We are in the midst of a global health crisis that has set off unbelievable social and financial challenges. The new coronavirus quickly became a pandemic with global implications, affecting every sphere of life. As such, we find ourselves in a situation none of us could have imagined even a few short weeks ago. And each day we start anew; with new data and new barriers to overcome. Business Partners has reached out to Thought Leaders in various key fields to discuss how their organizations are working to see society through this crisis. From the battlefield that is public health to overcoming obstacles in communications, teleworking, and telelearning, and from the need for efficient e-commerce to rethinking labor laws and employment, one thing is certain: Our lives are forever changed.
Supporting Businesses and Educators to Work Remotely
By Antonis Tsiboukis, General Manager Greece, Cyprus & Malta, Cisco
Supporting employees, customers and partners in a time of need is one of Cisco’s core values. Right now, COVID-19 is forcing many people around the world to work remotely. This is putting a sudden strain on both IT and security teams who are being tasked with providing support for an unprecedented number of offsite workers and their devices.
From the get go, Cisco expanded the free offerings of its Cisco Webex teleconferencing solution to allow workers and educational institutions in both the public and private sectors to stay connected to their teams and continue their business and educational operations. The new additional features of the free license plan for Cisco Webex include:
- Unlimited usage
- Up to 100 participants
- Dial-in or internet-based connection
- Free 90-day licenses also extended to businesses who are not Webex customers
Users can sign up for free at www.webex.com.
In response to customers asking us for guidance, Cisco is broadening this offer to include security for remote employees by providing extended free licenses and expanded usage counts at no extra charge for three of our key security technologies that are designed to protect remote workers anywhere, anytime and on any device.
Supporting employees, customers and partners in a time of need is one of Cisco’s core values
Cisco Umbrella protects users from malicious internet destinations whether they are on or off the network. Because it is delivered from the cloud, Umbrella makes it easy to protect users everywhere in minutes. With this offer, existing customers can exceed their user limit to support an increase in remote workers, and new customers can access a free license.
Duo Security enables organizations to verify users’ identities and establish device trust before granting access to applications. By employing a zero-trust model, it decreases the attack surface and reduces risk. With this offer, existing customers can exceed their user limit to support an increase in remote workers, and new customers can access a free license.
Cisco AnyConnect Secure Mobility Client empowers employees to work from anywhere on company laptops or personal mobile devices. It also provides the visibility and control security teams need to identify who and which devices are accessing their infrastructure. Existing AnyConnect customers can exceed their user limit to support an increase in remote workers, and new customers can access a free license. To get started, existing and new customers should talk with a Cisco representative or partner to get the requested usage counts.
These offers will be available until July 1, 2020. Supporting our customers and partners remains a top priority, and we hope these proactive steps help companies manage the business impact and keep employees safe during this evolving situation.
Pour Some Sugar on ItRethink Your Communication in the Age of Coronavirus
By Alexandros Costopoulos, CEO, FORESIGHT Strategies; Secretary General, The American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce
Not even the best writers or Hollywood directors could have imagined a plot as ironic as the situation we now face. It took eleven years for Greece to get back on its feet after what was perhaps the worst crisis of our time crippled our economy, institutions, and values—and yet, as we found our way back into the light, leaving behind self-driven choices, fake leaders, incompetent policies and extreme views, a new challenge appeared in the shape of a pandemic threatening to change our lives once again.
COVID-19 is not just a danger to our health and healthcare systems but also to our economies, threatening key industries such as retail, tourism, travel, and entertainment.
We don’t know when this is going to end, when we’ll go back to normal or what that normal will look like.
We need clear, accurate and regular information, and we need decisive, strong and intelligent leadership that trusts experts and inspires a collective effort. Equally, we need to realize the profound importance of uniting our efforts by simply following the guidelines. Thankfully—if not miraculously—in Greece we managed, for once, to have all of that.
In such times of crisis, emotional support is of utmost importance
While there are those on TV and social media who linger on death tolls, dark projections, sad stories, and conspiracy theories, triggering our appetite for drama and dragging us into negativity and insecurity, that is the worst thing we can do in the face of this unprecedented challenge. In such times of crisis, when everyone feels vulnerable and worried about their health, their loved ones, their job and their future, emotional support is of utmost importance—especially considering that the impact of the coronavirus crisis will likely be severe and prolonged.
