Reimagining the city of London as if you were a new board of directors

With the vaccine roll-outs, I can’t help but think what a post-Covid London is going to look like, and how we are going to promote The City on the world stage moving forward.

None of us are the same after the year we have endured. The same goes for The City. As a result, it will have to reconsider how it operates, re-emphasise its strengths and ‘relaunch’ itself. The City has a long history as a global financial and professional services centre. One of the key reasons for that reputation has been the sheer concentration of talent and business knowledge that (traditionally) congregates in the Square Mile each working day. We are one of the most diverse financial and professional service providers in the world, home to some of the leading global brands, celebrated for the rich connections that can be made here, valued for the face-to-face interactions and capacity for sharing skillsets for the benefit of clients.

Leadership needs to harness teams for the best results

These things are still intrinsic parts of The City. However, it is unlikely that the way we worked pre-Covid will resume in quite the same way as before. For one, much debate hinges on the new work from home culture. While it has been lauded as a lifeline during the lockdown, it isn’t necessarily the singular solution moving forward. Industry dependent, many employers are finding that productivity simply isn’t as high when employees work from home and that up to 25% of their time is taken up with the organising of yet more Zoom meetings. The result is that many organisations (including government departments) are quite severely behind in their workloads.

That said, an increased work from home culture seems bound to continue in some capacity. The plus sides being the opportunity for social distancing and the wellbeing and lifestyle benefits of no commuting arguably resulting in a happier workforce. Many companies are already adopting a ‘3/2 week’, with employees working three days at home and two in the office, or the other way around. No doubt other solutions and variations on the theme will continue to emerge moving forward. In some instances, these changes mean that companies are able to downsize their office spaces and reduce their fixed overheads.

Part of the leadership role is to harness teams and give them the capability and environment to be as productive and efficient as possible. The shape of this, and the way that shape is communicated to the world, will not only have an impact on day-to-day productivity but also on our ability to attract both new business and prospective talent to The City moving forward.

Resizing, re-profiling, reprioritising

While we reconsider our processes, we also need to recognise that the realities surrounding real employment have been softened by the furlough. While talk has been rife about the scale of potential unemployment figures to come out of Covid-19, with many individuals already having already lost their jobs with devastating consequences, the potential fallout from this year has not yet hit. The government’s economic watchdog estimates that UK unemployment is likely to reach 2.6 million in the middle of 2021, or 7.5% of the working-age population. Many speculate that this is understated.

One of the upshots for companies of employees working from home, and often with a reduced number of staff as well, has meant that many have discovered that they can, in fact, operate more effectively with fewer people. This may be good news for their bottom line, but not for employment rates. That doesn’t mean they shouldn’t engage with more efficient practices, but it’s yet another thing that will change the shape of the City and how it works moving forward. There will be an inevitable resizing and re-profiling of businesses – maybe even a re-prioritisation. 

All of these things and more will change how we market The City and continue to ensure its place on the world stage. We need to ask ourselves questions, such as:

  • Is The City safe/Covid-secure?
  • How do we continue to attract talent?
  • How do we ensure the collective culture that The City’s value is built on continues?
  • How do we ensure the continued exchange of ideas and knowledge?
  • How do we communicate the value of what the City delivers?
  • If the City doesn’t now operate like the old City, how does it ensure all those people come together in the best way for the purposes of their clients?

Who’s selling us to the world?

At the end of the day, we’re a trading nation, and we need to continue to trade. As we look forward, it’s about restarting The City, with all that knowledge of centuries of experience and the benefits of technology and building on opportunities of the future. We need to ensure that the people who are responsible for marketing our financial heartland, are those who have an understanding of international business. We need to get back to trading, marketing ourselves overseas and being commercially astute about our most valuable brand – ‘The City’.

One of the best pieces of advice I was ever given in my career was when I sat on the Board of a company, and we thought we were about to be sold. A consultant came in and asked: “What do you think, if you are sold, the new Board will do?’ We went through a series of possibilities and opportunities. At the end of the discussion, the consultant simply asked us: “So why haven’t you done those things already?” 

It is a lesson I have carried with me. It’s a healthy exercise that forces you to look realistically at your organisation from the outside and address all the issues that you have been ignoring or putting off. It encourages you to reimagine and reengineer your business and ultimately leads to more efficient and profitable processes, or a greater conviction about existing ones. It is the same process we need to apply to The City of London as we prepare to re-launch on the world stage.

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