Reda Raad: 'This New Reality is a Hard Pill to Swallow
Posted on 2020 Jun,23

As the Covid-19 pandemic continues to disrupt the world around us, adland has begun to figure out its new normal, or so it seems. ArabAd polled the views of top executives to learn about their overall feeling and the shifts they foresee taking place. For Reda Raad CEO of TBWA\RAAD MENA

'Like everybody else, I’ve spent the best part of three months working from home. It’s been an eye-opener. I’ve questioned the sanctity of the office, embraced the idea of freedom of location, and imagined a hybrid model that combines remote working and centralized spaces where we can gather together to hone our ideas. 

For now, however, I’m back in the office. After spending so long staring at fuzzy faces and listening to disembodied voices on laptop screens, it’s a strange sensation to be back, even if seeing friends and colleagues again has been an emotional experience. Just to interact with them, to see them smile, to share jokes, helps to produce an impression of normalcy. 

Yet the fear we had of not knowing how to reboot our offices has become our reality. Sure, we can turn on the lights, restart our computers, bring back the sandwich trolley, fluff up the bean bags, and recharge the PS4 controllers, but what about our greatest asset – our people? Haven’t they been safely cocooned in their home offices, happily ordering takeout’s and logging into virtual meetings? They were safe and – by and large – they were happy to ride out the storm in isolation. Now that bubble has been burst and the biggest victims are likely to be our own organizations. 

Nothing kills company culture more than a disinfection tunnel and social distancing. We may be back in the office but the exchange of ideas, the humor, and the camaraderie are noticeably subdued. People are scared. And why wouldn’t they be? When you’ve been told for months that close contact could be deadly, that wearing masks and gloves is a prerequisite for social interaction, and that you are potentially part of the problem, then of course you’re going to be uncomfortable. Such an environment is not conducive to work per se, let alone collaboration and creative thinking.

If you’ve spent years forging a company culture to be proud of, this new reality is a hard pill to swallow. Our obsession has always been the creation of great work. And that comes down to culture as much as anything else. The mentality of wanting to consistently produce great creative. Yet how do you continue with such an obsession in the circumstances in which we now find ourselves? How do you find the path back? 

Do you continue working remotely and resist re-entering the office for as long as possible? Do you accept this state of affairs for what it hopefully is – a transitionary phase – and muddle on as best you can? Or do you attempt to create an entirely new culture? One designed to work around the constraints you now find yourselves faced with. Whatever you choose, be prepared for the awkwardness, the muted atmosphere, and the surreal nature of working in an office that often resembles a futuristic movie set more than it does a house of creativity. 

Safety and wellbeing are of paramount importance and it’s your choice whether to reopen or not, but make no mistake, it’s going to take time to rebuild. Don’t worry about getting the reopening perfect from the word go. As long as the safety procedures are in place, open, learn and adapt. Human resolve is strong and company culture will return.

The key to all of this, of course, is simply opening. Because only then can the rebuilding begin. And when I say ‘rebuild’, I don’t mean rebuilding what we once knew. I mean creating new entities that are structured for the post-Covid-19 era. That means questioning how we do business, whether the office is as relevant as it once was, and how we should approach remote working after months of working from home. 

For business leaders this will be an intense period of leadership from the front. Why? Because the race to build the companies of the future has begun. And the initial key to winning that race is being faster than everybody else out of the blocks.'