As anyone in business knows, the past year has challenged us in ways we could not have conceived. The COVID-19 pandemic plunged us into the great unknown. It forced us to change direction rapidly while under enormous pressure, to push boundaries and take risks in order to keep businesses running. Despite the challenges, many businesses are emerging from the other side. So, what lies ahead? Canadian and Australian economists contemplated this question at the Future of Business online webinar, hosted by the CACC in February.
PWC Australia Managing Partner and CACC board member Mike McGrath said we were still living in uncertain times and grappling with operating in a COVID-normal world.
“Deadlines have come and gone, we’ve had lockdowns – both in Australia and in Canada – and vaccination programs are gradually rolling out,” he said. “There have been government stimulus packages and impacts on strategies and purpose. Businesses have tried to hold onto employees and continue their core functions. We’ve seen people transition to working from home and we’ve seen a change in social sentiment as people have reflected on what is important in life. In this context, we want to look at the economic outlook and recovery and where businesses go from here.”
Managing Director and Chief Economist for RBC Capital Markets Su-Lin Ong said the pandemic had helped businesses realise the importance of digitisation and research and development. “Businesses that have had digitalisation strategies in place have been able to react quickly and keep businesses going,” she said. “We are going to see more of this in the months and years ahead.” Yet, for many of us who have been working at home for the better part of a year, human connection has become more important than ever.
Vice President and Chief Economist for Export Development Canada Peter Hall said people were craving human connection like never before. “There is a frustration with digitisation and a living in a virtual world,” he said. “Humans have an innate desire to come together, and I think we will see people returning to offices and more traditional ways of working.” Mr Hall reflected on the proverb: Hope deferred makes the heart sick, but a desire fulfilled is a tree of life. “This relates to the waves of activity we have been through. We have deferred hope in our economy, time and time again. COVID-19 is governing the economy, as infection rates go up, the economy goes down,” he said. Mr Hall said despite the challenges of 2020, the economic outlook was positive. “The developed world is rapidly rebounding, and the economic outlook is looking hopeful,” he said.
Ms Ong agreed that the outlook was positive but said the health outcomes were key to our economic fortunes. “Vaccine rollouts, the take-up, efficacy, when border restrictions ease will all be key to how we are going to come out of this pandemic,” she said.
The Canadian Australian Chamber of Commerce (CACC) is a non-profit, volunteer based organisation that aims to bring businesses together to facilitate a strong environment for economic trade and investment between Canada and Australia.
Written by Samantha Robin
CACC Member Engagement Committee