are feeling unwell we must stay home. Staying well and managing our health will be the focus of our lives for months to come.
Impact on business
For those of us in business, the landscape has changed significantly. COVID has had an impact on every business – for better or worse. The tourism, retail and hospitality industries have been ravaged. Many other sectors have been profoundly affected by the reduction in demand and the changes in the economy. Although businesses have welcomed the government's rapid response in terms of the wage subsidy schemes, assistance with loans and other initiatives, it will not be sufficient to save many of them.
COVID has, however, provided opportunities to work in a different way. With many employees working from home during lockdown, having a home office has now become a serious option for many; it has made many of us think hard about the way in which we want our businesses to operate in the future.
We have to consider how we retain the culture of our workplaces when many of our employees may not physically be present in one place. Continuing to nurture the collegiality and collaboration that is an integral component of developing innovative products and services is important. We need to do this in a way that is a win-win for all.
The pandemic environment also enabled some businesses to be nimble, and their creativity resulted in the development of new products and services in the changed environment. New apps, and new online shopping and delivery options came about. This ability to maximise opportunities and think differently about the way in which work happens will be critical to how businesses ensure they have a sustainable future. Out of a black COVID cloud, it is good to see a silver lining for many in business and in our personal lives.
In this new normal, if you would like a sounding board on how to adapt your business or personal affairs, or you are looking for some advice, your NZ LAW member firm can offer guidance as you grapple with this new post-COVID environment.
We are here to help.
Stay safe, stay healthy and be kind.
Chair, NZ LAW Limited