Covid One Year On
A look back at the year that's been, with Russell Lyons, CEO, Innovation Software
On New Year’s Day 2020 my wife Vivien and I flew from London to Beijing and spent 3 weeks away in Thailand and Malaysia. During this period, we begun to hear about a new type of ‘flu', but just in small doses. Although I recall quite a few people in Bangkok wearing face masks, at this early stage the reason was more likely to be heavy smog.
About 3 weeks after our return from the Far East to the UK we flew to Istanbul on business. By now, there was considerably more reportage about Covid 19 in the News and people all around us were talking about it. Little did we know then that, apart from a visit on business to Belgium on 17 March, our travels outside the UK would be curtailed, and still remain so. Life in 2020 had begun, and would continue, to change considerably. Not only were our 2 or 3 trips per month outside the UK curtailed, but also within the UK as well. Insofar as the UK was concerned, this was partly through it being against the Covid rules, but also our wanting to take sensible precautions anyway.
During the 3rd week of March, and 1st week of April, two great friends of ours contracted Covid 19. The first caught it as a consequence of a flight from Nice to Miami. The second caught it from his daughter, a Medic. Both were very ill, each for about 3 weeks. There was no doubt about it; Covid was very real!
In the 3rd week of April, we had arranged a vacation in Florence, Italy with two long-time friends from my Business School, and their girlfriends. One couple, based in Istanbul, decided to cancel. The Foreign Office made our minds up for us by banning all but essential travel to and from Italy on the day before we were due to fly; and our airline cancelled our flights in tandem. This was the first of many more plans and trips to be disrupted. Being “Grounded” has become progressively annoying and has brought to the fore how much the global aspect of our business has become to mean to us over the past 30 years.
Some changes started to take place within our Company too. We took the precaution of asking our team all to work from home. Since 23rd March 2020, only one person has worked in the Rochester Office. Vivien and I are the only people working from the 3 Floor, very well appointed, Ashford Office. (Shhh–it’s great!).
Broadband, video calls using WhatsApp, coupled with Microsoft “Teams”, has made this not only possible, but, in our Business’s case, a preferable mode of working. I remember using its forerunner “Skype” in Singapore, 12 or more years ago, connected non-stop to our Rochester Office, whilst I was working on a project. It was a novelty being able to able to be speak to Paul Staniforth and the other Team members pretty much on demand. Just a year before I had been working on another project in Moscow (with Paul) and we racked up Mobile phone bills of almost £1,100 in just 3 days and were definitely not connected hour upon hour! The Mobile Phone Roaming Rates were astronomical.
A further benefit of the changing way in which we work as been that our daily commute has been cut by between 7.5 and 10 hours a week. That is equivalent to being given an additional working day every week. The downside is that Caroline asks me why my Time Sheets only account for 7 days a week when they should by now be 8.
The commute story It gets better. My car has done 1250 miles in a year, and Vivien’s only circa 2500. Fuel savings have been around 20% of our normal annual consumption. This is also echoed by other members of the Innovation Software team. No one has to worry about getting to the office on time; they are already from the moment they wake up. The journey conditions are always pleasant too, and we can all be oblivious to the weather, come rain, shine, or, more recently, snow.
Will we continue to work in this way? Most definitely “Yes”, and we have collectively taken the decision to retain this Working location modus operandi post Covid. Attendance at the offices will be optional, and more likely for “learning and training” sessions and focused on Team Building and social wellbeing.
We are, however, missing being able to meet the team at restaurants, as well as travel with on overseas Projects and Business Development trips. Arriving at Heathrow Airport with the prospect of being in some far away location in a few hours, always has had an energising effect upon us, and I think it is a really good experience especially for the younger members to work in different countries. We have Clients in some 26 countries, and miss them!
What have been the other effects of Lockdown? The first Lockdown was not difficult, probably because of the excellent weather we enjoyed last year in February and March.
The second began to cause some discomfort because of not being able to mix freely with people. From conversations with friends, the third Lockdown is definitely beginning to feel slightly less comfortable, undoubtedly accentuated by the poor 2021 winter weather. The lack of people on the streets, boarded up shops, generally lighter traffic, and “nowhere to go” is certainly magnifying the fact that we are living under restrictions that will continue for several more months. It is lovely to talk our friends on the ‘phone, or WhatsApp video, but there is no comparison to actually being with them. A note for Tech Guru’s – please make sure that we have vastly improved and immersive Holographic imagery and communications devices to make us feel as though we are surrounded by real people. It must definitely be ready and waiting to assist us in weather the next Pandemic. If you do not think this is a valid warning, watch or read what Bill Gates has been saying about the topic since at least 2016.
Back to what is not so good about Lockdown 3. We are reminded every day by the News on UK TV and Radio stations about Covid. If we were not bored enough with that, we also were offered a diet (last year) of Brexit, and the US elections. Every day has the same news. Every day feels the same. Every day feels that includes some “restrictions”. This is not good if you do not like restrictions.
Let us look on the bright side though. Each day, there is in increase in the number of hours and minutes between sunrise and sunset. Each day, there is in increase the number of people who have received Covid Vaccinations. Each day, there is a reduction in Covid Infection rates and attributable Deaths. All things considered, and thanks to Teams with Video, we can all help lift each other’s spirits. We are lucky being in a Business sector that enables us to communicate with many others. In this country, at any rate, there are no restrictions on, and the opportunity to engage in Conversation helps keep us connected and happy, despite some Customers being “challenging”! Human beings are social creatures.
If it had happened 25 years ago, and without all of the latest technology, it would almost definitely have been considerably worse. It will get better – even if, for a little while longer, getting better only means being able to have a cocktail in the garden after work rather than your favourite bar. And then a little longer after that, before being able to sip cocktails on beaches in beautiful overseas locations, until then keep the faith and lay back on your favourite deckchair in the sunniest spot in your own Costa del Jardin, and simply imagine.