...from my Belgian mother-in-law.

Sitting in a Rotorua MIQ has given Sebastien Desclee time for contemplation. As published by the NZ Herald, 07.09.21.

I arrived in Aotearoa from Belgium with a different perspective on dealing with the business of Covid-19. Given our location in the heart of Europe,  Belgians were impacted earlier and more severely, during the first wave of the pandemic. Today with 80% of the population over the age of 12 vaccinated, it’s not completely behind us: we haven’t eliminated the virus, but we’re learning to live with it.

When Covid hit us hard in March 2020, everybody was confined, put in a bubble, unable to leave their homes apart from necessary trips – exactly as we are experiencing at the moment during Level 4 in Auckland. A lot of our older people  found themselves alone and isolated. The media omnipresence of Covid-related news, data, opinions and statistics created an anxiogenic climate in which most of our population – and certainly our seniors – were well and truly locked down, both physically and mentally.

During Belgium’s Covid-19 response, I noticed many different behaviours amongst my family. But the person who inspired me the most was my mother-in-law. I know mothers-in-law can have a bad reputation in popular culture but mine is amazing; and her handling of an unknown and challenging situation offered lessons which can be applied by everyone, including businesses and brands.

1. Preserving Core Values

Of course, she adopted the rules imposed with the necessary flexibility and common sense required in those circumstances, but made sure she continued to nourish what really mattered to her: staying mentally and physically fit, keeping in touch with her circle of friends and family, staying connected with the world. Throughout the pandemic she held onto the core belief that her wellbeing was paramount and she made the commitment to look after herself as much as she possibly could within the boundaries of lockdown restrictions.

It is during times of adversity that an organisation’s core values come into their own. These are the times when businesses should take stock of what’s important, what must be preserved at all costs and what can be let go in the pursuit of continual success. If they’ve been done properly, businesses need only look as far as their core values.

2. Maintaining Perspective

 When all the conversation was based on Covid: the statistics, latest restrictions and political agenda, my mother-in-law continued to be interested in other issues that really mattered to her. Looking outwards enabled her to keep her perspective and avoid going down a Covid-centric rabbit hole: the refugee situation, her next trip when restrictions allowed it, and lighter topics which enabled her to engage with the world at a lighter level.

A global pandemic clearly requires substantial attention to navigate at a business level, however the wheels still need to turn as they always have, brands need to cement themselves in the marketplace as they always have: the show must go on. Organisations will also often find themselves presented with opportunities to help others at times like these, whether it be close to home (employee assistance), further afield (community initiatives) or both.

3. Embracing Change

Necessity is the mother of invention, and my mother-in-law is clearly not a digital native. But in order to maintain her core value of connection, she turned to technology, which had once been completely alien to her. Not only did she adopt it, she embraced it as a way of keeping involved and included. Silver linings often abound in times of adversity and this was one of them; the skills she acquired in the pursuit of connection will be used for the rest of her life to enhance her connection to family and friends.

We’ve all changed the way we work to a certain extent; the pandemic has forced many of us to step outside of our comfort zones – Zoom meetings and virtual presentations were originally an uncomfortable reality for many people. Now it’s fair to say we’ve all adapted to this new way of working. In fact, many organisations continue to work this way even after restrictions have lifted. The businesses who embraced this and other changes quickly and effectively found themselves with a head start.

4. Constant Iteration

When our restrictions were pared back and the world returned to some semblance of normality, my mother-in-law quickly reinstated long held family traditions. But with a twist. They were somehow heightened, improved and enhanced with the knowledge that these moments must not be taken for granted. Sometimes, the cliches are just true: life is short and we must savour all the good times and connection to the people we care about the most. Another little silver lining.

The pandemic offers an opportunity to reassess where we’re at, where we want to be, and how we can get there. This can be applied to clients, employees, ways of working and culture. For example, at FCB NZ we have introduced “FCBU” during lockdown, an initiative which encourages each team member to take a paid half day off each week to recharge, unplug and unwind. This initiative is a direct result of our management team looking at how we work and care for our team members – and deciding to make a change for the better.

So, all of these behaviours can easily be translated and used as a source of inspiration on how businesses and brands can navigate Covid.  As we have seen over the last 12-18 months with companies such as Proctor & Gamble who continue to invest, businesses and brands should take care of themselves, living their core values, continuing to invest in their consumer base with careful optimism.  We have the opportunity to be brave and creative in leveraging new channels and new technologies to reach out to consumers, creating new opportunities for interaction and new consumer experiences.

All that being said, I am glad our MIQ adventure has come to an end. As much as technology has been a lifesaver for us during this time, I cannot wait to join the population of Aotearoa “in real life” and begin our next, exciting chapter.

Image: Grandmother Carine Dansette talking to her grandson, Gaspard Desclee (10)