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Economist: hold off on far-reaching changes

Business leaders should hold off on making far-reaching decisions based on the idea that things have changed for good because of the pandemic, a leading economist, author and business adviser said yesterday.

Noreena Hertz, keynote speaker at the virtual Bermuda Captive Conference, also advised that decision-makers should schedule time for thinking and help remote-working staff deal with loneliness.

Dr Hertz said: “I would caution very strongly not to fall into the thinking trap that some currently are and assume that where we are today is the new normal.

“It's simply too soon to make that call. And too many companies, I think, are making radical changes to their physical footprints and modes of engagement today under the assumption that the world has irreversibly changed. Perhaps, but perhaps not.

““Where possible, I would say, do not wed yourself to irreversible options, but instead try to maximise optionality, at least for now.”

Dr Hertz said research had showed that even before the pandemic struck, levels of loneliness and social isolation were at all-time highs.

She added: “Months of lockdown and social-distancing inevitably have made this worse. The need for connection and community has never been greater.”

Businesses should think of how they help their staff feel connected.

“One thing to do is, if you can work at least some days in the office, encourage your staff to do so,” she said. “Research shows that even 1½ to two days a week really makes a difference to how connected and happy people feel.”

Providing opportunities for employees to eat together at lunchtime, or have breaks together, had been found to boost productivity, as well as happiness, she added.

Dr Hertz, a prolific author, released her latest book this week, The Lonely Century — Coming Together in a World That's Pulling Apart.

Dr Hertz said that the quality of decision-making depended partly on basic factors such as sleep, stress levels and how recently one ate. She also advised on carving out time to think within a busy work schedule.

“If we don't take time to think, we risk being hamsters on a wheel, constantly doing, but not knowing why,” she said. “And we risk dealing only with the immediate, rather than what's most important. We risk condemning ourselves to a state of continuous response rather than setting the agenda and creative direction ourselves.”

She added two other practical tips on making better decision.

The first was to batch e-mails, by checking them once and hour or every few hours, instead of opening them immediately.

“Each time we check an e-mail, it takes us 26 minutes to get back to the same level of focus we are at before,” Dr Hertz said. If you're dealing with e-mails every hour, then your level of distraction will be so much less.”

The final tip was to try taking a “digital sabbath”.

Dr Hertz said: “Once a week, my husband and I put our smartphones in a basket and stay offline. We don't go on social media, or check messages. It's amazing how recharged we feel at the end of it.”

While the future was unusually uncertain, she was confident in predicting two things: that loneliness would be a major issue, especially for the younger generation, and that “a price will have to be paid” for an unprecedented bailout of citizens by governments.

“It's inevitable — and indeed equitable — that this will fall on the wealthiest people and the big corporations,” she said, meaning the rich would face higher taxes.

“Typically emerging from this type of crisis is an appetite for a different kind of capitalism than we've had in recent years, one in which the welfare of citizens and the common good is clearly centre stage.”

She pointed out that Britain formed its National Health Service in the wake of the Second World War, while the New Deal in the US came out of the Great Depression.

While citizens would look to governments for help, they would also look to businesses to behave more compassionately.

“There is a real opportunity for companies to win customers and the best talent with a credible agenda of compassion and kindness,” Dr Hertz added.

Decision-making tips: Noreena Hertz, economist and author

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Published September 11, 2020 at 9:00 am (Updated September 10, 2020 at 9:12 pm)

Economist: hold off on far-reaching changes

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