THE VIRTUAL EXISTENCE CONUNDRUM – PT 3: YOU, ME & EVERYONE IN-BETWEEN.

Perhaps the best insights come from personal experience. As this thing broke, I get a call from the CEO, early days, no complete shut down yet. We discuss precautions, sanitizier, surface contamination and such. Two weeks later we are compelled to decide on a total shut down of physical proximity.

Here’s how it all went down. People from the organization are out in the field, in different parts of the world, airports are shutting down, last flights out or in are announced, as are evac flights and that leads to a scramble to get people back home, ticket prices and hotel costs be damned. In parallel we are shutting down several offices, putting in place arrangements to continue work, calls, meetings, both internal and customer facing. Getting people to work outside the office, connect remotely, lock down devices, access development and test environments securely, hit us all at once. I run ops amongst other portfolios, so keeping all the balls in the air moving at full throttle, the initial thoughts were, woah!

I sleep over it and with the help of a some really amazing people, we were like, heck, we manage enterprise class implementations for so many customers remotely, isn't this just a case of taking what we do for customers and get those processes to work for us internally? We do this all the time to save customers and ourselves money and reduce the TCO of customers. Truth be told, we liteally just flipped the switch and voila, we were up and running, all thrusters firing at peak, all remote, all virtual. Sweet! The CXO team get onto calls twice a day, keep the morale of the troops, make sure there is no panic and execution does take a massive hit.

We just settled into the rhythym – BAU, equilibrium, status quo maintained. We’re a FinTech startup in the Digital Transformation space, so all apps and solutions are mission critical. Not being able to service our customers would have had a cascading impact. Our customers, banks and finaicial institutions, would not have been able to serve their customers. The really cool thing is this…..all our solutions are not merely COVID ready, but are solutions that not just serve purpose as the perfect BCP strategy, BUT outlive and indeed lead the charge to play in the “New Normal” space and give our customers’ that edge, that competitive advantage, not just to keep the lights on, but to grow despite mobility restrictions. And to think that they were conceptualized almost 4-5 years ago does us really proud! This is easily one of the best teams I’ve worked with, with very little need to direct. Almost the entire team, especially the Founder Members need little pushing, just some gentle (and sometimes aggressive) intervention, which enable us to focus of bringing in new business, that all important need for any company these days, especially startups.

My interactions with various teams, individuals, customers and others within our ecosystem and outside of it, give me an insight into their readiness and capability to deal with the situation. I’ve seen the skill, will and tenacity of both large and small organisations tested to the core and some still aren’t anywhere close to adapting to the “New Normal”. They’re the ones who were not thinking Digital in the first place.

So let’s talk about this “New Normal” and “BCP”, but first BCP.

Look at it this way. Almost everyone has some semblance of a BCP – Business Continuity Plan, even if its all theoretical and has never been tested like BCP is being tested now. In any case, conceptualizing and testing a BCP for an event of this magnitude is someting that armed forces do looking at doomsday scenarios, most organizations don’t. So net-net we did pretty good, all factors considered. BCP is intended for a particular time horizon and I seriously doubt (maybe a few) were designed to persist.

What is this “New Normal” anyway? Normal, for me, is walking up to someone and figuring it out. The new normal is not having the luxury to do that. It also means that the efforts spent to maintain even keel has grown exponentially. Let’s not even talk about growth right now, but that said certain business models, lines of business, products and services are brilliantly poised to capitalise on the situation. Sounds very opportunistic, but thats business, its all about being in the right place at the right time with the right solution. Opportunity.

So the “New Normal” is moving the BCP dials to a whole different level. Let’s call it BCP++. The first + standing for extending the BCP and the ++ is make BCP THE Modus Operandi, THE defacto standard, encompassing the whole business cycle, from Business Prospecting, to Prospect Conversion, to Marketing, Market Intelligence, Contract Negotiation to Signing, Execution - Development, Deployment, Post Production Support, moving Money around and Human Resources. All Virtual. From a business point of view, "Out of Sight is Out of Mind" so Digital POP's - Points of Presence is the ONLY way. Easier said than done, as we’ve come to realise and as we’re continually realising, that sustainability of this whole WFH - Work From Home thingy isn’t exactly a walk in the park! But, its beginning to work, albeit fraught with challenges. We're figuring it out as we go along. Solutions come from trying out different things and tweaking to make them fit the need of the hour. Business carries on "as usual" but using "unusual" approaches. 

The real impact however, is on people. How we act, react, communicate, lead our daily lives – work, home, family, friends, relationships, lesuire, fitness, hobbies, downtime, food habits, pray and just about everything we did before the “New Normal” became the norm. Regardless of where people are in the pecking order, we’ve all been affected and we could say, its a COVID infection of another kind, indirect yet having material bearing on behaviours.

Man is a social animal. (Not intending to do the female of the species any particular injustice), but I’m loathe to call the female of the species an animal….far too risky you see!

