Jonathan Newman

There's never been a better time to do things differently



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I don’t think I’m alone in noticing that, over recent weeks, there has been a pervading sense of lockdown weariness among people.

Nobody has particularly enjoyed lockdown but, in our industry, we have at least been fortunate enough to be able to continue trading, albeit remotely. To begin with, people were conscious about the value of the social interaction they were missing out on and I think we made more of an effort to compensate accordingly — choosing to pick up the phone rather than send an email, for example.

However, over time, we’ve fallen out of the habit of communicating with each other. It takes just over two months to form a new habit, and many people haven’t stepped inside their office for approaching a year. We’ve become entrenched in our own isolation.

This manifests itself in a number of ways. Internally, it is harder to get people to pull together if there is no physical or human connection. It’s difficult to collaborate when you are all detached. Where there is challenge — as there should be in any healthy business — it can more easily lead to conflict, and these conflicts are harder to resolve when people are remote. On a basic human level, it’s also just harder to check on each other, to read behaviour and body language, and this can lead to people feeling more isolated.

In external relationships too, I have noticed people becoming pricklier. I recently participated in a mediation, it was long and the negotiation tough — nothing particularly remarkable there. It was a successful outcome and, but upon reflection, the atmosphere was quite different.

Participants were working from separate locations, hundreds of miles from each other, and everyone was slightly uncomfortable as a result. So, unlike pre-Covid mediations, even the rival parties are sub-split by their location and all interaction is digital.

Simply put, even the comfort of the claimant’s or defendant’s room, that feeling and empathy of being on the same side together in the same place is denied.

When people are uncomfortable in a situation, they tend to pull the drawbridge up and behave more defensively, which can often come across as more aggressive. Greater is the opportunity for grandstanding.

Whereas, if people are put into a room together, they tend to look for points of connection, which can help everyone feel more at ease.

On a daily basis, I’m sure we all see examples of people looking to exert influence from behind a keyboard in a way that we perhaps didn’t see as often this time last year. It’s a form of pared-down execution-only communication that has developed as consequence of our strange situation, but will it benefit us, or our businesses, as we emerge from the pandemic?

At this stage, with a roadmap out of lockdown restrictions, I think we have an opportunity to reassess our working practises. Just as we have fallen into bad habits of poor communication through the dark months of lockdown, we can choose to form new habits of more open dialogue, greater communication and more beneficial partnerships as we establish a new working environment. This will take a choice to do things differently, but there’s never been a better time to make that choice.

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