When lockdown hit in March we all scrambled to put an infrastructure in place to enable our people to function and for work to continue. We grappled with new technologies, new kitchen/bedroom/bathroom work environments and were forced out of the familiar and ‘well-trodden’ and into a ‘new normal’ – that was anything but normal.
And with that enormous and sudden change came a seismic shift for those of us who manage people and lead businesses. A greater focus on people rather than profits, more autonomy and less micro-managing, greater trust and transparency and an overwhelming need and want to support the mental and physical wellbeing of our employees who are, quite literally, the beating heart of the business.
Then lockdown ended and we made the tentative transition back to the office. Easing our way onto half-empty trains, the unfamiliar feel of a collar and tie, the relief of a new working environment and the ‘masked’ joy of being with colleagues – albeit at a distance.
We encouraged people to return but remained flexible – a curious home/office hybrid that was nice while it lasted and worked well.
So what to make of lockdown episode 2: the difficult second album? Grim déjà vu or something altogether more positive? Halfway through (and counting) it feels like an apt time to reflect on the learnings we can take from this extra-ordinary experience.
Like many creative agencies, we always felt we could be better at our own comms. Like the gardener with the unkempt lawn or the chef with a cupboard full of baked beans we knew we could do better at keeping our own house in check. Being physically disconnected has in many ways made us more connected. Each day now starts with an all-agency meeting on Teams and while it took some getting used to – second time around everyone has slotted into the familiar routine with ease. We all know the projects that are ticking loudest, the problems to be talked through, the day-to-day personal and professional challenges and we approach them as a more unified team and with a greater sense of shared responsibility. I think we’ve also become better listeners – and I mean really listening to what is actually being said rather than what we would like or choose to hear. Screen meetings demand eye contact and there is little space to hide!
And have you noticed a change in the way you communicate with your clients? Only last week, and in the throes of a meeting with a newly-won UK bank client, a colleague’s dog started barking. Cue a client responding with joy and an aminated discussion about her love of dogs. Would this have happened pre-lockdown? Unlikely. It’s as if our domestic settings have encouraged an informality and ease of communication. The pre-programmed backdrops from lockdown round one have come down and we are embracing the openness of letting strangers into our homes. I was recently having a meeting with a senior member of the procurement team at a large health insurer – with me in my kitchen and them in their bedroom! Surreal but at the same time, entirely normal.
The challenges as a result of the pandemic, both personal and professional, have been huge. We’ve been forced to think differently and behave differently. To be more flexible, to embrace change, to allow the personal to inform and mingle with the professional and to appreciate and recognise the true priorities in the business.
Lockdown has been tough, is tough – but as a business leader it’s taught me some invaluable and unexpected lessons.
Apparently you really can teach an old dog new tricks…
Originally appeared in Management Today.