Operating in a world of uncertainty is the biggest challenge for businesses this year, says PwC chief executive Mark Averill.
Speaking to the Herald last week before the latest lockdown orders, Averill said New Zealand was in a better position than many other countries but there was still a need to make sure companies had the ability to adapt and make the most of opportunities in the current environment.
"Our biggest challenge is how do we optimise that opportunity but also recognising that of course Covid is going to have a cost impact - but how do we minimise that and divert our focus to where there is the opportunity and then have the courage to make sure that we transform and pivot our businesses in that context in that environment."
Averill said in the near term New Zealand was going to be a predominantly domestic driven economy but it was also lucky New Zealand's exports remained in demand.
"We are very lucky with our current ability to export food and other aspects of demand. How do we maintain that? That is where Asia and Australia proximity is important."
Averill said the longer the border remained restricted, the tougher supply chain issues were likely to be.
"I think the longer the degree of border restrictions go on the more we are going to experience some of the implications of those supply chain issues. Again it is how do we protect what we have got?"
Averill said it was always important to maintain and develop key relationships with the most important trading partners and now more than even it was important to maintain those relationships.
"How do we maintain that connectivity in a restricted operating environment is going to be really important."
"The reality is the way we have operated in the past, in my view, has probably changed forever so it's about adapting to how you operate in a hybrid world where you have a combination of physical and digital.
Averill said at the moment businesses still had recent relationships from physical interactions from pre-Covid.
"The longer that goes on and the challenge is how do you establish the new relationships? And that is probably a skill set we have to continue to develop.
"How do you develop that trusted relationship and that is where over time getting to a hybrid as opposed to just relying on virtual is going to help that."
Averill said last year's biggest lesson for PwC was that it could operate in a virtual environment.
"And with that gives you the opportunity to take flexible working practices to the next level. I do think that it has also enabled a different level of communication between our business and all our staff."
He said regular communication and online town hall style meetings meant a growing sense of connectivity had also been really important.
"I also see that it that has given rise to the opportunity and need for significant digital upskilling of our people and we see that as a really important initiative and role that we can play is to develop a digital up-skilling programme for our people because that is the new way of working and blending that as part of future workplace strategy and operating in that environment."
Last year also saw the completion of a major upgrade of its office workspace, culminating in the move to PwC's new Commercial Bay tower headquarters.
"Auckland was the final piece of that strategy - to really bring that on and create a different way of working for our people which we think is aligned to how we remain fit for the future to best serve our clients and our people."
Gone are the separate offices for partners; the business is now fully open plan and has no fixed desks. Not even Averill himself has an office or fixed place to sit.
"I don't have an office, don't have fixed desk. I spend a fair amount of time in video conferences so there is a meeting room I spend a big chunk of my time but everyone else is welcome to use that and book that as well."
All staff use an app on their phone and book a work station, a desk or meeting room based on what they need.
"There is an element of first in, best dressed," Averill admits.
Alongside the physical changes, Averill says PwC has also stepped up to provide more mental health and wellness support for staff and in turn to support clients to think about that aspect through their own businesses
"It's about providing the tools and programmes and accessibility to an easy and discreet way and also an environment where people feel comfortable doing that . We are very mindful and clear around confidentiality."
When it comes to clients, he says it should be part of a businesses risk assessment plan.
"I would absolutely expect that would be something that would be on their agenda and depending on the nature of businesss quite high on their agenda.
"I think there is an expectation of employers that we are doing what we can to provide support to help us support our employees through that. Years like last year bring a lot of that to life. We are very mindful of the virtual world and how we provide support structures for our people when there is less physical connectivity."