What shall we keep?

With news of vaccines and light at the end of the tunnel of the pandemic, a thought about life post-pandemic. It’s a bit of a different blog post this week.

I was thinking initially outside of radio, the thing i usual post about, but then of course my mind came back to how radio relates.

What should we keep from our experience in lockdown and restriction? Do we go back to life as it was before March, or have we changed some things and created new habits that we might like to keep?

Much has been said about the rise of “remote working” and how this might impact the future of cities and the working environment. Before lockdown and the pandemic, many managers and senior people considered “working from home” to be a bit of a skive I think. I have witnessed the roll of the eyes and the air quotes when saying someone is “working from home”. The inference being that really they are sitting at home watching TV, and not working- or if they were working then at least they were not working very much or very hard. It’s understandable I’m sure, and equally I’m sure there were a few people for whom the prospect of working from home did indeed mean not working particularly hard. The truth is though that I bet those people didn’t work very hard when they were in the office either in all probability- they would most likely be the ones spending the most amount of time “having a catch up”. In the hierarchical old school model of bosses and subordinates- having those people positioned within eyesight so the boss could keep an eye of them would be the norm. I’ve worked with people who have deliberately moved people within the office because they wanted to keep an eye on them and make sure they were working- not that they told them that of course. Who is at fault here? Undoubtedly there is some fault on the person not pulling their weight and taking the michael. Is there not some responsibility for the person who hired them too? Maybe they hired a bad fit or put someone into the wrong role, didn’t guide, train or instruct them or inspire them at all and the end result is played out in the behaviour you witness? Here is my point- irrespective of where they physically are those people (in a bad fit job etc) are always going to do what they do, no matter if they are at home or sitting within sight.

The others hired, work at home or in the office without having to have a whip cracked like the boss is some Ebenezer Scrooge character chastising Bob Cratchit, and as we sit at this end of the pandemic just maybe they consider the 60-90 minutes or more commuting each day a little pointless. My hope is that the idea of remote working, and that sigma of saying “I’m going to work from home tomorrow” goes away. Having the choice and the flexibility improves people’s life balance, creating happier workforces and therefore a better level of productivity after all. The dinosaur bosses with the mindset that if they are not there then everyone skives, need to catch up to modern life. The world has changed.

On the balance side of that- perhaps a better use of “in office time” might be a good outcome too. Remote video meetings are fine and you can do a lot, but there is much that a face to face in person meeting beats hands down- at times and for the right reason. That said it falls into the same area as pointless meetings- many is the time that I’ve sat in a meeting which could have just been an email, but instead wasted everyones time meeting in person. A more efficient use of that office resource, what can you do remotely versus what do you have to travel for, would be a good outcome I think. Commit to not squandering that resource on flippant meetings in person which don’t need to happen, could be an email or could be remote. Some time spent training people on just how you can really use video software might be good too! We’ve had a lot of experience of it, now lets spend a little time knocking off the rough edges of its use to really reap the rewards and lose the “you are on mute!” moments.

Side note- and a big one. Of course not everyone CAN work from home even if they wish. Some jobs and professions require you to be at a set place at a set time and be “hands on”. Some people just simply don’t have that luxury because of the work they do, or indeed because of their circumstance too. If a job can be done remotely then being trapped in a studio flat, balancing a laptop and pot noodle for weeks on end is not fun either and so fair enough- flexibility without the stigma would be good.

All of that applies to radio of course- what the people inside radio companies do is like any other work environment. Do they work from home more, do they travel as much, or utilise office time more efficiently, but there is something else. Reflecting the listener lifestyle back at the listener is part of what radio does so well.

Is drive time as big a thing in a post pandemic world with perhaps a few more people working from home more often? Will every day be more like a Friday? There was a radio station (which shall remain nameless), which 3 weeks into the first full lockdown in March/April 2020 was still playing “driving you home” type imaging at 5pm when there were very few people actually driving anywhere!

Will holidays be different? Having been prevented from going for so long will they be all the more welcome and refreshing? Will some people be extra nervous about going? How does this impact prize offerings on air? How can you reflect it and reference the change in how holidays are considered and tailor prizes accordingly?

Large gatherings of people will feel weird when they are allowed again. Already seeing pre-pandemic footage on TV seems like a different alien world. Will people want to gather in large groups as readily? Will thousands want to cram into Wembley or a stadium or arena? Sport and live music will have a real appeal and draw- but there will be some of those who attended before 2020, for whom it feels strange or nervy. How can you reflect that and recognise that a portion of the audience will have that reticence?

Irrespective of the timing of vaccines and the timeframe of inoculation roll out, there won’t be an immediate snap back to life as it was in Jan- Feb 2020 before the world changed I would doubt. This has been an evolution event which will change the way we do things from now on.

I remember where I was on September 11th 2001 as do most people- I remember talking to my boss at the time, Chris Hughes- a very wise man, who said at about 3 or 4pm on that afternoon when I was talking to him on the phone, that life will change from now on. He said to make a note of the day and recognise that from that day onwards he thought things will be different, there will be a change in the way many things are done in so many facets of our lives that will impact us for years to come. He was right of course- (I told you he was wise). When you think about air travel, security, terrorism and everything that has happened since that one event and all that flowed from it by way of changed foreign and domestic policy, let alone the impact in individuals lives coming from all of that too.

The 2020 pandemic I think will have a similar long tail. I suspect in 2030 there will be things that we do then which can be traced back to this year and all that occurred. Changes for the better and for the worse no doubt.

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Published by Dick Stone

Radio...its always been radio.

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