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Preparing for life after lockdown

Business talk with Steve Elsom, June 2020

Few could have imagined a world without handshakes and hugs, and even fewer could have imagined the economy being put ‘on pause’, but no-one could have imagined the curfew-like regime that has enveloped us.

But reality it is, and now it is a question of how we prepare to emerge from the shadow of the deepest recession that this country will have ever known… what is ‘life after lockdown’ going to look like?

The first rule of the ‘new norm’ is that ‘nothing is, as it was’. From personal introductions, to hygiene factors, to workspaces, to the working week… everything will change – get used to it.

In my most recent article, I talked about ‘first impressions’, those first 23 seconds when you make an introduction, a pitch or just a ‘hey, this is me’. Making an impact in a face to face environment is what we are used to… making an impact into a webcam we are not.

I find that ‘users’ are still nervous around technique… from lens focus to background choice.

We are not practising before the ‘live’ show, and it shows! What first impression would you want to portray if you were sitting face to face with an interview panel?

Professional, calm, confident… are three ‘states of mind’ that I guess would be in most people’s minds.

So, when we look into the webcam, shouldn’t we be trying to mirror these?

Take time to practice with a friend, how you come across on the screen. Seek feedback on your ‘environment’ (is the background ‘fit for purpose’), the functionality of the camera and microphone, your pitch, your energy, your body language and your confidence. These all matter, as you endeavour to create a positive first impression.

I have been hosting colleague 1:1’s and team meetings over the webcam for a few years now, and it does take some getting used to.

1:1 meetings can feel more intense… whereas in a room, you both have ‘space’ to let your gaze wander, you may shift your posture, or shuffle some papers. Over a webcam, it’s just you and me.

Be mindful of this as a host. ‘Dial up’ humility and be more self-aware around expressions and examples. Be mindful, too, of timing. I try to keep 1:1’s to a maximum of 30 minutes… that’s long enough, if you plan an agenda, keep to the agenda and capture actions.

Team meetings can be such fun over camera… but they require an effective chair to ensure that the session is well marshalled, that everyone remains engaged and that everyone has the opportunity to contribute.

The office environment will never again look like it did five months ago. Working from home, agile working and flexible working mean that the 9am-5pm working day is now probably ‘a thing of the past’, and employees will be required to log on to work at home in between other priorities, such as the school run.

However, every business will need to ensure that their employees’ home working environment is both safe and secure, that broadband and digital capability is on par with what clients of the business will be expecting, and that managers take into account the mental health challenges that ‘working from home’ can pose… there is often no-one to talk or turn to, no coffee machine banter… it can be very lonely.

So, lots to think about, but nothing that is insurmountable. Plan ahead, embrace the changes, practise with the camera and the kit, communicate to the team and display an energy and resilience that will help you and your business ‘get through’.

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Steve is a regular contributor to B2B publications, see some of his recent articles for insights into current business news, leadership and much more...