I’m glad we’ve reached the end of April. It was relentless and stressful. It’s chipped away at my income and mental wellbeing as COVID-19 has wreaked havoc.
After seven weeks, the novelty of lockdown is long gone. With the daily death toll increasing by hundreds of people, knowing that we’ll have social distancing for a few months is sobering.
Walking in High Street in Wells is a brutal reminder of COVID-19’s impact on places, which stand empty and desolate. I’m not alone in feeling that lockdown can’t end soon enough.
On a personal level, I’m looking forward to doing the things I can’t do now. Catching up with my parents and friends. Spending time with colleagues in Bristol, where I’ve not been since 17 March. Enjoying that next pint at the Druidstone, overlooking the Pembrokeshire coastline. Holding onto those thoughts has been a good motivator.
There are, of course, much bigger questions to face when lockdown ends. How we live, travel, work and buy things are likely to change in big ways.
Change for the better
Lockdown hasn’t been all bad though. I may be lucky in this respect, and I’m not arguing in favour of extending it. But we should recognise where this crisis shines a light in parts of our lives that are worth holding on to, as well as those that should change.
In no particular order, here are some of the things that helped to make it better than it otherwise would be for me. I’m very grateful for them.
Better routines: My start to the day is more civilised and family-friendly than it was before March. In the ‘old normal’, I rose at 5.50am and took on an hour-long bus journey to Bristol at 7am. I’d check emails, social media and news feeds before getting into work. My commute was almost two hours, each way.
Today, I’ve listened to music on a run around the field behind our house, had breakfast with the kids and caught up with what’s happening in the world by 8.30am. I start work with the sound of the children playing the piano and flute in the background.
I’ve long been an advocate of flexible working, because I’ve seen how it helps people find a balance between busy professional and domestic lives. Social supported this approach years before we went into lockdown and it’s helped us rapidly adjust to new working arrangements. Lockdown disproves the idea, millions of times over, that we should be in our offices, at our desks for 12 hours a day.
Although I don’t think COVID-19 heralds the ‘death of the office’, I’m hearing many employers are considering drastic changes to their workplaces when lockdown lifts. I’m excited by the opportunity this presents to create better workplaces and ways of working.
Checking in: One of lockdown’s nicer aspects is the interest people take in how others are. I’ve spent much more time speaking with my team, family and friends over the the last two months.
Everyone’s had their own challenges. Some people have admitted to having meltdowns. This shared experience has helped bring people closer together and strengthen connections. Although it can’t replace face-to-face contact, and Zoom fatigue is a thing, some of it’s been fun.
We’ve also had get-togethers with old university friends who I’ve known for 25 years and who live across the UK, in Europe and Australia.
People are adapting: I work in industries that talk lots about transformation, whilst at the same time not appearing to change in ways which support this ambition. The word ‘digital’ is often used in this context, while analogue approaches persist.
Now change is happening because it has to. Users are taking up technology to stay in touch like never before. I’m hearing that legal firms are seeing value and efficiency gains in having meetings online.
After years of talking about it, we may see digital engagement supplant traditional village hall meetings on community consultations. The challenge for those leading this work will be to do it in an engaging way that demonstrates value. Making your content clear and useful will matter more now than ever. Sticking a PDF of your consultation boards onto a website won’t cut it, especially now.
PR faces challenges to adapt too as falling revenues and circulation accelerate the decline of traditional print media. Let’s be honest: if not now, when?
Cleaner, healthier, fairer: It feels like people will expect a better way of doing business when lockdown ends. We have seen an outpouring of support for NHS workers, who have borne the brunt of austerity over the past decade. Politicians who have overseen this austerity before joining the clap for carers have been ridiculed in some quarters. It will take a brave (and foolish) politician to ignore this.
Alongside this, we’ll see pressure build for support for more clean energy, which could provide trillions in new investment and create skilled jobs. Where I live in the South West is well placed to lead on this agenda.
There’s also an opportunity for businesses who want to press for a fairer world to lead the way. I’m proud to work for a company that wants to make a positive impact. We have signed up to the Good Business Charter which sets out a commitment to do the right thing. Public relations people have a role in shaping this too.
I read a brilliant blog post the other day which said that ‘trust will be the new oil. People will expect better of organisations. Change won’t just happen though. But we can hope that the future favours those who support a fairer way of doing things.
The future is to fight for
No-one knows what the future holds. Understanding what’s important will be a crucial step on the path to the new normal.
We should take time to chat these questions through with our families and teams. If we fail to learn from what’s happening around us, we may miss an opportunity to change things for the better.
Taking the good things from lockdown would be a sensible place to start.
Thanks for taking the time to read this. If you’ve any thoughts on this, I’d love to hear them.