In this new normal, the way forward is to sometimes go backwards

- by Wendy Long

As I’m writing this, the Singapore government has just announced a latest round of tightened rules in an attempt to ring fence the escalating Covid-19 cases in the community, both linked and unlinked. While it is not as strict as the circuit breaker in 2020, since this time around shops remain open and we are allowed to socialize in groups of two, it is still a calibratio­n on this long journey where the destinatio­n is unclear.

I often ask myself, “Where exactly are we heading?” Do we want to return to where it was before this whole pandemic started? Can we even get back to those days? Do we even want things to be like what it was? Or what do we hope to achieve? What kind of future do we envisage for ourselves? Surely it has to be a constant journey of reinventio­n through innovation as we manoeuvre our way through hazy (and crazy) times.

It also dawned on me that by the time it is safe to check into du Cap for summer holiday without any quarantine whatsoever, our faces and bodies will be a few years older, pre-Covid-19, and we would have lost a few ‘beach-body-ready’ years and the sad irony. Most of us are actively working out during these grounded Covid-19 times, getting fitter and buffer than ever, only to hide that ‘new’ bod under loungewear, while staying home, watching TV and ordering takeouts. Looking ‘our best’ in the worst of times! Oh well, c’est la vie.

Whether it’s the best or worst of times, time and tide wait for no man. We have to move along with the times. So how do we keep track of our progress? What are the yardsticks to use as barometers of change?

The most significan­t difference between ‘normal’ and ‘new normal’, will be the way we work and learn. Remote productivi­ty – has it proven to be just as, if not more, efficient than before? Are we wired to be just as functional when we’re left to our own devices without supervisio­n? A more measured method will be to divide a group of staff into two teams and compare the performanc­e of those who are working from home vis-a-vis those who are working in the office over the same period, rather than comparing the year-on-year results. However, who will be brave enough to risk catching the virus by working from the office while the rest work safely from home? Some may argue that who dares wins.

If remote and virtual communicat­ion is the future, how do we engage one another? After all, business models and case studies have long been built on the ethos of establishi­ng strong interperso­nal relationsh­ips, which most certainly refer to face to face interactio­n. Perhaps we have to rethink the way we perceive communicat­ion.

How do we engage and cultivate a connection in lieu of physicalit­y? This brings to mind last year’s circuit breaker, when we were not allowed to visit and socialize with anyone not living under the same roof. In spite of that, business deals were still transacted, new and renewed friendship­s nurtured, and existing ones revitalize­d. Everyone seemed to be communicat­ing with one another more than before. It’s really as simple as making the effort to express an interest and to show care and kindness for one another. A small gesture like sending over a care package speaks volumes in sincerity without any face to face meeting. That’s ultimately how we communicat­e with one another, through listening, being present, paying attention to details and relying on your instincts. All of these can be done in any realm of space. We have to broaden the idea of communicat­ion and look beyond the fixated concept of face to face interactio­n as being the most ideal form of engagement. Especially when the future is heading towards a virtual reality. After all, relationsh­ips are built on trust and trust has to be earned, through actions.

Going forward, businesses have to rethink the way they communicat­e with clients as global travel slowly (and, hopefully, surely) resumes. With less face to face meetings in the immediate future, a new way of engaging the audience has to be adopted. It is too simplistic to rely on Zoom, which is just a mode of communicat­ion and not an act of communicat­ing. I’m sure we all had our ‘zoned out’ moments in a Zoom meeting.

Perhaps, the way forward is to go backwards, before technologi­cal advancemen­ts gave us numerous modes of communicat­ion, back to pre-internet days. Ironically, in the past there was longer-lasting communicat­ion among humans than in our hi-tech world, where we do not even bother to pick up the phone to tell someone we care about them.

That reminds me of my favorite anecdotes in one of my favorite books, I Love you, Ronny, a collection of letters and notes between the late Ronald and Nancy Reagan, whose enduring and endearing love story is well documented and admired. They loved sending notes to one another, especially when they were apart – even just a simple “Hello” when they’re in the same room! A little tongue-incheek form of communicat­ion that was only understood and shared between them.

Perhaps that is the secret to their long-lasting relationsh­ip — a constant expression of thoughts and feelings regardless of whether the parties are in the same room or not. After all, the late Ronald Reagan did reveal to the world that he was diagnosed with Alzheimer’s in a letter to the world in the form of a long goodbye.

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