We, as businesses, have no way to control media charlatans and foolish tweets nor to crusade against fake news that confuses and adds to the insecurity and negativity of the people. We can, however, put forward a communication strategy that will utilize all new available technologies and social networking, traditional and new media, to reshape the conversation by blending accurate information with positive messages, new tools and ideas that allow our people—whether employees and their families, partners, associates or clients—to believe that regardless of when and how, this too shall pass and that we are already working and preparing for that next day.
People—our people—have a unique capacity to meet any challenge, and that capacity may well be limitless. We must not, however, merely rely on that capacity; rather we must enhance it, balancing the sad stories around us with a blend of positive attitude, good news and proper tools that will generate creativity and collaboration while offering a hub for credible information and support.
In times like these, people need to speak, to communicate, to feel included, and to look up to their leaders. A communication mechanism that covers these needs is not just another cost but perhaps the most important investment in the effort to prevent social distancing from transforming into a depression pandemic.
So, to paraphrase the English rock band Def Leppard from the golden ‘80s, let’s pour some sugar on it… This too shall pass.
These are quite challenging times for all people and businesses. Some businesses are facing hard times (brick and mortar stores, tourism, HoReCa) and some are exploring new potential for growth.
We are all still trying to grasp the potential consequences that the COVID-19 pandemic will leave behind and to determine how we should deal with the next day, but the good news is that thanks to the global digital sphere we have in place, we are in a better position than ever before in human history to keep going strong.
We live in the most connected environment that humanity has ever achieved
Many of us already live and work online, with Greece being on the rise on this front. Mobile workers are dominating more and more sectors. Social networks allow us to socialize more than ever. Online education has been embraced by scores of people. We live in the most connected environment that humanity has ever achieved.
Online communication channels and e-commerce are in a mature state, often providing online user experiences that outperform in-store experiences. People can connect to brands, view products, buy online and gain benefits easily, from the comfort of their home, even more so at this time of social distancing. In-house entertainment is also on the winning side (Netflix, Amazon Prime, Apple TV), with more big players entering the market constantly.
Agencies and e-commerce vendors come up with new ideas and innovations all the time, and businesses need to listen closely to what they are saying.
Some practical tips for businesses:
- Onboard your offline customers to your e-shop: Include discount codes to encourage online shopping.
- Do an offline campaign via radio or posters with how they can still access your brand online.
- Donate a percentage of the online revenue to COVID-19 related causes, such as supporting hospitals, and let your clients know that they are supporting a higher cause.
- Urge your personnel to leverage their own social networks to drive online traffic. Help them by giving them unique tools such as special personalized discount codes and secret promotions. Encourage them to showcase products and services with homemade videos on YouTube.
- Reach out to your database with email marketing, and let your clients know that this is a good time to support their favorite brand.
- Use free online support/chat channels to help your audience connect with your personnel. Advertise this as a special, one-on-one online concierge service.
Particularly in Greece, the evidence suggests that we are now more eager to adapt to online channels for personal and business use. Remote working took off almost instantly. E-commerce, which was already running with 15-20% YoY, has exploded. Data from our clients suggest that brands that had invested in their online presence are looking at scores of new customers, and brands that offer multiple digital touchpoints to their audience are seeing a steep rise in traffic and consequently online revenue.
E-commerce and online business presence right now look like a one-way road. It is the right time to invest online and strengthen what is soon to be the dominant way to connect with your audience.
Three Tips to Keep Tax Risk in Check During Challenging Times
By Georgia Stamatelou, Partner, Head of Tax and Legal, KPMG
In this new COVID-19 era, we are all forced to face a new reality and reinvent ourselves and the way we do business. Most companies are having their employees work remotely and in some cases are even suspending aspects of their operations. During chaotic times, tax filing and payment deadlines are easily missed, and the usual review and escalation processes can fail. The need for quick action will limit an organization’s ability to assess the risks of business decisions in real time.
Now is the time to find creative ways to leverage the tools you do have at your disposal
This is the reason why in this environment many companies are looking to their tax and legal functions to help. When KPMG informally polled more than 1,700 tax and business leaders during our recent webcasts on the topic, nearly two-thirds of respondents said they are involved in business continuity planning. About one-third said their level of involvement is enhanced and that they are adding value as a key stakeholder for the business. Tax leaders are also expected, as always, to manage risk in this challenging new environment. Here are three tips for remaining focused and mitigating respective risks.
