Sobering Freedom chasing

17 March 2021

A personal reflection by Peter Allanson, Principal Consultant.

The run-up to the pandemic found me under the stage in the Elgiva Theatre in Chesham conducting the local amateur premiere of Shrek, the musical.

We had been worried that the creeping virus might shut down theatres but in the event they actually closed the day after the show finished. It was a huge success in every way except several of the cast and audience were struck down by COVID-19 (though astonishingly, given how hugger-mugger we were, only one of the band was taken ill) and sadly one of the cast died from the virus.

I can’t tell you how shocking and sobering it was to have worked closely with someone for six months, enjoyed a terrific week and then…

The day after the show finished, my wife and I flew to the Gambia for what turned out to be a long weekend – three days. When we got back the world had changed.

GGI had set itself up even more virtually than before and had decided to devote the time not only to its clients but to itself, by talking to the world through our Covid 100 bulletins, by refreshing our practices such as the way we write reports, and looking after the team by carrying on.

The reverse of every problem offers an opportunity and from my point of view I think the pandemic helped me to persuade myself that I could actually do the job I’d signed up for, whatever the circumstances, and work collaboratively with others in doing it. At the moment, although I really miss making music and seeing people face to face, it’s difficult to imagine working as we used to.

GGI has grown, changed and expanded – I’ve several colleagues I’ve only met virtually. Apart from anything else I’ve no idea how tall they are! I feel for these new and younger members of staff. Simply being with people in an office environment is part of your education and learning. Part of my envisaged role at GGI was to be ‘somebody old in the office’ and it’s much easier to find things out by being together than it is to make a call or arrange a meeting. Certainly, the spontaneity is difficult to replicate, as is camaraderie over Zoom or Teams although we’ve tried our hardest, with some success, to recreate it.

That said, our weekly virtual team briefs and Friday afternoon happy hours mean that we’ve all probably seen more of one another collectively than previously and the virtual Christmas Party was a triumph.

But have we looked after our clients well? There are efficiencies – you can pack a lot more into a day and talking to different clients on different sites is much easier. Most of us prefer Zoom meetings but are getting used to Teams, but with neither is it possible, when observing meetings, to gauge the mood, see the body language or see the non-verbal communications between people. And board development sessions are much more difficult to run effectively from afar as a result.

So, has it been a ‘good war’? I’ve adjusted to these new norms and don’t want to give them all up. My home office is, finally, set up properly and will stand me in good stead. But, like my craving for live music-making, reintroducing the personal into consulting both with clients and colleagues is what I’m most looking forward to.

Meet the author: Peter Allanson

Principal Consultant

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Prepared by GGI Development and Research LLP for the Good Governance Institute.

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