The General Counsel role has been significantly transformed during the last decade – from being a mere business advisor and business partner to becoming part of the business. Nevertheless, the COVID-19 pandemic has shown that there is still significant space for change in the years ahead.
As a General Counsel for eight Western Balkans markets (two in the EU and six outside it), I can say that besides the general priority to protect our people and our business the most important role during the pandemic was staying strong and compliant – committed to doing what is right for our colleagues, our company, our customers, our consumers, our communities, and ourselves.
Having the chance and ability to help colleagues understand what they can do in this challenging situation for their benefit, the benefit of their families/friends, business, and the community they live in, is a most important and uplifting experience. And all this was a challenging task. Legislative changes (mostly directly COVID-19-related), measures, decisions, decrees, and orders to protect public health and the economy were happening daily, if not even hourly, and the GC’s role was to modify the message to be comprehensible and meaningful to the business team at each turn. The most challenging was aligning and deciding with HR and other functions on the next steps regarding employees – on issues such as working from home, job descriptions remodeling, contingency plan development, health, and safety plan changes, etc.) with a focus on doing the right thing for people first, and for the business. All of this while keeping in mind that, due to the fluid situation, the speed of decisions was crucial, and facts were not always clear and/or available.
As a result of COVID-19 we saw EU internal borders close, states of emergency called, and curfews introduced, along with the creation and enforcement of other movement limitation measures. On top of it, we saw the mandated use of personal protection equipment and requirements on maintaining social distancing. All of these significantly influenced our business and our lives. And, adding to it all, we had some natural disasters (such as the March 22 earthquake in Croatia).
All of us needed to express our current skills in a virtual setting and develop ways to be productive in a virtual environment while, at the same time, developing new skills and staying alert to changes.
The GC has always had a wider perspective and needed to be familiar with all regulations related to the respective business and all company functions. During the pandemic, this perspective needed to be expanded even further, especially in areas such as health and safety, medical equipment/devices/insurance, the Constitution, measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, and customs and travel restrictions.
We all know that, as our society gradually reopens, the pandemic will have a continuing influence on the way we work and we need to discover the secret of work success within this new normal while staying strong – to always do what’s right and act with the highest integrity under any circumstance. When COVID-19 is over (and I hope it soon will be), we will be proud of not only what we accomplished but how we accomplished it.
Wishing you all to stay strong and safe!