COVID-19 and the Labor Market
By Dr. Venetia Koussia, Chair of the Employment Committee, The American-Hellenic Chamber of Commerce; Executive Director, Council on Competitiveness of Greece – CompeteGR
Almost a decade ago we were introduced to the VUCA world. Working at such high speeds in an ever changing environment led us to neglect warnings about the vulnerability of the ecosystem we have been building.
We need to sit down together and prepare, so that when this crisis is over, we may all find ourselves ahead of the curve
The imperative now is to protect our lives and plan for the next phase, for reopening the economy. Now is the time for employers to show that they care about their most valuable resources and draft a robust plan for the future. It is certain that companies with the most resilient workforces capable of capitalizing on tech capabilities will be the winners of the next day.
At the dawn of these new realities, we can already identify three trends in the labor market:
Work is not the place we go; it is the thing we do
Social distancing used remote working to secure business continuity. This entails a huge number of changes to teamwork, productivity, collaboration, and communication. Technology can empower our jobs, but to do so, we need to do things right. Until now, even the legislation was not so much in favor. COVID-19 came to change that. Now is the time to go ahead with employee skills enrichment through upskilling or reskilling to align them with business needs. And yes! We need digital skills for all levels as well as soft skills for all those who have teams to lead. Both skillsets enhance productivity. Organizational culture would be the lever to such practices, and we need a top-down approach to boost it.
Leadership skills are not the same anymore
The time has come that in order for people to lead effectively, it is not enough to have the power or physical supervision. To trust and to be trusted is the necessary pre-condition to lead and monitor. Organizations with strong organizational culture, values deeply rooted in everyday behaviors, excellent communication skills along with integrated operational and reporting systems will make the difference from good to great. Leaders need to be much more agile, extroverted, disruption friendly, and highly competent in building inclusive relationships.
The social contract needs to be changed
COVID-19 uncovered the huge gap between the flexibility needed by employers to be productive and the safety nets necessary for employees to safeguard their livelihoods and be engaged. As the gig economy develops, more and more governments and organizations need to create a mechanism to bridge the expectations of both sides. After all, an engaged employee is more productive and creative. Some governments have already taken extraordinary measures. But this is not enough for the next phase, as we need to make our economies more competitive.
At this very moment, everything is changing on a daily basis. We know nothing about the outcomes of COVID-19 in our personal and professional lives. However, we know that the world of work will not be the same. This involves both businesses and individuals. That is why we need to sit down together and prepare, so that when this crisis is over, we may all find ourselves ahead of the curve.
Science at the ForefrontThe Hellenic Pasteur Institute’s Work on SARS-CoV-2
By Dr. Elina Horefti, Research Staff Scientist, Hellenic Pasteur Institute
During the first days of January 2020, the National Influenza Reference Laboratory of Southern Greece at the Hellenic Pasteur Institute (HPI) in Athens faced a new challenge: to validate a molecular test for the diagnosis of the new coronavirus that emerged in Wuhan, China, according to World Health Organization specifications. The virus was known then as 2019-nCoV, and the laboratory was preparing for the event that it ever reached Europe. By the end of January, all the assays and methods were in place and the laboratory became one of the three National Reference Laboratories for the diagnosis and surveillance of SARS-CoV-2 (as the virus was by then officially named).
Two months later SARS-CoV-2 had already caused a pandemic with 1,245,192 laboratory confirmed cases and 67,910 deaths worldwide—and the numbers are constantly rising. In Greece, as of April 6, a total of 73 people have died of complications from the SARS-CoV-2 infection and 1,735 cases have been diagnosed. Of these cases, more than 40% have been confirmed by HPI’s Reference Laboratory. The Laboratory receives nasopharyngeal samples for the molecular detection of SARS-CoV-2 from public and private hospitals and health centers all over Greece on a daily basis, with the influx of samples ranging between 200 and 500 per day.
The work, though, does not stop with the diagnosis of the virus, as at the same time, and with the collaboration of the French Pasteur Institute, new methods are being developed in the laboratory for the detection of antibodies to SARS-CoV-2 and the surveillance of immunity within the Greek population. Another project involves the sequencing of SARS-CoV-2 from patient samples in order to assess the molecular evolution of the virus, to correlate between its mutations and different levels of pathogenicity and to, finally, isolate strains that are highly pathogenic.
