As with any year that heralds the start of a new decade, 2020 was always going to be a pivotal moment, but I think few of us were prepared for the profound impact the pandemic has had on our lives and those of our loved ones. The latest data from the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control reports over 71 million worldwide cases of COVID-19, and as of 14 December 2020, 1,612,833 deaths. This cruel virus has caused untold suffering and while the development of various vaccines provides the hope of a new dawn, we can only hope the pandemic’s darkest hour will not precede this and we must take every precaution to safeguard each other throughout this festive season.
Despite the challenges we have all faced in 2020, I think we can be proud of our resilience, agility and adapting to new ways of working, which has been underpinned by our ability to become proficient with new ways to communicate and collaborate. In the late 1990’s I was working with many Information Technology, or IT companies who despite being worried about the impact of computer systems crashing - the so-called millennium bug – wondered how technology would change the world. Several thought leadership campaigns I worked on asked how we might function two decades hence under the banner of ‘2020 Vision’, a phrase that means perfect eyesight, if not foresight!
How time flies and now that 2020 has arrived it’s interesting to see that many of the predictions were broadly correct – for example the shift to online shopping, using software to simplify business processes and the importance of ubiquitous mobile networks on our daily lives. But it’s also interesting to see that some of the impact that technology and innovation would have on human behaviour was missed.
What we now know as the smartphone started life as a chunky miniaturised computer with a not so catchy name – the PDA or personal digital assistant – and we were slow to realise that humans didn’t just want to use technology to work, but to have fun too.
Social media has exploded in our lives as we like to connect with each other and share not just what we know, but what we’re feeling or thinking. We like to express emotion not just in words but with pictures, experiences, GIFs, videos and emojis to name but a few. We can also see that these new ways to communicate don’t just allow the transmission of positive vibes, but negative ones too.
As communications professionals we can observe that the response to the COVID crisis may have been enabled by technology platforms such as Teams and Zoom, but it is effective engagement, authentic communication and empowerment from leadership that has helped us become aligned, inventive, collaborative and determined to find the answers to many challenging questions.
We cannot be on mute, and we should take the opportunity to ensure that the value of human-to-human interaction is recognised as something that brings people together and ensures that social, cultural, gender, geographic or generational division doesn’t impact our place of work. I see two huge opportunities that can come from our learnings of this year.
The first one is inclusion. For many reasons it has always been hard to get people together to participate in the important conversations, particularly if a meeting is limited to say a physical meeting room. From now on we have to make presenteeism a thing of the past, and also make sure that we consider our colleagues’ circumstances. To address social division we also need diverse views as we can now see the dangers that echo chambers can create.
We can run meetings more efficiently and make them more fun if we innovate and express different perspectives in an objective manner. I’m sure there will always be a place for PowerPoint, white boards and Post It notes, but there are lots of new ways to encourage inclusivity and it’s worth investing in them as various studies show that inclusive environments are far more productive.
The second is togetherness. Office life, as it was pre-pandemic, provided an intuitive and uncomplicated way to build relationships and trust through tried and tested rituals such as water cooler conversations, get to know you coffees, town hall type meetings and of course the office Christmas party...!
We are all looking forward to future opportunities to interact in person with co-workers, but the notion of the five-day working week is unlikely to return. So, we will have to make a renewed effort to get to know each other better in different ways. We can define processes to drive inclusivity, however togetherness is more about having common values and making the effort to get to know each other better, identifying common interests and being proactive with ways to be helpful and kind.
I think as we gradually return to our places of work, we should look to celebrate togetherness as we are, to a greater or lesser extent social beings.
Togetherness contributes to our enjoyment of live sporting or cultural events and every business should find ways to harness this positive human force to everyone’s advantage.
While it was our IT that kept us communicating virtually during 2020, I think it should be I&T initiatives that helps us drive our recovery.
At Semelo we will certainly be practising what we preach and we’re looking forward to finding new ways to advance this, and other conversations in 2021. In the meantime, we would like to convey our best wishes for the festive season and look forward to welcoming a new year which will hopefully see an end to the COVID-19 pandemic. Stay well and stay safe.