This blog is one in a series provided by board members of the Tech Faculty offering their insights and lessons learned during the COVID-19 pandemic. In this blog, board member and Partner, Professional Practices, at Crowe, Nicky Owen, discusses what the new norm might look like from a personal and business perspective.
Early impacts of the virus
Back in mid-March I started shielding with my husband; he is on the lung transplant list. We are both social people and every week we would have friends round for dinner or go to friends. Like everyone in the UK, our lives were turned upside down seemingly overnight by coronavirus. No more dinners with friends. Instead WhatsApp and Zoom became the interface over which we saw each other; who would have thought that? I still can’t believe that, whilst I was sorting out priority food deliveries, a friend on furlough who hates shopping was trooping round a supermarket getting my shopping and having fun - well, more importantly, it gave him an excuse to get out of the house and he felt needed!
Within a matter of days and weeks coronavirus had brought uncertainty into our lives and we strived to find a routine and to “carry on” as best we could.
What was the personal impact of coronavirus of my working life?
Commute - instead of working near St Paul’s Cathedral and commuting into London every day and taking for granted the fabulous views of historic buildings and the Thames, I now literally walk a few steps within my house to a dedicated study.
Breakfast - I now watch with delight the variety of bird life in my garden, which is in stark contrast to the computer screen at work, where I catch up with emails, Twitter and LinkedIn.
Video conferencing - at Crowe, we use Skype for Business. There is an option of using the video function which, prior to lockdown, was used irregularly, but has become an absolute must for keeping in touch with team members, clients and contacts. I now can’t imagine life without video conferencing, be it Skype for Business, Teams, Zoom, Lifesize, WhatsApp; they all form part of the new norm.
It is interesting how, over a matter of weeks, we have all improved our ability to video conference and to utilise the add-ons, sharing screens, dry run/dress rehearse seminars, use voting buttons, use chat; we are all trying to make the experience more interactive for everyone involved.
I have been involved in virtual training sessions, seminars, workshops, a book launch, celebratory cocktail parties, team quizzes, meeting new clients, coffee with clients and contacts and round table discussions. They have all worked; yes, there have been hiccups, but we have learnt to deal with them and “to have a go”.
Keeping up to date
At the start of lockdown it was a challenge to keep pace with the information the government was circulating and picking through it to provide concise and up to date material for clients and the team. An article uploaded and circulated on Wednesday could be out of date by Friday. Writing briefings, articles and alerts to be turned around in hours was another new norm, as was being involved in my first podcast, which was really exciting and hilarious – I have decided that I really don’t like listening to myself – I am just too self-critical and sound like my sister.
One thing is for sure, I am fed up of seeing myself in the flesh being flashed back on my laptop throughout most of the day. Who would have thought my laptop would become a mirror?
It has been interesting gaining personal insight into where colleagues, clients and contacts work whilst at home and their challenges that they face. Everyone seems to be much more open about their personal circumstances, how they are coping, what is going on with their families and how pets are loving the family being at home and of course the disaster haircuts in the household. It is just more personal.
We have all established a new norm which will, in the coming days and weeks, change and adapt to another new norm, as lockdown eases. What will that look like? Will we want to go back to old ways? Me, personally, no, never. I have really enjoyed working at home and watching the garden change on a daily basis, being able to enjoy the wildlife. However, I do miss seeing people.
Going forward, it is key for businesses to grasp hold of the positives that have come out of lockdown, in particular utilising technology to our advantage. Is it necessary to have a face to face meeting? Do we all need to travel to one location? Why can’t we have a video conference call?
It is also key that individuals manage the conflict between work and family life. Technology can assist and play havoc in equal measure, but we all need to find ways so that it can assist us and aid our mental wellbeing. For some people, technology has helped to juggle family life, being there for daily family events, working effectively in an agile and flexible way. What that means will be different for each individual.
I get it that some people will want to go to a work place and have that social interaction, but do you need to on a daily basis? Do I need to travel into central London on a daily basis? Absolutely not.
Will the use of serviced office space become a new norm?
What worries me?
What is going to be challenging going forward is effective training of new people into our businesses, especially school leavers and graduates that do not know the sector. How do we effectively train, oversee and manage their work? We all need to be engaged with them so that they become valued members of the team and feel valued.
The new norm is going to be a blend of our current new norm mixed with a bit of the old norm and it will evolve and develop further. Technology has enabled us to function effectively and to keep in contact.
I look back at the last few months and, for me personally, coronavirus has given me the opportunity to work from home effectively without any hassle (except for challenging BT line network connection at times) and to have quality time with my husband. I am able to see him at any time during the working day. When I finish working I am with him and within minutes a game of crib ensues.
I personally believe that this “pause” in time has enabled us to work in a much more agile and flexible way, and that there has been a sea change in the effective way in which we use technology. The work-life balance will fundamentally change, and we have a role to play to ensure that we individually, and the businesses in which we operate, grow in strength in the future.