It’s time to reclaim our lives from behind the screen
Jan Gooding states the case for re-emerging from behind the screen and returning to workplace environments.
I think we can all agree that this autumn has been a fairly nervy return to meeting up again in person. Set against the backdrop of Covid cases on the rise once more, continued controversy over vaccinations and the wearing of masks in public spaces, working from home seems deeply ingrained.
I am left wondering whether those in the marketing sector who led their people home, will manage to find a way to lead them back out again.
Breaking our habits
We have got used to avoiding the daily commute. Nor missed the downside of the unpleasant crush, early starts and late arrivals home, not to mention the money saved.
Despite our negative feelings of being cut-off from colleagues, we have learned to blend our work and personal lives together.
So, whilst on the one hand most wanted to escape the relentless grind of rolling Zoom meetings, many are evidently finding it hard to get back into the groove of being together again on the other.
Our priority was social connection
It’s not altogether surprising that people have generally been more up for getting back to sporting fixtures, holidays, pubs, and restaurants than the workplace.
We have a deep-rooted need to be with our friends and family for comfort, intimacy and to our sense of belonging. So that has been the priority. The lack of human contact during the pandemic was extreme and so, correspondingly, the necessity for reconnection has been profound.
That has been the natural first step towards reorientation and stepping back into the world.
Marketing people need to be out in the world
However, now that we have refuelled ourselves socially over the summer, I feel strongly that us marketing folk need to be back together again.
Leaving our safe nests at home and getting back into the rhythm of being in our workplaces. Surely, we cannot settle for experiencing the world from the comfort of our homes and believe we can do our jobs properly?
What appears on our screens is overly curated. We need the unexpected back in our lives if we are to restore our creativity and productivity.
We benefit from the power of our personal observations, the exposure to everyday life, and the stimulation and reflection time that comes with changing location.
Stuck at home we lose the opportunity to stumble across behaviour, sights and sounds, which in turn register on our subconscious, ready to be drawn upon at some future time.
Our senses have gradually diminished
We have become dulled. Forgetting that collaboration with colleagues required by marketing also compels us to turn-up in person. Not every day. Not nine to five. But a lot more than most people are doing now.
At stake is more than what we may prefer as individuals but ultimately the impact on company culture and our craft.
I contend that teams are glued together as profoundly by face-to-face interaction as our friends and family are.
Our work is improved when we create margins at the edges of our assignments for each other to occupy. By which I mean conversations overheard, quick bits of advice given in the moment, the value of an immediate download after a meeting, bumping into people and having the opportunity to join the dots by exchanging news.
Marketing relies on the constant flow and exchange of ideas between people. That cannot be done well in a virtual world.
It feels like such an effort
I must confess I have not found it easy. I had to give myself a bit of a talking to about making the effort to go and see people in person. Promising myself that I would be rewarded for the time invested in the journey and spent in reception, the small talk before and after the meeting and the quality of the conversation. But I wasn’t really sure if that was true. Or whether I was just being very ‘old school’.
I dreaded going on the Northern line, and worried about whether people would be wearing masks and how full the carriages would be.
Time was lost from my diary (now spent travelling) when I could have squeezed in a couple more hours at my screen. I had to dig out proper business attire and so I was presentable beyond my head and shoulders.
The rewards are immense
However, every time someone has agreed to meet me face-to-face; I have been rewarded tenfold. And it hasn’t just been down to some kind of ‘honeymoon period.’ It has been sustained.
I have rediscovered what I used to do on journeys – listening to podcasts, clearing my emails, reading the paper, or just soaking up my surroundings once more.
It wasn’t the ‘dead time’ my memory had turned it into, it was a different sort of productive time.
Reclaiming life beyond the screen
I have felt the bustle of people going about their business and found it infectious. Enjoyed the sight of coffee shops with customers in them again and grieved for those businesses that simply haven’t made it.
I have been lifted by the sight of the armed forces selling poppies at Liverpool Street station, accompanied by a full marching band. Soaking up the timeless quality of the whole scene. Whilst also observing the use of contactless payment devices alongside traditional buckets and wondering if people be more generous with a credit card than spare change?
We must waste some time
None of this is immediately useful or applicable but it is all in a bank of images and thoughts that broadens my outlook of the world.
Creativity comes from breaking the patterns of our everyday behaviour. And that must be designed into our lives through deliberate disruption of place and pace.
Screens are exactly that. Screening us from the true nature of the world. Hiding and editing the sights, sounds and emotions and placing us in a small bubble. Protected in some ways but also separated from so much that is enriching.
Relationships are being restored
I have experienced the same elation of going into people’s offices and seeing colleagues that I did seeing friends again. And the novelty has not worn off.
I have been reminded that very often small talk can be the big talk. It’s vital to have access to the more honest exchanges when the microphone is off, and the formal part is over. The sotto voce asides that provide invaluable additional insights and context.
The body language of meetings
I have been reminded that chairing a meeting is more than noticing who has clicked on the hand emoji for their turn to speak. It is about drawing people into a conversation because you sense they are having a visceral response that could be anything from anger and dismay, to surprise, discomfort, or laughter.
Face-to-face meetings are far better designed for resolving conflict, creating team spirit, and just lifting everyone’s energy and sense of ‘can do’.
Everyone needs to be up for meeting
Of course, this is not something you can do without a reciprocal change in mindset from colleagues.
I for one am starting to pick up on a little bit of grumpiness emerging towards people who remain reluctant to meet. It is increasingly difficult to take on board that they aren’t willing to put themselves out for the sake of their team. Not to mention the potential improvement in the quality of the work.
There are meetings where the majority are present in-person and a couple of people attend virtually. And if I am honest, it feels a bit like being in a Tube carriage where most people are wearing masks and some people aren’t.
Just as wearing masks protects other people more than it protects you. Making the effort to meet in person is something you do for your colleagues more than yourself. In order to help foster cultures of creativity, collaboration and above all, joy.