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Lessons of COVID – A Smarter Way of Working

By Natasha Mandie
  • Covid-19
  • , From EMA

EM Advisory is a boutique corporate advisory firm based in Melbourne with 11 staff. Our focus is Australian companies building global businesses, and our clients come from all sectors, with technology deals our sweet spot. We pride ourselves on providing frank, independent and insightful advice, in strategic advisory work, M&A, IPOs, capital raisings, and restructuring.

Meetings are how we do business, how we get to know our clients, brief potential investors, liaise with acquirers and vendors, how we put deals together.

In March this year, I went from attending the Women’s World Cup cricket final with my son and a hundred thousand other spectators at the MCG on a Sunday to making the decision to close the office just 4 days later as I sat in the lounge in Sydney Airport telling my office that I was cancelling all my travel and that the team needed to start taking equipment home, do what they needed to do to cannibalise the office so they could be set up at home the way they were in the office.

"Within 10 days, I moved from back-to-back meetings and weekly travel to back to back Zooms."

Like for everyone else, COVID for us meant no physical contact. From a Platinum Frequent flyer who travelled between Melbourne and Sydney weekly with a crazy lifestyle, I moved from back-to-back meetings and weekly travel to, within 10 days, back to back Zooms. You can see where it happened, it’s all in my calendar, working from my study at home, and things haven’t skipped a beat. We have thrived through COVID completing 7 transactions since mid-March.

I believe there has been a fundamental change in how everyone in financial markets and transactional M&A is thinking about interaction. I am seeing roadshows on a Sunday night to launch deals on a Monday, investors doing due diligence remotely without face to face meetings, a way of doing business that most would have said is impossible.

In the last 3 months, I have closed term sheets with people I had never met. You would argue that if you want to raise money from a US investor that you have to go and see them. In a world where we are not going to be able to do that, potentially for years, the question is are we really going to stop doing these cross-border M&A and capital raising deals? I believe we will find other ways. It might take 4 zoom meetings rather than one face to face session, but we have proven that it is possible.

And when things regain some normality, we will have to ask the question is it be worth spending seven hours commuting for a face-to-face meeting in Sydney, because that’s what it takes by the time you leave the house, travel to the airport, fly, have the meeting and return.  If you are offered a twenty minute or thirty-minute meeting, I think people are going to be much more likely to do the meeting if they can sit at their desk and don’t have to travel.

From a client relationship basis, moving entirely to Zoom has in some ways been better for many of our client relationships than the regular telephone contact we used to have. We have always had clients across Australia, in the United States and New Zealand who we worked with largely on phone calls. We sometimes used Zoom and Google meets, but definitely not for the everyday interaction. Now it’s weird not to have a Zoom / Teams / Google invite, and with this technology, we now see their responses and their body language. Video calls might not be as good as a face to face meeting, but when you consider the costs of a face-to-face meeting, maybe it is good enough? After the last six months of a diary full of Zoom meetings, I believe a virtual meeting is 80 percent of the face-to-face meeting.

We are starting to win business from people that we have barely met, other than on Zoom. You learn to watch what people are doing in a different way, but it is a lot more tiring. A full day of meetings on Zoom leaves me exhausted; if I had been in the office I would have finished with more energy. Breaks have never been more important. That walk in the middle of the day that you would have done to get from one meeting to another is now something we plan for.

"During my work day I have to be mindful that I don’t just run an advisory business, that I am a mother, and when my children come in, in the middle of calls, they need me too."

During my work day I have to be mindful that I don’t just run an advisory business, that I am a mother, and when my children come in, in the middle of calls, they need me too. You can’t just tell them that you are in a meeting, because you are in a meeting all the time. They are battling home-schooling and zoom fatigue of their own. Focus and concentration on zoom is a whole new challenge for so many adults – can you imagine how hard it is when you are 10 or 13?

This window into people’s lives has been eye opening for me, and a welcome opportunity to really get to know people we are dealing with. We are all home schooling, or have caring responsibilities. Probably for the first time, the natural tension between our home and work lives is more visible through this very odd window we have into people’s homes. Last week we were on a call with a CEO who kept leaving to deal with a Grade 3 Maths class – so maybe we put him on mute, but I’m confident we achieved our goals for that meeting.

There is so much about this pandemic that is challenging. Lockdown in Melbourne has been particularly hard. But I can only thank our lucky stars that we live in a world with zoom, email, shared document repositories and the hardware to allow us to move from working in an office to working from home in just days without skipping a beat.

When we have the choice about where we work, I don’t think I will ever go back to weekly day-trips to Sydney. Thanks to COVID and tech, I genuinely believe we have found a better way.