COVID-19 – Adapting To Our New Normal

“There are decades where nothing happens. And there are weeks when decades happen.”

– Vladimir Lenin

Just three months ago I still don’t think I’d grasped it.  But this quote really captures for me the enormity of the shifts we’ve experienced over the last few months, and the acceleration of changes in our lives that would otherwise have taken years.

To begin with it was all about the sense of loss. That this was fundamentally a safe country to live in was suddenly lost to us. The shock and sadness of such a fast change to that reality for so many people stopped us all in our tracks. And beyond the tragedy, the mundane. The things we take for granted, all now lost to us.  Freedom to do as you like, go to work, see friends and family, head to the beach at the weekend, go out for a drink or dinner, send children to school and nursery. That summer meant the usual run of rain-soaked festivals, sporting highlights and holidays. The privilege of knowing the health service was there for anything we might need.

Time For Change

And yet what’s incredible is how fast we have all adapted to the new normal. Not that we have much choice at this point, but to stay sane, you focus on what you can control. Your new routine. How to juggle all the new pieces of the puzzle and stay standing. To focus on being grateful for your health and that of your family when so many people are suffering real loss. And to see the positives that are emerging amongst all the shock and sadness.

Data Analysis in Business Operations

Life has slowed down unimaginably. In a society where saying you’re busy has been a mark of success for the last 20 years, time is something many people now have in spades. Time for family. To check in with friends not seen in ages, even if it’s now remotely. To think about the small pleasures in life. And now as the shock of the first wave is passing, we’re looking to see what has changed that we want to hold on to.

Will Working From Home Become A Permanent Shift?

Whilst many of us at SETL work from home occasionally, we are primarily a company that values innovation and collaboration and the value that working together in person brings.   Shifting the whole company to working from home full-time concurrently in the middle of a crisis was a big change but, thanks to the hard work of a few people, something that went without a hitch. And like most people, I think we’ve all been amazed about how well we’ve managed to transition from very much an in-office culture, to a company that is working fully remotely, maintaining a high level of output, innovation and collaboration. Like many companies we’re now looking to bake this change into our new normal, creating more flexibility for our teams about where they work, even when we are able to safely return to the office.

Connectivity In The Workplace

SETL has delivered a huge amount in the three months we’ve been working from home and in that time alongside continuing to deliver on our ongoing client commitments, the team have pulled together and created a system from scratch to allow the government to make payments directly to individuals most in need as a result of the lockdown. These are the moments that count, when you see what people are capable of even when everything else is spinning.

In some ways, I feel we are more connected now as a company. Don’t get me wrong, we are all missing the office hugely, and the doughnuts, but our teams are having daily stand ups and regular 1:1s to make sure people have clarity on what’s expected, connect regularly and can see themselves making regular progress. We have weekly and fortnightly catch ups for all teams together to share updates and check in. We have weekly virtual Friday beers and regular pub quizzes at the newly coined “Block and Chain”. These all help lighten the load and are actually helping people get to know teammates from other parts of the organisation better. Being virtual puts everyone on the same footing – whether they previously worked from home or in a different office. We’re all now squares on the screen and in many ways that’s been a great leveller and has been a reminder that getting to know each other as people really helps unlock connection and collaboration.

Gaps In Our Society

But there is no one size fits all in this situation. This pandemic isn’t the great leveller it was first described as – it is creating hugely different challenges for people based on their own circumstances – financial, job type, health, family circumstances, race. Where some people are struggling with living alone, others are living in crowded situations juggling work commitments and home schooling, alongside other caring commitments. Whilst we juggle our way through our own unique set of challenges, empathy and compassion for other people’s unique reality is key.

For everyone who is coming off the adrenaline high of the rollercoaster of the last couple of months – the question now becomes how do we respond to the ongoing challenges of this virus? From a work perspective, how do we maintain our optimism, focus and delivery when the adrenaline starts to wear off. This isn’t something that’s going away in a few weeks or months and even having been through the level of paradigm shift we’ve experienced over the last month doesn’t mean we are in any way prepared to adapt to a new version of normal.

What Do We Do Next?

And yet, for all the horrors, this is a once in a lifetime opportunity to rethink how we show up to work and life. These next few months are a unique opportunity for innovation to leapfrog years of gradual digitisation. Our focus is on how we can support clients to future-proof and streamline their ways of working for an increasingly distributed world. During our recent industry panel (Post Trade, Post Covid) the major banks shared how the change from operating from multiple office locations to an exponential increase of individual locations had created infinitely more complexity and had brought home the importance of streamlining and digitising post-trade settlement and operations to the levels of the front office.

The additional insights we now have into people’s home lives is breaking down barriers, increasing our personal connection to each other and speeding up the humanisation of the workplace. The work mask is slipping and this accelerates a positive change towards real inclusion and authenticity at work.

A New Way Forwards

They say when life gives you lemons, make lemonade. Never in a generation have we had more thrown at us as a global society in a few short months. Seeing widely accepted norms flipped on their heads within days was, at first, incredibly destabilising. And yet within that, we now have a world of opportunity to challenge ourselves and our preconceived ideas of what’s possible and what can be achieved. To question the sacred cows. To see what people can do when it’s required. To witness the importance of listening to all perspectives with an open mind, being open and humble and learning and executing at speed. To see people come together in incredible ways. Holding on to the unexpected pleasures and lessons of lockdown will be critical to helping us make the best possible success of a future where uncertainty and change are now our everyday personal lived experience.