Jo Wong

Jo Wong

General Counsel & Company Secretary – SkyCity Entertainment Group

1. How has the COVID-19 crisis affected the way you work as a lawyer? What are the key positives and negatives that have emerged out of lockdown?

The COVID-19 crisis has required me to:

  • ditch paper! I now very seldom print out documents and largely review documents on screen;
  • be more agile and responsive to the business’ needs;
  • become more operations focused (and anticipate the business’ needs) rather than being compliance driven and responsive;
  • juggle a wide range of legal issues within very short timeframes; and
  • juggle business as usual workflows while also managing the business’ response to COVID-19 and with less resources.

COVID-19 has also led to a significant increase in my company secretarial workflows due to a significant increase in the frequency of board/senior executive meetings and continuous disclosure obligations under the NZX Listing Rules.

In my view, the key positives that have emerged out of lockdown are:

  • the resilience of our people and our business;
  • the ability of our people to work as a team and successfully manage the crisis (although it’s far from over!);
  • employees have been able to work successfully from home and have been just as (if not more in some cases) productive; and
  • led to good discussion and awareness of mental health and wellbeing issues.

In contrast, the key negatives that have emerged out of lockdown in my view are:

  • the loss of employees – in SkyCity’s case, we had no choice but to significantly restructure our workforce in New Zealand (downsized by ~25%);
  • for some, work and home boundaries have merged and there is now little to no work/life balance with employees remaining engaged in the business 24/7;
  • employee mental health, wellbeing and resilience have been negatively impacted – in some cases, significantly;
  • work culture and morale have been adversely impacted; and
  • feelings of job insecurity.

2. Will you and your firm/company continue to use flexible and agile working in the future? Will you reduce the size of your physical office space?

Yes – during the first COVID-19 lockdown, SkyCity implemented a formal flexible working framework across its business with input from staff (gained through a flexible working survey).  The framework recognises that, as a largely customer facing business, flexible working may not be appropriate or achievable for all individuals, teams and departments within the business and encourages people leaders and team members to work together to discover appropriate flexible working options that meet stakeholder needs and the principles identified in the framework.

At this stage, there has been no decision to reduce the size of our physical office space – however, with up to 20-25% of corporate staff opting to work remotely on any given week day, it is likely that this will require some consideration if this pattern continues.

3. How have you employed legal tech during the crisis?  What has been successful and what has been lacking?

Working through the crisis has been quite seamless as SkyCity has invested in a significant programme over recent years to improve technology systems, infrastructure, capability and data management, and to improve cyber resilience. All legal staff have laptops that have direct access to the SkyCity network – thereby making it easy for staff to work remotely. Skype for Business and other similar applications have similarly made it easy for staff to connect by audio or video when required.

The majority of our contracts and legal documentation is also stored electronically and easily retrievable – even when working remotely. 

Board papers have been made available to our directors for some years using an online platform and our directors have quickly adapted to a virtual meeting environment.

Electronicsignatures arealsonow widely utilised and accepted in New Zealand and Australia. 

I was able to largely produce the 2020 SkyCity Annual Report (over 200 pages) from home working remotely with our in-house Graphic Designer using a shared desktop via Skype for Business!

We also successfully held our first virtual annual shareholder meeting this year.

4. How do you see the advancement of legal tech affecting the legal industry in the next 10 years?

COVID-19 has been a catalyst to change the way we do a range of things. Although the legal industry has been slow to embrace new technologies, there is now an increased awareness of the extent to which technology can assist. I have no doubt that technology will be more widely accepted in the legal industry following COVID-19.

I anticipate there will be significant advances in the automation of contract/document reviews and drafting in the next 10 years.

5. Has your firm/company changed its remuneration structure during the crisis? Will the firm/company consider using a “Keystone” fee-sharing or hybrid remuneration model in future?

Yes – in light of the economic impact of the COVID-19 pandemic:

  • executive salary cuts ranging from 20%-40% were volunteered by the leadership team at Group and property level for the final quarter of the financial year ended 30 June 2020;
  • the SkyCity Board volunteered to cut director fees by 50% for the final quarter of the financial year ended 30 June 2020;
  • salaries have been frozen across the Group for the financial year ending 30 June 2021;
  • the company did not seek shareholder approval to increase the non-executive director fee pool at its annual meeting in October 2020 (the last increased having being approved by shareholders at the 2018 annual meeting and, prior to that, at the 2014 annual meeting); and
  • no awards were made under the company’s short term incentive plans in relation to the financial year ended 30 June 2020.

6. Name one key thing that will be different in the legal profession in 10 years time.

Hopefully, the number of women in senior legal roles! The implementation of flexible working models across law firms and businesses should enable more women to progress through to senior roles as flexile working arrangements should enable women to return to work following maternity leave and juggle work/motherhood.

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