Looking back at life in lockdown: Tony Dempsey

As 2020 comes to a close, we’re taking a look back on life in lockdown, with blogs from three of our people, each covering a different aspect of this challenging year. First up, we have Tony Dempsey, partner and head of our Employment team.

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There is reputed to be an ancient Chinese saying that translates as “May you live in interesting times”. Actually, it was more than a saying. It was invoked as a curse. Prophetic? Probably not, although Western politicians had used it in this way for hundreds of years, it turns out it never was. Fake news is older than they would have us believe*.

The last six months have certainly been interesting though. As an employment lawyer there has been the challenge of getting up to speed with the new furlough schemes as soon as – and in some cases, before – the ink was dry. Who says the law moves at a snail’s pace? (No Donohue v Stevenson references please.)

On a broader level the pandemic has caused many, if not the majority, of businesses to try and answer questions that have always been there, but which few people, if any, were asking.

Shorthand for these is “does remote working work?”

For service industries, the technology is there (as long as the internet holds up) – but what about the other things that make up a business? What are those things?

People. And clients.

Clients don’t really buy a product. We shouldn’t expect all of them to judge the quality of our work – we are meant to be the professionals. Instead we are measured by our communications with them and thus by our relationships, externally and internally. Those relationships come down to people.

We can, with a fair degree of effort, maintain existing relationships remotely, but we must also ask ourselves if we can grow them effectively, and make new ones. I wonder what will be the substitute for the coffee/lunch/trip to the pub with those with whom we do business, or indeed what will be the new chat by the photocopier/kettle/reception desk with our colleagues.

It’s important to consider just how we might help develop our young people who are setting out in their careers. We learn our craft through listening and observing, and not just the technical stuff – what marks people out are their soft skills. Can those be learned through a computer screen?

we learn most about people in unguarded, unscripted moments – less so on a video call when we are using only two of our senses, and then imperfectly.  We have worked together in a see, hear, touch, taste and smell environment for ever. Might these long months of lockdown change things for good, and will the businesses that succeed be the ones that buck the (current) trend? Time will tell.

 

*In case you are interested the nearest related Chinese expression to my opening gambit translates as “Better to be a dog in times of tranquility than a human in times of chaos..”. Paws for thought indeed.