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Finding the New Norm in Unusual Places: Reflections from our In-House Legal CIO

CTS recently hosted a network event, which is difficult for us all in these socially distanced times, so we hosted it online and the challenge was to make it interesting, informative, and fun.

How do you replicate the comradery and fun of an event normally held in a bar or social venue when you’re all on a Zoom call? How do you get everyone involved and contributing when its everyone all in simultaneously looking at everyone in real time, rather than the usual social break-outs, clustering and mingling of acquaintances – new people being introduced one-to-one or one-to-a-few.  Most of all, how do you avoid an online event falling into the trap of being, well, a bit boring and flat?  These things tend to tail off after 30 minutes with people dropping out or looking distracted behind the camera!

So, I formulated an idea… let’s stir the pot and have a heated debate.

Let’s change the usual online rules.  No muting allowed, people SHOULD interrupt each other, and disagreement should be encouraged. Rather than sitting in silence, politely listening to a point, one should vocalise agreement or dissent. Of course, to facilitate this, we needed a format… and alcohol.

So, a debate was created, a motion selected, law firms invited, and booze provided. Sides were taken, speakers to propose and oppose the motion selected, and the stage was set for an experimental event to take place.

My role?  Mr Speaker of the virtual house. I was to maintain order (or provoke disorder).  The motion?  “This House believes that by the summer of 2021, things will be back to the normal of 2019 and 2020 will seem like a bad dream”.

I will protect the names of the attendees. As part of the persuasion to speak openly and candidly was the law of Omerta – silence outside of the Chamber!

What I can say is we had nine law firm representatives attend, each with strong characters and strong opinions ready to do battle.  After some imbibing of wine and cheese to warm us all up, the debate began with a call to order!

Our proponent of the motion launched into a passionate delivery of points that were both supported and opposed by the chamber and can be summarised as follows:

  1. We are all fed up with being at home all of the time. We miss one another, we crave the community of working together and the opportunities to learn from one another.
  2. The human species is not meant to be isolated; we are a social animal and we will want to be back together sooner rather than later.
  3. By the summer of 2021, the vaccinations will likely be deployed.
  4. By the summer of 2021, the second wave will have subsided.
  5. The economies of the world will have no choice but to power up again as the effects of continued lockdown will be unaffordable.
  6. The human instinct is to get back to habits formed over long periods of time – the period of lockdown and change has not been long enough to break the older, established habits.
  7. Cities and towns need workers to return to avoid ghost towns and a commercial property crisis.
  8. The increase in productivity at home will be short lived, as people continue to feel isolated from work colleagues. Longer term productivity will fall as people miss out on training, coaching, supervision and working closely with peers real-time.

Then it came the turn of the opposition leader, who spoke first in grave tones, releasing data and research to the assembled chamber on the devastating impact of Covid on the long term, and the statistics behind changes in home and work life.  Some of his points are summarised below along with their supporters and detractors:

  1. The summer of 2021 is too soon for all to be back to normal.
  2. The vaccinations will logistically take most of the year, if not more to deploy to the whole population.
  3. There is likely to be a third wave before this is over.
  4. People’s confidence in travelling on public transport has taken a big knock and will return slowly and only after Covid has gone away.
  5. Companies have woken up to the fact that they don’t need all this office space on a “one-person-to-one-desk” basis. Hotdesking will be the norm, booking your timeshare in the office will be the norm, offices in cities will shrink and be consolidated.
  6. A lot of people like working from home – they will not want to return to full time in the office – it will NEVER be the same again – things have changed permanently.
  7. It is most likely a new hybrid and more flexible work pattern will be a new normal – models of which are beginning to form and be acted upon.
  8. People are already moving out of the cities to more affordable suburbs.
  9. Agreement that people will want to be together again, but a new habit will form around this, the old habits are already lost, people have embraced doing things differently and that will stick!

After much debate, heckling, “here here’s”, waving of white papers and the occasional shout of shame, there came a vote on the motion – the motion being defeated by a 7-2 Vote against it.

What then came was a debate around a new amendment that seemed to be carrying some consensus in the virtual chamber.

“This House believes that by the summer of 2022 many of the normalities of 2019 will have returned, especially around meeting, working and networking with one another in person, however, work patterns, places of work, and methods of work will be different, hybrid and permanent.”

Now, if this sounds a little woolly, then it is likely because everyone was on their second bottle by this point! What there was, however, was consensus with the vote going 9 nil in favour of the new amended motion.

In other words, things will feel like they once did, familiar, communal, but forever changed in work patterns and work life balance.  I am reminded of the French proverb, “plus ça change, plus c’est la même chose” which in English is “the more things change, the more they stay the same”.

Now, if all the above seems a little dry and serious, I can assure you the debate and event swung from the serious to the ridiculous to the sublime.  The plan for having people engage in real-time with good humour worked a treat with the 60-minute event lasting 90 minutes in the end, such was the ebb and flow of commentary from our esteemed legal guests, and as such, I am planning on hosting another one soon with a different cohort of protagonists.

What was intended as mainly a social event with some people in our network, in the end, provided some informed and consensual opinion about what our new future norm will look like. It goes to show that you can find the norm in unusual places.

Note to self: Next time, send yourself some wine too. Drinking a whole bottle of port instead had dire consequences the next day.

 

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