The National Reference Laboratory for SARS-CoV-2 will continue to contribute to public health, research and innovation
New Generation Sequencing (NGS) will also play an important role in the Laboratory’s prospects for the future; experimental data has already shown that SARS-CoV-2 has a specific immune response, different from other viruses related to it, and the infection has dramatic effects on the profile of the gene expression, mainly on the cells of the immune system. Thus, the Laboratory’s aim is to contribute to the development of specialized treatments for patients with SARS-CoV-2 infection.
Finally, the Laboratory will contribute to a study on the interaction of SARS-CoV-2 with nerve cells and its effects on the human brain. It has been found that a high percentage of seriously ill people have neurological problems. Recent data suggests that SARS-CoV-2 can affect the central nervous system in a variety of ways.
With all these projects aligned, one thing is certain: The National Reference Laboratory for SARS-CoV-2 will continue to contribute to public health, research and innovation, honoring the Hellenic Pasteur Institute’s 100-year-old history.
Taxation in the Midst of COVID-19A Challenge for States and Businesses
By Panagiotis Pothos, Partner, Head of Tax, Kyriakides Georgopoulos Law Firm
The coronavirus pandemic may well turn out to be the event that triggers the eruption of a new global economic crisis, which is likely to not go away soon. States around the world have to deal with the colossal economic costs of funding the fight against the coronavirus while supporting populations, institutions, and the economy. Inevitably, governments will be forced to immensely boost public spending. Policymakers around the globe and especially in Europe are urging for huge investments in the member states’ and EU budgets, whilst some of them are even claiming that Europe should establish a wartime economy ready to contribute to the future reconstruction and economic recovery.
The expensive new measures that have been introduced must somehow be financed, and tax revenues could well contribute towards this
On the tax side of things, the spread of the pandemic has resulted in unprecedented global demand for urgent tax relief measures across industries and sectors. Greece has not been an exception to this trend, as the ongoing coronavirus crisis has activated an instantaneous response from the Greek Government. In this context, from the early days of the outbreak, Greece has adopted a wide array of measures primarily concerned with deferring existing and upcoming tax liabilities, so as to allow for payment at a later date and minimize commercial vulnerability due to cash flow and liquidity issues. In the long run, though, the expensive new measures that have been introduced must somehow be financed, and tax revenues could well contribute towards this through an increase of taxes on profitable corporations and wealthy individuals.
At the moment, a major concern for almost all businesses is the financial impact of the coronavirus outbreak, as they need to evoke contingency planning to safeguard that they can continue to operate as normally as possible. Nevertheless, the modifications that businesses and their employees have implemented to ensure business continuity could also raise a number of serious legal issues and further result in potential unexpected tax consequences.
For instance, the ability of employees to travel to and from work has been deeply affected by the restrictions introduced by governments to slow down the spread of coronavirus. Thus, it has been imperative to digitally convert their places of work to be able to operate effectively. As a result, many employees are working remotely, whether from their home or from another country, and this could raise various employment tax issues.
Additionally, any movement in functions and management of risks as a result of the coronavirus outbreak would influence transfer pricing analysis for multinational groups. Finally, VAT considerations may well emerge on aborted transactions due to the pandemic.
In a nutshell, both states and businesses the world over need to rapidly and effectively adjust their policies and plans to face the truly severe challenges (even in the area of taxation) posed by this invisible enemy, taking always into account that the highest priority should be the protection of their people.
Coronavirus: How Google Is Helping in Greece
By Maria Founta, Country Marketing Manager, Google Greece, Romania and Ukraine
For 21 years, Google’s mission has been to organize the world’s information and make it universally accessible and useful. As COVID-19 makes its way across the globe, helping people get the right information to stay healthy is more important than ever. In these challenging times, our key focus is to help people stay safe, informed and connected. Here are the latest developments in our ongoing local response.
Helping people find useful information
People continue to come to Google to search for vaccine information, travel advisories and prevention tips. Our SOS Alert in Search connects people with the latest news plus safety tips and links to authoritative information from the Greek National Organization of Public Health (EODY).
Helping people get the right information to stay healthy is more important than ever
At the moment, on the Google homepage, we’re promoting the “Do the Five” campaign to raise awareness of simple measures people can take to slow the spread of the disease, according to EODY.
On YouTube, we’ll be using the homepage to direct users to EODY, and we are donating ad inventory of $50,000 per month to EODY until the end of the year to use for education and information.
