I thought it would be fun to get things going with a game of Two Truths and a Lie. We tried to come up with lockdown stories to fool each other. It turns out that people are gullible, especially in the hands of seasoned pranksters. Still, I found it incredible that we had no idea whether our close colleagues were telling the truth about running a half marathon, nearly poisoning the entire family with a cake decorated with inedible flowers or abstaining from alcohol in the last 6 months. I claimed to have visited seven countries other than the UK last year - no one (including me) could believe it. And yet it's true.
It really brought home what we know to be true: offices are not just desks, ergonomic chairs and meeting rooms. It's where spontaneous exchanges of information take place all the time. There are industry news, updates from meeting clients, a little gossip and endless opportunities to test ideas, gauge opinions and get feedback you simply cannot receive via Zoom.
Last night I became so despaired at my ability to separate wheat from the chuff that I wondered what it must be like when one's job is to make investment, hiring or commercial decisions using Zoom. Granted, a face-to-face meeting is not enough to do proper due diligence but personal interaction is vital to complete the picture you have otherwise got from numbers and words. And how would you ever know if a person who works for you is feeling down or overwhelmed if you rely on occasional Zoom? A member of your team might be giving you the standard "I'm good, thanks" and look the part on the screen. In the office, you and your colleagues would surely be able to pick on telling signs of someone's depression or anxiety but you'd never know in lockdown.
The absence of serendipitous moments by the proverbial water cooler, challenges on how to communicate and the detrimental effect on our mental wellbeing are difficult to measure but intuitively we know that our productivity must have suffered over the last 12 months. We can only hope that things will simply get better once the lockdown ends. In the meantime, I'll savour my feat of fooling nearly everyone with a story of a wolf pup my neighbours had kept as a pet during my childhood in Russia...