It has been about six months now since virtually all the restrictions imposed as a consequence of Covid-19 were lifted. Six months since the requirement to work from home, if at all possible, to engage in various forms of social distancing and to wear masks in almost all public places became a matter of choice and no longer one of compulsion. Six months of something close to the old normal.
It is easy today to forget how controversial this decision was at the time. England was pressing ahead faster than the other constituent parts of the United Kingdom. By international standards, we were an outlier as well. There were plenty of countries which in early 2022 were more seriously considering reintroducing restrictions than liberalising matters. There was anxious uncertainty as to whether the arrival of the new Omicron variant of the virus – initially detected in South Africa in November 2021 – would partly, or even entirely, undermine all the good that vaccination had done.
It has turned out that this particular roll of the dice looks like it was the right call. There is a lot of Covid-19 about, in fact more of it than at any time in the entire pandemic, and there are some poor souls who have contracted it on as many as four separate occasions. Yet the vaccines have stood up. Those who accepted the jab have seen their prospects of being so sick that they need to be admitted to hospital, possibly moved from there into an intensive care unit, or even die reduce dramatically .
Of course we do not know what is in store but for now what this whole awful experience continues to teach us if anything is that human beings are naturally sociable creatures. We do not want to live under de facto house arrest, unable to meet directly with family and friends in a world bereft of bars and restaurants. We want to speak with one another in sight of one another and not as part of some remote alternative.
To be fair to Zoom and Teams they have served and continue to serve a purpose . Lockdown would have been much harder without them. To have relied on Skype or telephone conference calls in the long, long series of months during which most in-person meetings were forbidden and for a strange period of time taking a holiday overseas was illegal (no one is ever going to believe that was the case when they look back at this episode twenty or thirty years hence) would have made a really dire situation utterly intolerable. We would have been driven collectively mad by such means and it would have been incredibly difficult for most businesses to have operated in anything close to an acceptable or efficient manner. To that extent, then, it is two cheers for new technology.
But only two cheers, not three. Zoom and Teams also have definite limitations. They work best when the people involved in the dialogue through them already know each other. A Teams discussion can be functional if it involves three or perhaps four people, but beyond that when the screen is packed full of individuals sitting in random bedrooms or kitchens then it can quickly become a seriously dispiriting trial. Many of us may well be working flexibly or hybrid from here or in, but we do not want to become slaves to our laptops.
Hence the absolutely delicious pleasure which is the return not only of meeting people “in person” and for a drink or a meal but the guilty pleasure of the revival of real events with lots of our fellow human beings in attendance, ideally of the more elevated “summit” or “symposium” style rather than the common-or-garden conference. EquityFD’s very own Summit The Contemporary FD being one of them – back on the 14th September – look out for an invite!
It is time to dive in. To be there early for a chat over breakfast. To listen to speakers, to hear other practitioners be interviewed, to be present for panels. To have the chance to be informed and entertained at the same time and to do this with your peers, not via a WIFI connection that might not prove reliable, or where the drinks afterwards involve you sitting at home with the company of the cat and pretending that virtual cocktails really is enthralling entertainment (it certainly is not).
Let this coming Autumn be the season of the summit. The era of the event. The moment of the meeting. There is an enormous amount of lost time, discussion and networking that needs to be made up. If someone sends you an invitation then accept it. Think of every one as a small victory against a virus which emerged from nowhere and yet managed to make prisoners of many of us. Time spent with other people – lots of them ideally – is the best investment that you can make. There are, after all, almost eight billion people on this planet. Some of them must be appealing!
The FD needs to lead the way in this regard. The hidden secret of the dynamic FD is while they might look after the numbers, it is their understanding of people that actually determines the impact that they might have on their company. Talking to other FDs should be both business and pleasure. Let’s all get back in the room and away from Zoom.