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Business After the Pandemic


Steven Brown
Steven Brown

In this time of social distancing, it gives us time to think and muse about the "bigger" questions. This isolation has led me to my uni days of studying philosophy: in particular the work of Thomas Kuhn. Kuhn said that scientists work within a framework of paradigms that they do not question. Going with the flow and not questioning why or seeing if there are other and better ways of doing something.

Kuhn's views on science made me think about what is happening now with the coronavirus. The impact it is having on the way we conduct business. In the past, going with the flow meant that we did business in person, by letter and telephone. Everything was physical and tactile. We went to shops, touched and picked up what we wanted, took them to a counter, and paid for them in cash. Left the store and travelled home.

With the advent of the internet, the paradigm shifted. We reduced our face-to-face meetings. Emails replaced letters. Emails forwarded documents instead of couriers. We started to reduce the experience of physical and tactile shopping to online shopping via Amazon.

The move from physical shopping and person to person meetings was changing. Yet, going with the flow meant that in business, we were sticking to what we have always done. True, there was Zoom, Skype, and FaceTime for us to meet online. But holding with going with the flow, we continued to meet in person. We were not being pushed to change; so we did not change. The physical paradigm for doing business remained.

The coronavirus for me is, the catalyst for the paradigm to shift. Whereas the norm was for there to be physical meetings, online meetings will replace them.

Since the introduction of the bans on groups meeting and movement, business owners must look at how to survive while not being able to operate in the physical world. Consider the following examples. Clients in the medical world fearful of them being in contact with patients having the coronavirus want to have new Wills. To sign a will the person making the Will has to sign the physical document, their Will, in front of two people over 18 years of age. There was the need for the witnesses to see the maker of the Will sign their name to the document. While work such as signing wills is not yet banned. It is socially responsible to consider how to minimise the risk of the witnesses to being in contact with people not from their home. How is a will to be signed if not person to person? The rule is that the witnesses see the person making the will sign it and then add their signatures. When this rule was legislated, the only way of satisfying the law was for everyone being in the same place at the same time. The will-maker needed to be with the two witnesses. Coronavirus ban: Paradigm shift to online meetings. The rule is that the witnesses must see the will-maker sign the document. Do this by having the will-maker receive the draft will by email. The will-maker then prints the Will or using an iPad (or similar device) signs the Will in full view of the witnesses. The draft will can be seen on each person's screen so that each paragraph can be discussed. Each page can be seen as signed by the will-maker. The entire event with all present (albeit online) is recorded. You have a record as verification. The signed Will is returned to the legal firm where the witnesses sign it.

Another situation is that of taking a statutory declaration or affidavit. The person making the declaration, or swearing or affirming the affidavit, must do so in front of an authorised witness. Again, the online meeting with screen sharing and recording allows for the declaration or affidavit to be taken. Business continues. The paradigm shift has commenced.

It is likely that the paradigm shift would have occurred without the pandemic we must endure. But the pandemic is pushing business to look at new ways to operate in an environment of physical isolation. The online environment is the new paradigm shift that business will use. Going with the flow will mean that online meetings will replace face-to-face meetings. Documents will be signed by online witnessing instead of being in the same location with everyone present.

The shift in paradigm will likely lead to other changes. As yet being at the interface of the paradigm shift, what those changes will be is unknown. The new paradigm will be an exciting way of working. With the new paradigm, Etienne Lawyers can contemporaneously stay working and practice our social distancing.

Our "virtual" doors remain open. I encourage all of you to think outside of the box and look at ways to keep your doors open and to survive the closing down of the economy by shifting to the new paradigm. Having embarked on this voyage of discovery, we are available (online) to help you.


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