So here we are. Three months spent sailing into the storm of a ”once-in-a-century” global event. The pandemic has turned the working world upside down, not to mention its impact on almost all aspects of our daily existence. It’s been – and continues to be – a voyage of discovery worthy of Pirate of the Caribbean’s Jack Sparrow, if, thankfully, not quite the voyage ofTitanic’s Jack Dawson.
However, it’s also apparent that many of us have now adapted and acclimatised to lockdown – settled into the rhythm of this “working from home” lark almost as quickly as you can say “you’re on mute” or “move your camera down a bit”.
Well, I say “working from home” but, of course, we are, in reality, “at home trying to work during a global crisis” – to give these times their rather more appropriate (if rather lugubrious) description, oft quoted by cultural commentators on Twitter and LinkedIn.
We’ve tooled-up remotely – packing an impressive weaponry of productivity enablers, from Slack to G-Suite, Microsoft Teams to Asana. Zoom call etiquette has been nailed. We’re juggling client calls in the spare room, segueing into making lunch for self-schooling kids and then back into team meetings – all via emptying the dishwasher, feeding the tortoise and signing for next door’s Amazon delivery.
We’ve even found our ‘oceanic breath’ with virtual yoga sessions and had a laugh in team quizzes whilst wearing funny hats. But – to quote Gary Barlow from one of his lockdown crooner sessions – “Everything Changes”. The working world is indeed about to tip on its axis again as lockdown starts to lift.
So what’s next? How do we transition effectively into a new phase as the world slowly opens up? How do we lead out of lockdown into what those who like labels have already helpfully branded ’the new normal’?
Well, as we hoist the mainsail and navigate back out into what will inevitably be uncharted and choppy waters, here’s a few checkpoints to consider.
We’re all in the communications business and there’s never been a more important time to bring our ‘A game’ into play. Keep talking to clients and staff. Talk, listen, understand and respond to the impact the pandemic is having. It’s a testing time with a real impact on lives and livelihoods.
For everyone who is coping well there’ll be an equal number struggling. People react differently to stressful situations. Be aware of that and apply emotional intelligence to navigate through with your decision-making. The foundation for effective planning is open and regular communication.
Expect the unexpected
Truth is, we just don’t know what’s going to unfold in the next few months. A second wave of the virus? Further lockdowns? Global recession? No one can say for certain.
As staff come off furlough and things thaw, we need to prepare for further Covid curveballs, continue to be adaptable and get ready to pivot – perhaps more than once. It’s likely that many business sectors will continue to struggle and some – like retail and tourism – may be significantly altered from their pre-Covid operations.
Accept the Humpty Dumpty world
A 20th-century philosopher once remarked “ I don't know what to do with those tossed salads and scrambled eggs!” Actually come to think about it, it was Kelsey Grammer who said in the Frasier theme song but the point is still valid.
Sometimes you can’t put things back together. Aspects of our working life are unlikely to snap back into place. Bringing some ‘Serenity Prayer’ acceptance to that will prove invaluable.
We’re in Humpty Dumpty territory and even all the kings horses and men won’t have a scooby on how to unscramble your eggs. Things will be different from before and, you know, that might not be a totally bad thing.
To some extent, the rule book has gone out the window for the past couple of months. Businesses have put operations on hold and as a result their partners, suppliers and agencies all grind to a halt too.
An ecosystem only thrives through its connectivity, and right now, flexibility is needed to support that. Maybe existing contracts, agreements and commitments need to go on hold with a pragmatic look towards the horizon for better times ahead.
Suss out new opportunities
During the California Gold Rush of the 1840s, a guy called Samuel Brennan became a millionaire. Not thanks to gold itself. He struck gold by selling picks, shovels and pans to the wide-eyed, eager prospectors.
Now is a good time to take stock in what you do and the value you can add to prospective partners and clients. Perhaps your team skills can also be applied in a different vertical or business sector?
Marketing and PR can lead the charge in restoring confidence in the new world and it may be that there are partners who will benefit from your expertise with whom you normally would not engage.
Don’t throw the baby out with the bath water
In many ways the lockdown has been a remarkable time. Rival businesses and agencies have colluded in ways they would not have done in the past in order to get things done. Some creative agencies, for example, have shared access to software, processes and even talent with rival teams to deliver creative projects.
Which aspects of this creative ‘glasnost’ can be maintained for the better? Can walls that have come down, stay down? Similarly, effective working from home has surprised many businesses to the extent that the need to go back to an office is, for many, now in doubt.
In fact some companies, such as Twitter, have already publicly stated that many of their team will never work from an office again. In the rush to move forward we should keep the good things born during these troubled times and not chuck them out the window to the ground below.
Cut yourself some slack
Finally, go easy tiger. These are crazy days and it’s tough both personally and professionally. Don’t be too hard on yourself. If you make mistakes try to learn from them and move on. “Fail fast” as they like to say in Silicon Valley. Seek advice and share your challenges.
It’s new territory for all of us. It won’t be plain sailing but, if we lead out of lockdown with some of these points in mind, it should at least be a bit less stormy.
Written by Glenn Matchett, managing director of Grammatik Agency
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