Duke Group

The covid-19 burden of responsibility #coronavirusSA

by Wayne Naidoo (@WNaidoo)

Now that we’re at lockdown level 2, the responsibility weighs heavily on everyone in our industry to ensure we implement every possible measure to ensure safety for our staff, suppliers and customers.

Hasn’t gone anywhere

As I look around our agency (and if I ignore the socially distanced workspaces and staff all wearing masks), it feels almost like business as usual. Briefs are rolling in, clients are demanding, staff banter is at its best and we’re all back to fairly normal routines again. The irony is that the coronavirus pandemic hasn’t gone anywhere.

While the restrictions of our level 5 lockdown were hugely prohibitive in terms of business, it made our decision-making process that much easier, since much of the responsibility fell onto Uncle Cyril. We simply weren’t allowed to do anything and we made do within the restrictions and came up with alternative ways of working. Under level 2, however, it seems that all rules have flown out the window and the onus now lies on us to make the hard choices: “Do we?” or “Don’t we?” and, if we do, how do we go about doing so safely and responsibly without endangering anyone involved?

The overall perception is that coronavirus fatigue has set in and everyone seems to have left their masks hanging on their rearview mirror while once again quaffing wine at restaurants and cycling in packs with gay abandon. And I completely get it — I, too, am sick of running with my mask on, not being able to attend a large event and basically not having much fun. Yet, while our personal choices are largely our own, our choices in business and as an industry have far-reaching and possibly fatal consequences.

Foreseeable future

Yes, let’s definitely get business going again — our industry and our economy are in dire need of it — but there needs to be a massive sense of responsibility that goes along with it. It simply can’t be business as usual, certainly not for the foreseeable future.

It’s going to involve much patience and accommodation, a great deal of creative thinking and planning and, possibly, a chunk of capital outlay. Most importantly, however, we’re going to need a truckload of empathy to accommodate our staff members who’re anxious and many of whom may have been personally impacted.

Our roles as leaders have never been more challenging but, now more than ever, our people are looking to us to lead. With so much uncertainty and so much conflicting information, we can do our absolute best and still not know if we’ve done the right thing. One minute we’re doing things a certain way and, out of nowhere, something completely derails our efforts. It certainly takes a toll on our confidence but, perhaps, the best quality we can embody through all this is a level of flexibility to cope with the unpredictability and a sense of humour to distract us from the mess.

Everyone must play a part

At the same time, it’s not just up to the leaders to keep things going — everyone has to play a part and take ownership of their role in moving our industry forward. Now isn’t the time to sit back and be judgmental and demoralising. Now’s the time to show support, and to be encouraging.

While we might have envisaged this to be a short-term adjustment, all signs seem to point to a much-longer term and that means we have no choice but to take it seriously and dig deep.

Let’s opt for maximum safety and ensure that our staff is able to feel safe at work. Because being back in the workplace is proving to be fundamental in improving morale, boosting motivation and reinvigorating thinking. Whether it’s online castings, significantly smaller crews and Zoom meetings until we’re all Zoomed out, we can’t become complacent and we can’t put our staff, suppliers or anyone that we deal with at risk. There can be no shortcuts, nor can we skimp on costs — choose the option that brings with it the least amount of risk. And, if you can’t mitigate the risk, don’t do it.

Best interests

We also need to provide our teams with a safe, non-judgmental manner in which to voice their concerns.

Those who don’t feel their safety is a priority need to be able to speak up without fearing for their jobs or their happiness. Make sure there are open channels of communication before your staff resort to contacting the Department of Health to tell them how unsafe they feel. People are rightfully worried about their health and wellbeing and it’s our job to show them that we have their best interests at heart.

We all want this hideous pandemic to end; we’re all bored to death of the endless barrage of bad news and statistics; and we all want to start living our lives again. But the virus really doesn’t care if we’re bored with it at all.