I’d love to engage with you personally about this article, but, as we’re all working from home at present the wait times are longer than usual.
Sound familiar? From my experience this kind of response has become the business equivalent of “the cat ate my homework” or “I left it on the bus”. I tried to get a passport in a hurry the other day… and guess what? That’s right. Covid said no.
I have no doubt whatsoever that the changes in working practices that the pandemic has necessitated have been wide-ranging in their impact and legacy, but a convenient excuse is one that has elements of plausibility and that can be trotted out in any challenging situation. In the same way that “I’m sorry I’m late, the traffic was terrible” can mask your lack of organisation or punctuality, changes in how we are working can provide a smokescreen for a reduced commitment to delivering a good service.
To be fair, I don’t spend that much time ringing customer service lines, but I wonder if the excuse of the pandemic is exhibiting some scope creep. Long before anyone had ever heard of Covid-19 we wrote an [article] on the phenomenon of “ghosting” in business. Again, this behaviour was scope creep from online dating apps that we saw easing into business interactions.
So, if I can tear you away from the important business of you reading this article, have a quick look in your email inbox. How many unanswered emails do you have in there? Not just ones where you’re copied in to keep you updated, but actual emails that require a response? How many of them require a detailed reply, and how many of them just need a one- or two-line acknowledgement? But you’re busy right? And you’re working from home probably, so… yeah. Later. Or never. Whichever works. Probably never.
My contention is that – like the myth that being “busy” is a good thing and somehow equates with “successful” and “productive” – people have just got ruder because everything has been dislocated somehow and that is a convenient excuse that means it’s sort of OK.
When everyone got email it became the default communication channel for everything and people forgot to get up from their desk and have conversations… or even pick up the phone to speak to someone. Email proliferation took hold. Now, when everything is a Zoom call or a virtual meeting on Teams I think people have gone a stage further and prioritised manners and common courtesies out of their lives.
In our brave new world of only physically coming into a shared workspace occasionally the risk is that we lose connections. Digital conversations are just the new Space Invaders that fill our screens and as we knock out the dozens of advancing tasks that press on us we neglect to shoot the spaceship that drifts across the top of the screen, even though it might carry a high value reward.
This article, however much I care about the content, is just another passive element that drifts across your screen. How much richer, and different, and personalised would the conversation be if we were having it face-to-face?
That’s what I fear we might all be losing. A lack of connection to clients, suppliers, colleagues. And each one of you is the only person that can reverse that trend. Through a word, a comment, an acknowledgement. We can all do it.
But, oh… the pandemic… I remember.
Colour; Noun (Vicky Holding and Howard Karloff)