Fast forward to better business
2020 has seen seismic shifts in the way we work and live, with those two things sometimes feeling inseparable but, says Richard Exon, Founder at Joint London, this year has also taught company owners some important lessons in how to build the businesses of the future.
The pandemic is as appalling as it is undeniable. Its human cost continues to grow in ways both visible and invisible.
As for the business cost of Covid-19, this sometimes feels capricious, inconsistent and simply unfair. Nevertheless part of our job as creative business leaders is to process, as fast as we can, just what the hell is happening this year and what we do next. After all, with every politician, from the sublime to the ridiculous (AKA Jacinda to Donald), talking about ‘Build back better’, the creative industry is ideally placed to figure out how to create renewal and progress from this global disruption.
Part of our job as creative business leaders is to process, as fast as we can, just what the hell is happening.
But maybe disruption is not quite the right word. Perhaps acceleration is more appropriate, because it feels like just about every emerging trend we were living through last year has sped up. And, within the grim realities of 2020, some of these trends are pinpricks of light that point to encouraging advances in the way we run, manage and lead our businesses.
Above: The Black Lives Matter protests have impacted how company cultures should evolve.
First, the extraordinary events around the callous killing of George Floyd on May 25th, igniting widespread energy behind the BLM movement, have had measurable and meaningful impact on how we understand our company cultures and our responsibilities as leaders. Any residual inertia around adopting an action-orientated and vocal anti-racist stance – unconscious or otherwise – has been replaced with an urgency previously unseen and unfelt in British business. More of us now feel empowered to have new conversations and seek new answers to old problems.
There’s a long way to go, of course. In fact, to many, it feels like the real journey is only just beginning despite centuries of civil rights protest and activism. But this new readiness and need to prioritise anti-racism will speed up the changes everybody wants to see. As it is now beyond doubt that greater diversity and inclusion are key drivers of business success, the faster the change happens the better.
WFH does act as a stalking horse for the good stuff, helping us understand just how achievable a radical reset to the way we organise our working patterns is.
There’s another major change that is as yet unachieved, but which feels closer to hand than it did last year. It’s inspired by the imperfect experiment known as Working From Home (WFH). Advocates of flexible working quite rightly tell us that forced WFH is something quite different and that we shouldn’t draw too many conclusions. Awkward Zoom calls and inquisitive pets are categorically not indicative of the true benefits of more modern, flexible ways of working and, of course, there will always be a vital role for people to meet and spend time together in the flesh.
But WFH does act as a stalking horse for the good stuff, helping us understand just how achievable a radical reset to the way we organise our working patterns is. We’ve been forced to make more rapid changes to how we work than we ever would have contemplated if left undisrupted. Now we know just what extraordinary things we are capable of without the twin curses of 9-5 and the five-day week, there will be no turning back. And, as the Flexible First initiative from WACL highlights, flexibility in all its forms helps drive more of the inclusion and diversity that boosts company performance.
Above: Mass working from home has forced change upon businesses more quickly than it might otherwise have.
Finally, it’s worth noting the welcome upsurge in empathy for the people we share our work lives with. This may sound like a small point, but it's very important. Empathy is a critical but sometimes overlooked quality in successful business leadership. Most of us today strive to be thoughtful, considerate leaders but none of us could have predicted just how personal and emotional the experience of leading our teams through a global health crisis would be. The same is true of our external relationships with clients and other third parties.
Empathy is a critical but sometimes overlooked quality in successful business leadership.
It’s impossible not to feel closer to people when you know far more about their families, their pets, their homes and the shared experiences we have all had of trying to navigate something exceptional. So, perhaps the best thing we can say about the horrific events of 2020 so far is that they are speeding up fundamental changes that will make this an even better industry to work in. Actively anti-racist, more diverse, more inclusive, more empathetic and with a previously unimaginable flexibility around how, and where, we work.
So, next time we hear someone say ‘Build back better’, those of us in creative business can add ‘yes, and let’s do it faster’.