Remote working has several sides to it, too much proximity or then too little. Those living alone are feeling the impact of prolonged isolation and those living with family or friends or roomies, face the outcomes of being in each others faces over prolonged periods of time. We all need our space and thats a luxury few may have. Kids at home, pets at home, sounds of water running, cooking, cleaning, the doorbell ringing (something we’ve ordered online is getting delivered) are almost commonplace on calls and were all frowned upon, but more accepted these days. In many cases the WFH is an impediment to privacy, concentration and focus often extending working hours into the late nights or then early mornings before everyone is up and about. Everything demands scheduling, everything demands meticulous planning. The lines between personal life and work life have blurred, making it difficult to get that work-life balance right, yet we must to ensure that we last the course.

There are just so may sides to this!. On the one hand, you have the time and space to sit back and reflect, take up a long outstanding project of hobby, and on the other hand the spirit of spontaneity has taken a huge hit, as have collaboration, teamwork, networking, less formal channels of an exchange of ideas over a coffee, a meal or a drink at the local.

Prolonged work from home, isolation, the uncertainities of business, job insecurity (am I going to be axed next), worries about income continuity, concerns about seperated family and how they are impacted by community spread of the virus, have such a huge negative impact on people. Depression, irritation, mood swings, laziness, lack of discipline are all now manifest and are or at least will affect both professional and personal lives and threaten to reverse the initial euphoria of having the freedom to work from home.

Sure, we’ve moved everything to the ether. Video calls and a myriad of communication channels are the very backbone of the “New Normal”. It’s a mad melee, an urgent and all important need for people, businesses, governments, all manner of organisations and individuals to keep abreast, to exist and survive. No more gentle handholding, coaxing, cajoling, meeting over that drink, cup of coffee, meal, a game of golf or tennis. In person counselling, forget it. Sizing up people, opportunities, situations are a tad more challenging. Right?

Let’s touch upon comms via the ether. Dunno about you, but this the list of aps I ended up with for professional and pesonal reasons: Skype, Viber, WhatsApp, Teams, Zoom, Hangouts, Telegram, Meet, Slack, Signal. Phew! Betcha my list is arguably the longest! There’s more, but I ran out of breath! Probably not a good thing to say “ran out of breath”, COVID you see? Each one of them just DEMANDS that they shall not be ignored.The biggest threat to moving out of traditional comms channels and opening up too many is having to exchange official documents and artifacts out of company domains. The other real menace is taking decisions and recording them via messenger apps and not documenting things via emails and other official channels of communication. Even worse is that all decisions taken via chat and messages and all artifacts are duly deposited into central repositories for reuse and easy retrieval. I operate on an “evidence on no trust basis” when it comes to work so for me, BIG RED FLAG this one.

Perhaps one of the most irksome things I encounter on a online meeting, is when I ask someone to pull up a document or spreadsheet using screen sharing and I get a response, “Sir, I’ve logged in using my phone!”. Its a friggin’ official call, at a pre-designated time, you should be on your laptop, why in the heck are you on your phone? I don’t say this, but that is what I’m thinking when this happens! Then there are real issues of call drops, network fluctuations and power failures. Not exactly fun“.

We were looking for collaborative tools that are suited to the times we live in and during evaluation I came across two really cool solutions, worth noteable mention. https://monday.com and https://www.journyz.com/resources/. Journyz is a startup and has this collaborative thing down pat, whereas Monday.com is more established. One covers the collaborative aspects via gamification and employee engagement (so essential and central to People) whereas the other takes more of a Project Management approach.

On the other side of of too much or too little distance, coupled with comms via the ether, is a whole new paradigm! We are in the direct path of this digital onslaught. Webinars as opposed to seminars, which can be great, given that you don’t need to travel to attend. Then there are online gym instructors, fitness coaches, life coaches, self professed home chefs (self included), product promotions and what have you. No fault of theirs, but they are all online, we are all online, we’re all spamming, each craving and demanding attention, in your face, like it or not, interested or not. Just like I’m in your face right now! We can’t be seen or heard in person these days (in the traditional physical sense), so we do the next best thing, we take it all online. Heck, spamming has taken on a whole new meaning these days!

There is the good, the bad and the ugly side of online, of digital. On the one hand, all we need to do is sign up, or hit subscribe and we have access to a body of knowledge that we really didn't have time for before, but on the flip side, we have huge distracting forces, that threaten to diminish focus and can be very invasive the ugly side of which is manifest if we permit it to take over our lives completely.

The real trick is to get virtual to work for you, to discipline its ability to invade and take only what’s conducive to achieve the most essential things, work related efficiencies, social interaction that is necessary and new learning. Just get it to work for you!

In ending I will repeat what I ended the last article with, that this is the time for compassion, to be more sensitive to People, to their dilemas, to the limitations faced and wholeheartedly recognize that there are People out there, who are making a difference, contributing at times when its much more difficult, for without People, without You and Me and Everybody In-Between, we just won’t make it!

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