It’s the weekend, no more Zoom calls, no more Teams Meetings, no more screen time.
It’s time instead for a little trip to the country. I head to the hills, as we are allowed to do that now. An English summer is a wonderful thing.
Butser Hill, at the western end of the South Downs, with views of the Solent and the Isle of Wight beyond in the south, to the undulating escarpment of the Downs to the east.
Skylarks ascending, competing with each other, pronouncing their patch of land with song.
Skylarks are a particular curiosity: not striking to look at, but what they do is analogous to our hesitant steps out of lockdown.
Vaughan Williams springs to mind…
In 1914, English composer Ralph Vaughan Williams started work on a piece for violin and orchestra called Lark Ascending. It is a quiet contemplative, pastoral, very English sounding work, inspired by a poem about Skylarks by George Meredith.
As the Great War broke out in 1914, Vaughan Williams put the score aside to work as an ambulance driver in the medical corps, a precursor to the NHS. When the war finished, he returned to composing and completed Lark Ascending in 1920 for its premier in 1921.
Today, well yesteryear, it was performed regularly as one of Vaughan Williams more popular works. Of course, today there are no performing arts in the cultural desert that Covid-19 has left us with.
Let’s unpack the analogy a little further. The lockdown in March of this year bought about the abrupt end to our normal lifestyles and work patterns. In 1914, Edwardian England gave way to war with the assassination of Archduke Franz Ferdinand. Life would change forever.
The end of the war in 1918, quickly followed by the Spanish Flu Pandemic, also heralded the modern era with the development of car production, the emergence of commercial flight, electrification, and mass industrialisation.
While we cannot say that our lives in lockdown have been anything like living through war, we have been through a point in time that marks the time ahead from the time before.
As we proceed tentatively out of lockdown, we enter an era of R numbers and K numbers, an era of contamination and cleansing, of social distancing and aversion.
Despite this pessimistic vision robbed of hope, it is upon us to rise.
Rise and grasp a new future
Like the lark ascending, we must now try to rise and grasp a new future. As Vaughan Williams did before, we must take what we did, polish it off, complete it, and create something special, of value for the future.
Let’s put this into the context of the return to the office. Before the lockdown, the office was a sea of busy desks, daily stand-up meetings and eight hour days. Software developers, heads down, head-phoned up, anaesthetised by lines of code. As the lockdown drifted on longer than expected, habits have bedded in, new addictions affirmed. Working from home has given way to powerful ideals in flexibility, relaxation and detachment.
Work when you want, if you want, as you want.
Soon we will return to the office taking with us the disciplines of work from before, blended with the individualism and choice incubated in lockdown. Life in the office will be different.
It will have a very different feel. Of course, there will be spatial distancing, hand gel and deep cleans. But these are superficial things. Layered deep under this, lie new ideals of how our lives in work will be shaped.
Like in the 1920s when the modern age began, 2020 will see the birth of a new attitude in work – bringing together creativity and innovation with the greater compassion and care for each other which was developed in lockdown. Our very own lark ascending, rising, and singing to a better future.
Chris Read is group CEO of Dunstan Thomas