At the age of 13, I was handed the role of a lifetime as ‘Anne of Green Gables’ in our school play. Little did I know, the role would teach me several life-long lessons in positivity. Truth be told, I’ve been relying on those lessons heavily recently.
“It has been my experience that you can nearly always enjoy things if you make up your mind firmly that you will,” I remind myself.
Who could have foreseen that this seemingly insignificant sentence in an old book would be so inspiring today? And that’s the truth, among the sadness, upset, and scariness of the current situation, Anne is right – we can still find reasons to be positive.
The change we’re experiencing at the moment is a great example of this. There is much to be concerned by, but there’s also been change for the better and positive change that would have happened years down the line that’s now happening today. Please join me as I drop back into character as Anne with an ‘e’ and explore but a few of those changes.
Finally, tech for good is trending
The past five years have been tough at times for tech. There has been incredible development in technology itself, but the reputation of the industry has fluctuated, often to extremes. The Facebook and Cambridge Analytica scandal, monopolisation by Amazon, links between Huawei and the Chinese government – these are just a few examples of the many major news stories from the past half-decade that have affected business and consumer sentiment. They’re some of the biggest stories of this generation and they’re primarily negative about the work of tech companies.
However, during the past month or two we’ve seen headlines that better reflect the amazing opportunities that tech presents. Tech companies are asking themselves “how can we help?” and deploying their tech for that purpose, leading to positive headlines that their products and services deserve. Even Apple and Google are working together, to build coronavirus tracking into iOS and Android. We now live in a world where these two tech giants have joined forces – who could’ve foreseen that at the start of 2020?!
Collaboration between competing technology companies and their technology is a major step change. But it could be a sign of things to come. Such collaborations will be critical if autonomous vehicles are to take off, for example – there are safety concerns that manufacturers will use different software that may not be compatible in enabling self-driving vehicles to communicate fully and without failure while on the road. Here, and elsewhere, competitors need to more regularly put aside their differences to share knowledge and technologies that enhance their offerings and the user experience. I hope they will, anyway.
We’re more connected than ever
Despite many countries being in lockdown in an effort to slow the spread of COVID-19, I don’t remember a time when I’ve spoken to so many different people. Old friends checking in, LinkedIn connections being more vocal and supporting each other, older generations engaging more in WhatsApp, email, and conference calls – we may not physically be interacting, but we’re more connected.
What I’ve found especially interesting is the boom in live content. Despite many of us being restricted to our houses, the volume of new content on platforms like Tik Tok, Instagram and Snapchat is staggering. You’d have thought there would only be so much entertaining content that users of these apps could create while in lockdown, but every day a new idea sweeps across each platform.
It was a matter of time until live content took off in this way, but usage certainly feels like it has risen more sharply than was expected of the first half of 2020. A sign of things to come, undoubtedly – most major social platforms have shifted towards live content and it looks like it’s here to stay, especially as more brands join the band wagon and invest ad budget in the platforms and creators.
The remote working debate has been settled
For many years, working from home was looked down on. “It’s less productive” and “yeah, but do people actually do any work?” were common in discussions on the pros and cons. The tide was turning though. In 2019, The Best Place to Work Institute revealed that 60% of top 20 companies listed in the annual World's Best Workplaces list had an active remote working policy.
As with most business transformations, however, while a few top companies were employing remote working successfully, the vast majority of businesses were not. Given that many businesses –especially those that previously either only dabbled with remote working or didn’t permit it – no longer have a choice but to encourage as many of their employees as possible to work from home, it has become normal. Where previously we’d expected this shift in 5-10 years’ time, it has been accelerated.
The genie is out of the bottle now. Conference call systems, instant messaging and internet service providers have all passed the test – normal day-to-day tasks can be completed, as if we were in the office. And that’s before 5G has been fully rolled out across the UK.
Is this the death of the office? Far from it. But does it allow for greater flexibility, reaching a wider pool of talent and new opportunities to reduce overheads? Absolutely!
Are we any closer to eliminating fake news?
The majority of the above has focused on the positives that have come from what is a challenging set of circumstances for everyone. Sadly, while COVID-19 has brought the best out in some, it has also seen the continuation of opportunistic spreading of misinformation and fake news.
Over the Easter weekend, 20 cases of suspected arson were reported as attacks on mobile phone masts surged due to a dangerous conspiracy theory that 5G is linked to the COVID-19 outbreak. These attacks were carried out in different regions of the UK, highlighting how the information has spread and the damage our collective failure to tackle fake news can cause.
There doesn’t seem to be a clear, aligned strategy by publishers or legislators to tackle fake news. Top journalists follow due process for establishing facts and will drop a story if it doesn’t satisfy their high reporting standards. But others, where sensationalised headlines drive revenue from clicks, are quicker to publish and often feed off the negative energy it creates among readers. Fake news, regrettably, is one problem I’m not convinced we’re any closer to resolving, but with a government driving 5G deployment, perhaps the recent arson attacks that have resulted from misinformation will draw further attention to the need for efforts and actions to tackle it properly.
We’re taking better care of ourselves
Mental health has long been a passion project of mine. We get so wrapped up in our lives that many of us often forget to set aside time to take it all in and process things. Many of us, in PR or not, will work through lunch, stay late, sometimes work over the weekend, not thinking it causes harm. Well, this period of isolation and lockdown has forced us all to reflect and try to take better care of ourselves.
There has been a boom in content on major news outlets that focuses on protecting mental health. This piece by Kirstie Brewer for the BBC draws attention to the need to take breaks from social media and mute things which are triggering, as well as sharing Anxiety UK’s “Apple” technique for dealing with anxiety. It’s so important that mainstream news publishers make this kind of content available and long may it continue.
Meanwhile, mental health apps have seen a surge in users recently. People are actively taking steps to tackle anxiety, improve sleep, and live healthier lives. I don’t see this as a trend that will decline once COVID-19 passes – it has forced mental health further into the public consciousness and I expect both individuals and employers to consider it more regularly than we used to.
Here at Firefly, we’ve adapted how we work to factor in changes of mental health while in isolation. Certain ideas have been more effective than others and some are irregularly used but serve the purpose of being a safety net so they’re there when needed. I’ve accepted over the last few weeks that there isn’t a magic wand or a one-size-fits-all solution. It’s an ongoing process of trying, trying and trying again. One thing is for sure, that while every idea might not be a hit, this proactive approach of looking after mental wellbeing will continue long-term, whether isolated at home or together in the office.
As my latest dip back into the role of Anne of Green Gables comes to an end for now, it dawns on me that there is no perfect ending to this collection of words and thoughts – and, you know what, that’s just fine. Instead, I’d like to take this opportunity, while I still have your attention, to wish you and your family the best of health. If you take one thing from my words today, it’s that throughout all of this, there are reasons to be positive. In the words of little Anne with an ‘e’:
“I don't know what lies around the bend, but I'm going to believe that the best does.”
I hope you will too.