Is lockdown allowing more people to have a voice?

The coronavirus pandemic has been frightening. For many people, it has been a lonely experience.

Everyone is more distant than ever. Overcoming the downsides of this has been the focus of plenty of articles in recent months.

As lockdown restrictions continue to transform the way we connect and communication as both individuals and as organisations, I’d like to consider another perspective and ask whether in the face of these challenges, space has been created for some new and different voices

Author and businessman Stephen Covey famously highlighted that one of the most important habits of highly effective leaders is the ability not just to find your own voice, but to inspire others to find theirs.

While the lockdown has created huge challenges for everyone at both a personal and professional level, what it has created is a levelling of the playing field at a scale we’ve never seen before. From leaders to frontline workers and everyone in between, what is putting us all on a more equal footing in organisations is that no one has the answers.

Is this leading to a new environment not just where more people are finding the confidence to raise their voice, but where we have the space to take more notice?

The Zoom era

One of the biggest changes in how we do our jobs has been the overnight shift to video conferencing as the primary way for us to connect and continue to make things happen.

Zoom now has more than 300 million daily users. It has transformed our daily life, and, while the challenge of Zoom fatigue is very real, the new behaviours it is enabling could also be having some positive effects that we can build on for the future.

Some organisations that I have been talking too have been reflecting that they are starting to see that those often thought of as ‘the quiet ones’, now contributing more to conversations over Zoom and other platforms.

I was interested in an example of a Zoom meeting of around 15 mostly senior people discussing a new idea for a project, when one ‘quieter’ team member put some thoughts in the chat bar. That person’s idea went on to become the basis that the entire piece of work was taken forward on.

Whether they would have felt comfortable, confident or even given the opportunity to raise their voice above the crowd in a ‘traditional’ meeting setting is an interesting question, but on this new platform they had a new way to use their voice and they influenced the entire future direction of the piece of work as a result.

It got me thinking about how leaders and communicators can become more aware and better empower new voices in their organisations to feel confident enough to speak up. And if we did that how much hidden talent might we be able to uncover?

Thriving in lockdown

Similarly, there are some great examples of some of our current ways of working enabling people who have challenges with traditional office settings to thrive during lockdown.

People with underlying health conditions or commitments caring for family members that might previously have had to take time off to manage their health or responsibilities, potentially missing out on opportunities to have their say or share their ideas, are now being enabled to work in a different way and become more engaged.

Again, the benefits to organisations in unlocking new talent through a more flexible way of working is an interesting area to explore.

Old power vs new power

In the book #newpower, authors Jeremy Heimans and Henry Timms talk about a shift in power brought about by an increasingly hyper connected world from a top down, controlled flow of information, to a more open and collaborative approach where ideas and movements spread and flourish at a pace never seen before.

For communications, this creates a new world of possibilities – one where it’s no longer always the biggest organisations with the loudest voices that are having the most impact but providing a platform for the most genuine and authentic messages to shine through. More about this in a future blog!

Navigating an uncertain future

We are all continue to do our jobs in the face of huge uncertainty. The only thing we know for certain is that we don’t know what the future holds.

If we are to build something better from this then hearing more voices will certainly help. The challenge for everyone – and communications professionals in particular – is to maintain this diversity of contribution when the noise returns.

Sarah Harvey