Enabling productivity for remote workers and students
To support businesses and students, we rolled out free access to our advanced Hangouts Meet videoconferencing capabilities to all G Suite and G Suite for Education customers globally until July 1, 2020. We’re also adding resources to be able to support increased demand for public livestreaming on YouTube, as we’ve seen increased interest from people who look to connect virtually with their communities when they are unable to do so in person.
In this context, we support the 80 schools which operate under Greek Manpower Employment Organization (OAED) with getting free access and guidance to G Suite for Education in order to set up e-learning for more than 8,000 students in those 80 schools, as part of our ongoing collaboration to support jobseekers.
Supporting Tourism in Greece
Google signed an MoU with the Ministry of Tourism to support the Ministry’s initiative #greecefromhome, which focuses on three main objectives: help Greeks and people from all over the world stay connected to Greek civilization and culture, discover and be inspired by the beauty of Greece, and empower tourism SMBs with digital skills on tourism—all by staying at home.
Protecting people from misinformation
Our Trust and Safety team globally has been working around the clock and across the globe to safeguard our users from phishing, conspiracy theories, malware and misinformation, and we are constantly on the lookout for new threats. On YouTube, we are working to quickly remove any content that claims to prevent the coronavirus in place of seeking medical treatment. On Google Ads, we are blocking all ads capitalizing on the coronavirus, and we’ve blocked tens of thousands of ads over the last six weeks.
In this unprecedented moment, we feel a great responsibility to help. We’ll keep doing everything we can to deliver on our mission, and help people take care of themselves and their communities.
Preserving the Coherence of Our Legal System in Challenging Times
By Kalliopi Vlachopoulou, Tax and Legal Manager, PwC Greece
The disruption caused by the coronavirus outbreak affects most businesses globally. For many, government measures to curtail the spread of the virus (restrictions on movement, quarantines, closure of non-essential businesses) render the fulfillment of contractual obligations extremely difficult or even impossible. While the focus now is on continuity and recovery of business, rising disputes over losses and damages from partial or non-performance will soon emerge a major issue.
During such times, the rule of law and basic principles such as pacta sunt servanda are challenged. Arbitrary reactions, however, entail significant risks. Solutions should be sought through the existing legal system. Concepts like force majeure (FM) or extraordinary change of circumstances are coming into play and their interpretation in light of the current crisis is expected with great interest.
Rising disputes over losses and damages from partial or non-performance will soon emerge a major issue
Generally, an FM clause relieves the parties from performing contractual obligations when, due to unforeseen events beyond the control of the parties, there is a delay in performance or performance is entirely prevented. In practice, most clauses list specific events or use generic wording, including reference to “disasters,” “acts of God,” “national emergencies,” “government regulations,” or “acts beyond the control of the parties”. Pandemics (“epidemics” or “diseases”) may be specifically mentioned or fall under generic wording. The existence of an FM clause, though, may not be enough to protect the evoking party from claims for non-performance resulting from difficulties due to the coronavirus outbreak. Because of their serious impact on the parties’ rights and obligations, FM clauses are interpreted strictly, and in most cases the fulfillment of the contract must be impossible or extremely adverse and not just less convenient or more expensive, and causation must be well justified. Although in some cases FM is apparent, e.g. hotel businesses unable to operate due to government measures, other cases involving e.g. cancellations or disruptions in supply chains may not be considered extremely adverse and thus not fall under FM. Not least, there will be cases where both contracting parties might invoke an FM clause, in an attempt to each limit its own damage from the crisis which, due to its global impact, may well affect both parties—and that is one of the unique features of the present crisis.
In absence of an FM clause, contract law provisions apply depending on the law governing the contract. Under Greek law, FM is undefined but implied. A contracting party may be excluded from liability in case of a breach if said breach is caused by events beyond the party’s control. FM events fall under this rule. Greek case law follows the subjective theory under which FM is any unforeseen event, which cannot be foreseen or averted even by means of extreme care and prudence, narrowing down FM cases.
Apart from FM, “extraordinary changes of circumstances” may, in certain cases, allow partial performance or termination of a contract on the principle of good faith.
The above rule is evoked through judicial intervention. While Greek courts have been reluctant to readjust or annul contracts based on FM or extraordinary change of circumstances, the severity and economic impact of the current crisis may give room to argue enforceability of those provisions on a case by case basis.