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COVID-19 is teaching us how to mix business with people

14/04/2020
— Remy Le Fevre 

A version of this article originally appeared on Mumbrella.com – https://mumbrella.com.au/covid-19-is-properly-teaching-us-how-to-mix-business-with-people-624295? 

Leaders’ idea of what’s ‘right’ and how corporate culture should evolve is laid out. Most of us understand what these ‘correct’ ways of working are, but often they’re clunky in accommodating our lives. Flexible options can be met with resistance.

But COVID-19, despite all of the challenges it has presented, may just have provided us with a solution.

We’ve all heard opinions on ways of working: How to optimise productivity, whether we should start our day at 5am with yoga, an F45 session, dog walk, acai bowl, business plan and a cleared inbox before 7am (or not), flexible working, how to treat people… the list goes on.

And although we can all agree progress has been made, our current circumstances reveal what fully embracing these best practice ideas actually looks like.

Perhaps there are reservations created by the ‘old habits die hard’ mentality. Generational differences, maybe? A lack of fully committing to evolution, or a lack of willingness to test and learn? The reason we haven’t truly embraced remote working could be a combination of all these factors, but COVID-19 may have accelerated our progress, setting us up to become more productive, efficient, and (most importantly) human.

Already, my company is more committed to ensuring human connection is an integral part of how we work. We know looking after each other is the decent thing to do. We know the value of kindness to the wellbeing and health of our businesses.

But deeper, less formal connection is something that has never been so prevalent in our day-to-day, and it’s shown us a new level of company and team culture that we don’t want to let go of.

Across the globe, we’re having dedicated ‘meetings’ purely focused on seeing if our teams are okay – not an add-on or a casual ‘How you going?’ but a scheduled occasion about our people as people (not employees). We’re also forming opinions about what warrants a face-to-face meeting and what can be done virtually – weighing up the travel, time, cost and even carbon footprint benefits that we’re increasingly sensitive to. These are considerations that will no doubt continue to inform how we evolve long past the end of this pandemic.

We’re having virtual drinks; we’re seeing aspects of each other’s lives we normally hide or don’t express; we’re presenting our ‘whole self’ in a way many of us haven’t done before; we’re being more vulnerable and open about how we’re all finding the current situation; we’re even talking about family impacts and how we can help each other out above and beyond work – and it’s all incredibly beautiful, touching and thought-provoking. Yes, okay, also distracting when I keep interrupting meetings to talk to Mr Meowy (my colleague’s cat) – yup, great name, wish I’d thought of it too – but that’s part of the beauty of it all.

COVID-19 has reminded us of the greatest currency we have: relationships. Solid, human-to-human, honest relationships.

We’re learning new things every day that we’ll take into the ‘new normal’ (yucky phrase… what even is ‘normal’?) We’re reducing meetings and travel time and replacing them with ‘commitments of connection’: dedicated sessions with teams, and clients, purely to connect, talk about each other, lament on life and get comfortable with it being okay to mix ‘business with people’.

Remy Le Fevre is head of consumer and creative director at WE Communications Australia