Some of you already know this, but I was infamous during my corporate career for raising my hand in meetings and asking if some new, additional meeting or procedure was really actually needed. I got so predictable that at one point the manager of Disney University saw my hand go up and said, “Yes, Bart, this is necessary.” However, the coronavirus situation is causing governments and businesses to give that anti-bureaucracy crank at the back of the room some more consideration. I’m not thrilled with the circumstances, but I guess I have to say, “Better late than never.”
The Show Must Go On…Selectively
The coronavirus is demonstrating where inefficiencies in our society, economy, and business processes create problems in systems already under stress. We still need to eat, produce products and services, and otherwise live our lives under difficult circumstances.
To reduce spreading the virus, national and state governments in the U.S. and elsewhere are doing things such as closing particular types of businesses; reducing the occurrence of particular types of gatherings; shifting some employees to working from home; or reducing inbound or domestic air travel. The federal government is looking at (temporarily) reducing certain taxes and regulations to help people afford their bills or help other organizations transport medical supplies.
On a business level, some grocery store chains are changing their business hours; dedicating specific operating hours to shopping by elderly customers who would otherwise be overwhelmed by crowds of aggressive younger shoppers; and reimbursing individuals staying home due the virus; providing additional sick leave; or covering virus-related medical expenses.
All of these policies are not being done because governments and businesses have necessarily become benevolent and kind-hearted, though that is part of it. They are facing the following realities:
- They don’t want to be seen/perceived as cruel and heartless by their employees or in the media.
- They don’t want to lose productive employees permanently due to (what they hope is) a temporary situation.
- They still need to conduct their business, now and in the future.
- It does the economy (and society) little good to have a large chunk of the citizenry wandering around ill, unemployed, destitute, and desperate. It is, as they say, bad for business.
You might look at the current altruism as self-interest taking the long view.
So What Does This Have to Do With Technical Writing?
There’s nothing quite like a crisis for identifying unnecessary practices or processes. A cartoon has been making the rounds in which a stunned office worker realizes, “I guess that meeting really COULD have been handled by an email.”
There might be activities that made sense when everyone was under the same roof but now are not plausible when everyone’s working from home. There are managers who prefer to have you in the same building with them so they can call you into their office whenever they want to demonstrate their authority over you (I’ve met these folks; I’m not a fan). There might be policies in your company or department that create hardship for you or a peer because of personal circumstances; given the current situation, you might be able to appeal to your manager, human resources department, or customer(s) for relief.
There might be activities such as a “wall walk” (where a proposal is taped/tacked to a bulletin board and a manager walks by the pages to review them) that are no longer practical due to lack of a physical presence. If that individual insists on such a thing, they can print out the proposal and stick it to the wall in their own home.
A lot of the decisions we’re making in this emergency are ad hoc because, quite frankly, we’re in uncharted territory with no real clue bad things will get or how long they will last. Leaders and peers are making decisions out of compassion or expediency that might cost money in the short term but make sense in the current context. And maybe, after the smoke clears and we (hopefully) return to something approaching the pre-virus normal, we’ll discover that the new/temporary policy becomes part of the “new normal.”
Bottom line: if the previous ways of doing things are impossible due to your company’s virus-response posture, you might be forced to try something new to keep things moving. Be ready to show initiative or make suggestions. Your leaders or peers might be just as uncertain as you are.