Lessons from a Lockdown

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It’s day 14 of the movement control order – and already the way we work and communicate has changed irrevocably. How are you changing the way you do things to keep up with this new normal?

 

“Duduk rumah diam-diam. Stay home quietly.”

That was the message from Malaysian Prime Minister Muhyiddin Yassin when he initiated the movement control order (MCO) on 18 March 2020.

It’s been nearly 14 days since the start of the MCO and while it’s been relatively quiet in my neighbourhood, it hasn’t exactly been a calm couple of weeks – at least not online. I’m lucky that it has been relatively easy to do most of my work remotely (thank goodness for web-based software!) and mostly involved shifting workstations. Working from home isn’t something new; we used to work from home one day a week before the MCO so in theory, spending the next couple of weeks staying and working at home shouldn’t have been too much of a transition.

Turns out it is. The COVID-19 pandemic is not just dangerous, it’s also disruptive. No other virus in modern history has spread like it which meant that the measures taken to stop it have also never been applied on such a scale before. It’s likely we won’t see business as usual return this year.

It’s difficult to pinpoint exactly what the future would be like after the COVID-19 pandemic clears. But here are two things I’ve noticed working from home.

1. The way we communicate has changed

I have never been as active on social media as I have been these past few weeks – and I’m not the only one. With little to do each day other than stay at home, people have taken to online platforms in droves, using platforms like WhatsApp and social media to stay in touch with friends, family and the outside world.

This is both good and bad. Information, especially on the COVID-19 outbreak, has never spread so quickly through purely online channels before. Some of it is helpful, but a lot of it isn’t. In the past few weeks, we’ve had rumours on everything from a supposed bread shortage to fictitious advice that eating garlic can help prevent COVID-19 infection. With so much information clamouring for attention, it can be difficult to keep on top of what’s being said, what’s true and what’s not.

It’s a new challenge for those of us in the business of communications. Because so much is changing and so quickly, keeping up with the sheer speed of information has required changing the way I work. I do a lot of research as a writer, relying on both desktop research and subject-matter experts for information. But now, it’s not enough to just wait for news articles to come it. Instead, the fastest way to get information is through social media, searching for: what are the top trending hashtags on Twitter? What are people talking about on Facebook? What are the latest rumours being spread on WhatsApp?

These days, I spend hours combing the news as well as social media platforms for the latest updates on COVID-19. If there is an official announcement scheduled, I would stay up to watch the livestream on YouTube. If I need factual data, I turn to public or government agencies as well as established news sites. If I want to stay ahead of trending topics, social media platforms like Twitter are my best bet to get a feel of what’s being discussed around the world.

It’s more work, but I’ve also never felt as closely connected to the online community as I am now – for good or for worse. Jury’s still out on that one.

2. The way we work has adapted

The MCO has made it challenging for business to be done. I had to find the best way to deliver quality work despite not having the resources I was used to having at my fingertips. No more asking a colleague to come have a look at the draft I’m writing on my screen for advice. No more face-to-face meetings between me and our design team on the best way to turn my article into infographics.

To plug the gap, internal processes and communications went completely virtual. Almost everything from approving copy for a social media caption to getting feedback on a creative post was done via instant messaging. Video calls were used when we just needed to spend 15 minutes hammering out creative concepts or ensuring alignment on last-minute details before a piece of content goes live.

Another challenge was the now rapid turnaround for content that needed to stay relevant because of the sheer speed at the way things changed overnight because of the virus. Our recent #disruptfearwithfacts campaign was one such example involving time-sensitive content creation. We did (almost) everything in three hours:

It was a struggle for the first couple of days. But having set a schedule and standard operating procedures helped me to adjust to the tighter deadlines. It’s still not a seamless process, especially when things like the internet occasionally dropping out either due to a storm or someone in the house knocking the modem over, but it’s an ongoing one.

We learn

The MCO has been extended two more weeks until April 14th, 2020 – or possibly even longer, should the number of COVID-19 infections continue to climb. Instead of being disheartened (that’s another two weeks of no team lunches!), I see it as another challenge, another hill to climb. I already know that working from home hasn’t deterred my or the team’s ability to deliver quality work within tight timelines.

It’s a time for learning. A new normal is being crafted, defined and changed as we speak that even now, it is difficult to say what it is or what it will become. Even when the MCO ends, social distancing will still be a factor affecting the way we work in the near future. Most of the content created today is speculative: what will our future look like? How would things work differently in a post-COVID world?

It’s enough to keep this writer wondering. But based on the way my last two weeks have gone, what I do know is that we need to be agile, open-minded and quick if we want to stay on top of things.

I’m excited to see what will happen in the next two weeks.