Typically, lessons learned or washups don’t happen live in normal scenarios: they happen after, at the conclusion, but we've been constantly learning throughout these events. Some new opportunities have been presented to us; some situations have been magnified, while some have been diminished. Some brand-new problems have arrived and we've most certainly had some wins. Is there anything that can be learned from this ever-evolving situation?
In exchanging with so many of you* across different settings and using my own feelings as the yard stick to see how far from centre we were, I gathered balancing amounts of consistencies and inconsistencies; surprisingly, there wasn't a single thread that tied everyone together - the impact has been deep but so different.
Some people feel the way they go to work and do business has changed unimaginably forever, some people who have worked in technology most of their lives feel like they've been preparing for moments like this forever and that it's business as usual, aside from a comfier chair and a larger screen, perhaps.
Those in management and senior roles are finding it difficult to motivate staff whilst working from home. It’s is already a challenge in an office environment; it's not quite as straightforward when it's remote. The old adage of the carrot and the stick becomes much more difficult when you're existing in a vacuum.
It's already difficult when you're sharing eight to ten hours a day in each other's spaces, but it becomes trickier when you're far away and relying on technology to interact for just a few minutes a day. The ‘motivation tech’ still hasn't been developed much beyond objectives setting and performance measuring, but it may evolve at a greater pace now the lack of such a capability has been highlighted.
Somebody working in the IT sector mentioned a particularly good insight, that everybody has become each other's therapists. I've certainly noticed during this change that there is much more genuine reaching out between colleagues. Not to say there wasn't any before, but it's more pronounced and noticeable now - very possibly because interactions are confined to quick video conference calls vs potentially several hours in the office together before.
Services such as Zoom, Teams and Houseparty have really seen an immense uptake during this time, however, folks that don't have technology at their core or haven't embraced it have probably felt more isolated. I've noticed there's a thread of people that wish that they had embraced technology. Now that they're not able to see friends or loved ones, they wish they had a better grasp of technology to be able to feel closer to them.
How is this going to affect future behaviours? Is air travel going to become normal again and how soon? Holidays and the need for people to have that break is front of mind. It's so unusual to have an issue so comprehensively understood by different ages and industries. Pretty much everyone on earth of a certain age knows what's going on as it's affected them and forced them into technology.
When isolation is self-imposed, I find myself almost willingly not leaving my desk for a project for a few days. However, when it's imposed by other factors, it feels so inflexible: I want to get outside.
I hadn’t ridden a bike in years (those that saw me attempt the London to Brighton recently, where the team had finished when I was only reaching the half way point will attest to my lack of stamina) but felt compelled to go for a bike ride during this time - just to move about and see things. So funnily enough, we're all still learning what lessons can be drawn from missing social interaction, despite all the technology around us that supposedly closes multi-thousand-mile gaps.
The home office
What's work going to be like? Do we really need offices? Some organisations have said they've seen roughly the same output not being in a physical office together. Is working from home going to be the ‘new norm’? How are we going to adjust? Are we going to eliminate the office all together; just have a mobile device for Teams and Zoom, only getting together when we really have to?
It's too early to tell. I hope not. Personally, I’m a big fan of that social interaction and dropping by people's desks, having lunch together and after-work meetings. It feels like it's the best environment to be efficient.
Nothing replaces the human touch
One parallel that seems to be common everywhere - despite all the technology and capabilities that we have - are those other human interactions which are missed and being yearned for. Despite the connectivity afforded by having the internet on our phones and home internet being so good, it still doesn't bring us as close as those human interactions we were used to every day: in a restaurant, eating out, spending time with friends and family. Interaction is something that humans need.
And I can't see how we can replace all of that with just tech right now. I'm a big proponent of the coexistence of humans and technology - for tech to make humans life better, not to replace it. Will some businesses even exist going forward? Pubs are certainly suffering. I think more than ever, there is a thirst, if you pardon the pun, for getting together and socialising and being around other warm bodies.
Reliance on logistics and entertainment
This once-in-a-lifetime experience has certainly demonstrated the reliance we have on logistics and delivery companies. Amazon, Royal Mail, DHL. Looking out of the window during the lockdown, these were the only vans I was seeing.
And, while the world cannot go out, the arts have come to us. Those in comedy and music have had to adjust and it certainly shows the adaptability of people; I've watched a few comedy shows online during the lockdown. Nobody wants to be deprived from the right of being entertained and it’s even more important now, being able to connect and not miss out with the help of tech. People need laughter. I certainly do and I'm glad that it's carried on through the magic of technology.
However, with that resilience and adaptability, I feel there's a lesson learned for organisations here on how important a staged business continuity plan is. It's sometimes all or nothing and the importance of having the ability to be able to slowly turn up the contingency plan has been brought to the forefront.
Like building muscle
Some situations have become exacerbated and magnified during lockdown. My bad routines have really been put into focus. Anyone that knows me knows that I've been to the gym consistently since I was in 6th Form. Not having that exercise in my schedule has taken a hit. I feel that my mental well-being and physical health would be in better shape now if I could have kept that routine.
However, this has really given us an opportunity to open up our calendars to potentially do things at home that we've been putting off. I've been guilty of not taking full advantage of the opportunity to build a new routine. But those routines, like building a muscle, need to be consistent to grow.
Motivation while working remotely has become much more difficult without that support; not being able to pop out for a coffee when a situation is becoming a little tense, or being a friend to a colleague and providing some relief for them. We’ve have to self-soothe and self-manage at the moment.
Embrace the opportunity for change
Some of these lessons learned will stay with us for a long time, if not forever. I certainly hope it's not only the bad; the social distancing and not being able to embrace friends and family. We must instead embrace the opportunities we've been given, that potential free time and lack of distraction to take on those projects that have been put off. Those wins of noting how adaptable we are and how much those friends and family really mean to us. It’s brought life into focus.
Some problems that have been highlighted include fears we might slip back into bad behaviours. For example, in the UK, where fast food outlets have been closed, I've been eating healthier and fresher. As well as a techno geek, I’m a bit of a foodie and I do like cooking at home, following online recipes. People I've spoken to and those who responded to the survey, were clear to call out that they’ve been cooking more at home and recreating on those things that they miss in the ‘outside world’, having lived in a fishbowl for a few months!
No matter how remote we are, it feels like we'll be back to normal when things are open fully again and it will have nothing to do with technology: a good haircut, a meal out and a night with friends and families. Stay safe.
* Every country seems to have experienced these events differently and this article is primarily written through a UK lens. Having said that, I'm grateful for the 400 some answers I received to the short survey I put out before writing this article, to gain a sense of what people were experiencing.
There were responses from all across the world: people from Thailand, Iceland, India, Germany, the UK and across the East and West Coasts of the United States got involved; representing a cross section of ages and job roles.
I'm thankful for everyone that shared their insights to help add rich layers to this content and whilst they can't all be integrated; they shaped this article. Thank you.