Six weeks ago, in what seems like another lifetime, I cottoned on to the seriousness of the reports coming in from mainland Europe, and quickly surmised that something huge in scale was coming, and fast.

We cancelled or moved to online methods any meetings that had been scheduled, and on a personal level, prepared our residences for a lengthy voluntary lockdown period.

Since then, much has changed, and very little has changed, if that makes any sense at all.

We have, however, already learnt lessons from 6 weeks of living and working in a COVID world and in voluntary lockdown. Here’s what we know so far:

Communication is key

At Systemato, we’re old hands at this remote working, working from home business. This is how we’ve worked for the past ten years, so you’d expect us to be, erm, right at home in this new reality.

Wrong. Even we, hugely experienced in all the pitfalls (and the advantages) of working remotely, had a tough time getting accustomed to this new state of affairs. We’re getting there, but some days the cabin fever is real and the mood swings sudden and violent.

We have confirmed one lesson we had already learned though. In the absence of being able to sit down with a colleague to thrash an issue out over a coffee or a beer, what I wrote about our remote working habits in 2016 rings truer than ever now.

“Communication needs to be crystal clear. No prose, no faffing about, just clear, concise, effective instructions or feedback. Not curt, not rude, simply clear, and always fair. Remember that things have a tendency to appear harsher when written, so read what you’ve written at least once before pressing ‘send’.”

Old habits die hard

In times of worldwide panic, it’s understandable that we think with our hearts rather than our heads, and that knee-jerk reactions become the order of the day.

It’s also very dangerous to do so. You may become overwrought, overwhelmed, and just plain overworked as you try to stay afloat. For many of us, our work is our life, and the fear is real when all of that is called into question.

Taking on each and every job that comes your way and then panicking because there’s so much to do are real temptations and very easy to fall back on. Don’t.

You’ve worked hard for years and picked up valuable life lessons along the way. “Don’t sell yourself short.” “Not all clients are meant to be.” “It’s physically impossible to take on every job”.

Don’t abandon all of that and revert to insecurity and self-doubt, even in a global pandemic. In fact, you’re going to need those carefully honed skills more than ever now, so hang on to them.

Speed is the answer, sometimes

But not always.

Of course clients are going to want their stuff RIGHT THE HELL NOW. They wanted that before all this, and more so now. This is the way of the world.

And yes, speed is crucial sometimes. If a restaurant client of ours who got a MICHELIN star 2 weeks before nationwide lockdown asks you for an urgent delivery menu, something which you have a couple of days for usually, but now have a couple of hours, you’re not going to be the one to delay that process just because. Never!

But you can’t launch a client who’s never had a digital footprint or given it serious thought into the online shopping and ecommerce sphere in two days’ time without expecting serious problems down the line, whether with technology, customer satisfaction or comprehension of the expectations and exigencies that come with such a move.

Be aware of this. Even Jeremy Clarkson has at times admitted that speed and power are not always the best tools for the job, so consider carefully.

Prep pays off

I once wrote that a huge lesson I learnt from working in catering was “Clean As You Go”.

“Find a process, hone it, and repeat it,” I had said. “Become efficient, neat, and tidy, in everything you do. Hard enough when serving breakfast to 500 people, harder still when your clutter is all digital bits and bytes and no two clients are the same.”

Working this way prepares you for your workload and for any eventualities. Quality work is important, now more than ever. Stick to what you know and you’ve spent years honing your skills in. You’re not going to magically become competent in areas you’ve never paid attention to.

We aren’t going to start offering translations from Urdu, because we’ve never done that (our clients Transcripta can help though).

But if what you want lies squarely in the ‘what we do’ area, then we can help you, and we’re prepped, ready, willing and able to. Just ask our clients if they’ve experienced disruption from our side.

Quite the opposite; we’ve launched delivery menus for a restaurant, coordinated translations of the salient points of the news for a client, switched tactics from direct online selling to selling through partners for another client, and much more.

Watch and learn

In such stormy seas, lessons are everywhere.

Even your competitors will teach you things you never thought of, and open your eyes to others. I was particularly touched by this blog post by BRND WGN founder Peter Grech; a no holds barred honest expose of how they had to “let go of eight of our team, in an effort to save 27 others”. Switch also had a great post about how brands will survive the Covid-19 crisis.

Every couple of days I read reports from major brands we work with (and not), as well as Google, Gartner, the Economist, the New York Times and many others. Very little is cheery reading, and some is not relevant to the local context, but most is pure gold, and offers precious, data driven insights into how this tide can possibly surfed on, if not turned.

Compassion

Human, now more than ever. Of course I’ll understand if a team member is distracted and their work isn’t as amazing as usual. We’ll have a chat, yes, and sort the issue out, but I’ll be understanding and compassionate. These are uncharted and deep waters for us all.

Various clients have told me that they would rather starve than fire staff, that the captain goes down with the ship. I’m proud to say these people are our clients. I’m not alone in thinking this way. I’ve never pretended to be a business leader, whatever that may be, but here’s one saying what I believe; Louis A. Farrugia, Chairman at Simonds Farsons Cisk Plc and Trident Estates Plc, encouraged small enterprises to try and retain their employees even if they are currently struggling to afford them as a result of the COVID-19 crisis.

Ditto with our clients. We understand that huge changes assail you on all sides. We know you’re under pressure. We get why you’re in a hurry. We get that you may have zero earnings. We understand that you may need more favourable pricing or deferred payments. We totally get that you need to put our relationship on ice. It’s not us, and it’s not you.

It will sting, of course it will. It might even maim us for a while. But we understand.

Change is coming

It’s fairly obvious the huge wave of change we’ve seen already will be followed by others in its wake.

We don’t know what else is coming yet. Hang in there. Don’t give up. There are blessings in disguise in this period too. You won’t see them every day, but the truth is so many have it worse than we do, and there is much to be thankful for.

Keep working hard, follow the health authorities’ instructions, and above all stay safe. Things have a habit of eventually levelling themselves out. We’ll be here when they do.

Mark Debono

Author Mark Debono

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