As summer draws to a close, Shireen sees the positives in a return to ‘business normal’, with some welcome adjustments.

Author: Shireen Shurmer

Is this the ‘new normal’ we’ve heard so much about? The last few weeks have seen us inching back into something approaching pre-pandemic life, with adjustments. This year’s September ‘re-entry’ season feels weird – not just a return after the usual six-week period of summer disruption to business as usual, but like the same ‘new pencil case’ atmosphere dialled up several notches.

At AD, we’ve returned to the office in stages since July, but in a hybrid pattern so that we only have 50% occupancy on any given day, and we can all continue to enjoy the benefits we’ve learned to appreciate of spending some of our time working remotely. Face-to-face meetings are creeping back, but only where being together in person really adds value – otherwise we can all appreciate the time and travel efficiencies of a video call.

We’re planning to attend our first live B2B events next month, with several industry events back on the calendar for the autumn, and we’re really looking forward to connecting with international journalists and client contacts again after such a long hiatus.

One real highlight of returning to the physical workplace is the opportunity to reconnect with the members of our team that we don’t necessarily collaborate with virtually on a daily basis, and being reminded of how this rich combination of people and personalities makes up the special cocktail that is ‘Team AD’.

In particular, it’s great to return to giving feedback and mentoring ‘in real life’, rather than just adding comments or mark-ups to a shared document or scheduling a Teams call to explain something. I know how much I myself learned ‘by osmosis’ in the early years of my comms career, so it’s great to see the new additions to our happy crew learning this way again, and seeing what we can take from their fresh input and ideas too.

And I’m appreciating some of the unsung small pleasures of office life – someone else making me a coffee, perusing the shelves of the supermarket for a salad I didn’t have to make myself, and belated birthday drinks with some of the team in a sunny pub garden.

Like any business in the ‘knowledge economy’ the big question is whether things will ever return entirely to the way they were, or whether we are forever reshaped by the last 18 months. No doubt we’ve learned valuable lessons about productivity and efficiency, and the sheer stupidity of presenteeist culture in business has at last been laid bare.

We’ve also understood that – whether they’re nurtured virtually or in real life – successful business is about solid relationships where we can rely on each other, have each others’ back, and treat each other fairly. There’s also much to be said for an environment in which we’ve become more sensitive to one anothers’ domestic situations, health and wellbeing. In the last 18 months, when someone asks me how I am, I’m fairly sure that it’s a genuine question. Professional boundaries are still in place, but when you’ve seen someone’s living room on Zoom, met their dog and chatted to their kids, there’s no denying that the relationship dynamics have shifted a little.

I hope that the empathy, patience and understanding we’ve shown each other during this prolonged crisis does not disappear along with face masks and sanitising gels when the COVID risk finally abates, and that the legacy we’re left with is a work culture where we’re driven only by outcomes, not optics.

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