How many of us, even in business, were regular users of video conferencing before the start of the year? Or at least how many of us had used it regularly and felt comfortable? Similarly, the concept of long-term home and flexible working was embraced by some but was perhaps alien to many, particularly private business leaders for whom a physical presence with people, customers and suppliers was often a pillar of their day-to-day life.
Like many other aspects of our working and everyday lives, what were previously just developing trends in technology communications, have accelerated beyond recognition. It will be interesting to see, in the coming months, which behaviours get left behind and which are embraced for the longer term.
New behaviours are certainly emerging, particularly in how leaders stay connected digitally while balancing valuable human interaction.
Staying connected in an increasingly virtual world
For many of us working from home, the diary of video calls would merge into night-time or weekend video quizzes with friends and family. Thankfully, the quiz is long forgotten, or at least it is in my family.
We should not ignore the isolation many will have felt during the first half of 2020, but we should also recognise that technology has helped us become more connected to each other. As society begins to resemble something we can start to recognise as normal, what should private business leaders be thinking about when it comes to staying connected?
An interesting trend we are seeing is business leaders sharing information with each other in a much more collaborative manner. Those peer-to-peer discussions have proved invaluable, not only as an affirmation that all businesses are experiencing similar challenges, but the sharing of ideas and best practice to support each other. We can certainly see a more cooperative business environment emerging.
It is important all information is gathered and disseminated to the rest of the team, so it doesn’t just stay in leaders’ heads. Technology has been gradually shifting our ability to connect with one another over the past decade. However, those gradual shifts in behaviour have accelerated exponentially as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, with large scale technology adoption being central to allowing many to continue doing business during the crisis.
Many leaders love to network and some of the technological interventions in our working lives could perhaps have made that easier. An informal video call could be easier to arrange, and the time better spent, than other pre-lockdown practices of travelling far to meet in person. It takes bravery to overcome any initial awkwardness trying out a new way of networking virtually, but if overcome once, it will be overcome again.
For many, it might be a case of getting back to a state of normal as quickly and as safely as possible, but for others, recent times may have given business leaders an opportunity to reflect on what they were doing, and learn new ways of staying in touch.
EY’s own research, a survey of 150 UK private business leaders conducted in June 2020, suggests that a purely digital world has still allowed people the opportunity to connect effectively with others in a business context and that respondents have not only invested in technology to maintain their operations but will continue to invest as different working practices evolve.