How are you settling into the ‘new normal’?

Over the years, a crisis normally sees people coming together and helping each other. Neighbours dropping by and families supporting each other. This crisis has been singular in that this very thing that makes us human is exactly what we should not be doing. Social distancing means not being there to give someone a hug, or be a shoulder to cry on. In the most severe cases it’s not being there at the end of someone’s life, or at the start, in the birthing room. As naturally innovative beings, how are we getting around this and adapting to the ‘new normal‘?

The ‘new normal’ – even saying that sounds crazy. How are you settling in? My family and I are finding a new rhythm and starting to identify and appreciate the silver linings that this pandemic has brought. I am naturally optimistic and the Chinese word for crisis, which has one brush stroke for danger and one brush stroke for opportunity has really resonated with me. The opportunities being more family time to get to know each other a bit better (although we would really welcome schools opening again!), a new appreciation of and approach to food, a realisation that we can be just as productive working from home as we can in the office (if not more so to be honest). And, importantly, as my (now digital) yoga teacher keeps repeating: normal life provides so much over stimulation that its easy to be constantly busy, head down, missing things, forgetting to look up and appreciate what is around us. He teaches that this is a fabulous opportunity for us all to slow down and really figure out what is important.

Another really interesting outcome has been the unavoidable blurring of our professional and personal lives, with everyone being in each other’s pockets in the home. Bosses are meeting husbands and sons, colleagues are becoming friends, as we all find ways of supporting each other. Team mates are morphing into quiz masters in online team socials (what people have in their fancy dress boxes is eye opening – yes I mean you Tilak Jagatia!!). We are so lucky! Imagine if we didn’t have all these amazing digital options at our finger tips.

However this blurring can be very uncomfortable. Some of us spend years developing a professional persona and approach, which is dissolved in minutes when you have a crying 5 year old interrupting a meeting, or you’re sharing your only ‘office space’ with your husband, or even when you’re just having a really low day and its hard to avoid showing your vulnerability. Showing vulnerability takes courage and not everyone is comfortable with letting people into their personal lives.

However, in my opinion, showing vulnerability and courage in challenging times is essential to survival and to adapting to this ‘new normal’. In a very interesting discussion on this topic with Dr Brennan Jacoby, founder of www.PhilosophyatWork.co.uk, he highlighted the ancient Greek philosopher, Aristotle’s, belief that courage is the core virtue. Just as our fitness in our core muscles enables other muscles groups to function well, courage enables all the other behaviours we might need in this time – things like vulnerability, patience, tenacity, solidarity, and hope. He believes that the boldness that comes with showing vulnerability and the courage to engage with the change that is happening all around us, rather than hide from it, will help us live as if we are comfortable with being uncomfortable. Vulnerability is, almost by definition, opening yourself to a threat. So too, courage only becomes relevant when a very real fear is present. This is freeing because it means that we can exercise vulnerability and courage in our professional lives even if (and especially when) we don’t feel comfortable. The discomfort is, in fact, the best environment for these character traits to develop and do their work.

In our professional lives, this could be manifested through embracing the digital tools which we have readily available and which will maintain our productivity remotely. Being comfortable testing these tools and asking for help. Being comfortable with not being the expert! Digital tools, which have previously had slow adoption, are now essential. Clearly I don’t want to take away from the seriousness of the current situation, however it seems likely to have the single biggest impact on digitalising the legal process and ways of working! We will not be returning to the ‘old normal‘.

The other unanticipated positive out of all this could be how we develop closer relationships not just with our colleagues, but also with our clients and third party partnerships. It makes me wonder whether the office and trappings of corporate life are distracting us, whether they are just padding? Is this ‘new normal’ allowing us to feel real? Allowing us to have real conversations with customers and understand what is important to them, showing our vulnerability and accepting theirs, which we wouldn’t do in business meetings. Paraphrasing the author Nir Eyal, running barefoot strips away the cushioning and distractions and lets you feel the road, or in business, what’s real – what really matters to your business and customers.

What is next? What is the ‘future normal‘? Clearly there is a recession looming, one which will put increasing pressure on our clients, and by default, us. It is going to be even more important to get creative with our approach to collaborating and partnering with, well, everyone! We may need to be inventive, to lose some control and… to be comfortable with failure, so we can grow and learn.

Rachel Barnes

Rachel is Head of Collaborations, Ashurst Advance. Previously Rachel was Innovation Lead, UK, US & EMEA at Herbert Smith Freehills. Rachel has spent time exploring the broader innovation and start-up space, spending time consulting for Janders Dean, Innovation Beehive, a variety of start-ups and also managing an HR Tech focussed start-up incubator. Prior to that, she had a varied and fruitful 11 years at BNP Paribas running consecutively, the Innovation, Transformation, Client Relationship Management teams in Global Markets.