From adopting foreign technology to hosting virtual meetings, COVID-19 has given many organisations the challenge of a lifetime. Unfortunately, there’s no clear sign as to when industries will return to servicing customers the best way they know how. But how can we move beyond this as organisations – and not just return to normal – but return to better?
Jackie Rhodes, Managing Director of Thomson Reuters – Asia and Emerging Markets, conducted a virtual interview with Steve Hasker, Thomson Reuters’ President and CEO, to capture his insights from a global perspective.
When Steve was appointed as CEO in March, the business leader hit the ground running with two major responsibilities on his shoulders. He was asked to manage a renowned, global organisation remotely and ensure the health and safety of his team around the world.
The sit-down chat with Jackie was also the perfect starting point for Return to Better – Powered by Synergy, a Thomson Reuters virtual conference held recently. Steve spoke about business productivity during the pandemic, and how technologies are enabling our organisation and our clients. Additionally, it is Steve’s vision that Thomson Reuters becomes one of the best places to work in the world.
Below is a summary of their conversation, capturing their knowledge of how business leaders across the globe can implement a better tomorrow.
Interview with Steve Hasker, CEO of Thomson Reuters
Steve, you became a CEO of the company on March 15, which was three days before the COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic. I think it’s fair to say you’ve tackled both expected and unexpected challenges in your first five months. Can you tell us about your personal observations?
The only thing that occurred to me was we’re a business that’s driven by its people. We’re an intellectually capital-intensive business and the only thing that really matters is the health and welfare of our folks and our associates across the world. In that light, it was a simple decision to work from home.
Since then, I’ve been proud of all of the work everyone has done in serving customers and in looking after each other. We just continue to be focused on people’s health and, as the pandemic rages on, that will continue to be our focus.
I know you spent a lot of time meeting our customers and partners as they seek to innovate and find a new normal. Can you share any insights you’ve observed? Who’s winning in the current climate and why?
It’s been incredibly enlightening to hear how our customers are feeling and how they’re thinking about the prevailing circumstances, both from a personal level and a professional level. And as they oversee their firms, whether that’s law firms or tax and accounting, government agencies or corporates, our customers are by and large holding up pretty well.
While they’re talking about the problems and challenges they’re facing, I think they’re cautiously optimistic that they’ve built their firms and manage them in an appropriate way.
More broadly, we’re going to see quite a parting of the seas between the companies that are prepared – have been prepared well in terms of their technology investments – and have products that are built for operating in a virtual environment.
Those companies will not only survive this pandemic and the economic fallout, but they’ll thrive, while others will really struggle. I think it’s going to take us a while before we really start to see those seas part.
What role can technology play in creating new working practices?
What we’re going to see over the next couple of years are some lasting changes to consumer behaviour, but equally importantly, to professional behaviour. Technology will play a big role in that.
The idea that everyone stays working from home once the health crisis abates, I don’t think that will take place. I think there’s enough dependence on serendipity in terms of driving innovation and there’s enough of a community aspect and social aspect to being in an office that significant numbers of people will want to return to the office, but I think they’ll do it with different timeframes.
Offices will become far more technology-enabled and they’ll be more dynamic. There will be a fairly seamless process between working at home and being able to work quietly by yourself to get through a lot of tasks, versus being in the office and spending time with customers and colleagues.
Technology – whether it’s video conferencing or the ability to seamlessly share documents or versions of documents, all the way through to other communications tools, email, chat – all of those things I think will get better, smarter and more ubiquitous.
One of the questions we’ll be asking throughout this conference is how our changing working practices are impacting culture, and connectedness within organisations. Steve, what steps have you taken to address this impact on culture? And why is it important?
Corporate cultures are built up over decades, not over months, so what I have tried to do is focus on a couple of simple things. The first is the health of our people, particularly given the health crisis that we all face.
The second is customers and it’s really reminding everyone we’re a customer serving enterprise and we need to be obsessed with our customers.
At the end of the day, if you’re not obsessed with customers, if they don’t drive you to come to work or not interested in making their lives better, efficient, lucrative or fun, then it probably isn’t a great place to be.
And the third has been our talent. We have to become one of the world’s great places to work for the most talented people. We have to become truly world class at attracting, retaining and developing talent.
The pandemic seems to have sped up that slow process of change in some industries. So we’re seeing what would have taken years to complete in a matter of months. What is Thomson Reuters’ role in helping our customers tackle the increasingly global nature of their work?
We have a storied history of providing research and information to legal professionals, tax and accounting professionals, fraud, risk compliance and government agencies. There are many decades of proud service to those customer groups.
Going forward, we can and will forge the future of those professions. And I think that’s where we should set our aspirations. I think we need to be seen to be at the forefront in terms of creating the possibilities for professionals.
It means having solutions that are truly digital, virtual, that are served 24/7 and seamless in convenient ways and that are supplemented by truly world-class professional news. It’s tools that enable new forms of collaboration among our customers, among the colleagues within those customers and that enable new business models to extend their businesses in interesting ways.
If you think about a professional services firm, they will have a way of working that’s been built up over a period of time. Those ways are going to change as more people work from home and we need to be at the forefront of that.
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I think all of those things taken together, create a really exciting set of possibilities for us and in a lot of ways, endless possibilities and endless growth opportunities.
Final question, what predictions do you have for the future?
I’m confident enough to say that the health crisis will abate, we will go back to some form of normal. But two things I think will be true once we do that:
The first is there will be lasting change in terms of the behaviour of professionals, more people will work from home. I think a more diverse group of professionals will be associated in different and more fluid ways with firms. And I think they’ll use technology much more comprehensively.
Second, I think there’ll be a real parting of ways in terms of winners versus losers among our customer base, our competitors and this ever-growing number of startups. There’ll be those who really take advantage of the changes that occur, in terms of professional behaviour, and it’ll be those who are equipped to do so and provide solutions that are a part of the solution, rather than part of the problem.
And I think there’d be others that get caught behind, but it’s too early to tell where different companies and firms will lie in terms of that parting of the seas.
Returning to better, together
As businesses and organisations prepare for what’s ahead, it’s evident that long-term technology enablement investment is here to stay.
Working from home is one arrangement businesses will need to offer – as the pandemic continues (and even in a post-COVID-19 world). Acritas research shows that 61% of employees in the legal profession have had a better working experience since the pandemic began. A further 79% said they also want the option to work remotely for part or all of the working week.
Thomson Reuters will continue to support its clients as they brace for future challenges. One way the organisation does this is through its continued investment in transformative technologies, benchmarking insights and world-class news.
Jackie concluded the interview by stating that putting this thinking into practice can help businesses better prepare for the challenges ahead.
“The level of innovation being fast-tracked during this time has been inspiring. We truly are an organisation driven by our people.”
What are global leaders predicting will happen next in the tax and legal industries? Check out our interview with two Return to Better thought leaders.