Crucial lessons from the best and worst of times - comment

I’m not sure I ever made it through the entire novel, but there’s that famous first line in A Tale of Two Cities by Charles Dickens.

Freer cites Charles Dickens, with a bust of the author pictured. Picture: Gareth Fuller/PA Wire.

“It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of belief, it was the epoch of incredulity, it was the season of light, it was the season of darkness, it was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair.”

The last few months of Covid existence have had a Dickensian feel alright, from increasing social inequality across the globe to nefarious characters in positions of power. More so than at any time in our collective memories, 2020 has been a tragic year on so many fronts.

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With so much pain and trauma in all corners of the earth and so much uncertainty about the road ahead, sometimes it has been hard to focus on the here and now. For most of us, the here and now revolves around our home and work lives and, even before Covid, there was a blurring of lines between the two that has only increased since.

Virtual meetings won’t ever completely replace meeting people in person, says Freer. Picture: Stewart Attwood.

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I decided to work primarily from home a few years back, and by working from an office at home I’ve got to see a lot more of my kids. That’s been a big plus for me on the domestic side of things. I quickly found I was also much more productive working from home, combining that with regular face-to-face meetings with clients, colleagues and contacts. So, there wasn’t much of a transition for me when the world moved to remote working earlier this year.

I tend to agree with Richard Marshall, a former Gartner technology analyst and Principal at Concept Gap who recently wrote for this column, when he said: “I have to wonder if the people saying that working at home is full of distractions have actually worked in an office. My experience of open plan offices is that they are infinitely more distracting than a home or co-working space.”

It’s still unclear if remote working and platforms like Zoom will impact the office market in a similar way to how Amazon has affected the retail sector, but it’s now generally accepted that things won’t go back to the pre-Covid status quo. At the same time, I also agree with commentators who believe that virtual meetings won’t ever completely replace the social capital derived from meeting people in person.

Plus sides

As the “worst of times” in Dickensian speak is one side of the coin, the “best of times” is the other. With a couple of notable exceptions, I have loved having our kids around the house for the duration of lockdown and I’ll miss them when they go back to school. As a family unit, we’ve spent so many more hours together than we would have if Covid hadn’t struck and that has been one of the silver linings for me.

Admittedly, home schooling at our house was more St Trinian’s than The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, but I think we all got to know each other a lot better and hopefully we’ll be even more tight-knit as a family going forward. I also wrote in this column a few months ago that in spite of coronavirus, when we have the opportunity to look back, many individuals and businesses will realise they did their best ever work during this time.

For me, whether I fit into this category is something I’m probably not the best judge of, but I hope I’ve been there for my clients with more urgency and diligence than ever before.

And what a time it has been for the business world, including here in Scotland. As they say, you couldn’t make it up. Like a lot of businesses, I hope my agency can emerge from Covid in a stronger position. Battered, yes, but stronger too. If you are under pressure, as so many of us have been, and unless you are a Dickensian-style bad guy, it’s a prerequisite to have more empathy for your clients and peers at this time.

And I truly believe that when it comes to good PR, you must continue to communicate through the worst of times as you would in the best of times.

Nick Freer is the founding director of the Freer Consultancy

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