Are we all still speaking “pandemic”?

PSFI partner Mike Mister looks at some of the phrases that have sprung up during the pandemic and considers whether some of them are now past their sell-by date as we move to a new way of working.

Now that we are all familiar with the word pandemic – and how it differs from epidemic (* for those seeking clarification see below). It is interesting to observe how circumstances change our use of language and the words that we use. We resurrect, repurpose or even create words to express ourselves or make the words applicable to the zeitgeist of the times. Over the past year we have all seen a proliferation of data hitting our television screens and pontificated over them in a way that, in the absence of the appropriate comparators, has been, frankly, nonsensical. Additionally we have all become amateur virologists, vaccine experts and reminded of how crises are not to be wasted!

As would be expected our language – and by that I am referring to the language we use in the business world – which is so often reduced to acronyms of 3 letters or more – has spawned a host of new additions. As could be expected the desire for brevity has become a necessity and the mother of invention for the language of the pandemic. Below is a small selection of phrases and acronyms I have come across from the “blogosphere” over the last 12 months and also in working and meeting with people desperately trying to make work happen during the last year.

BANI Brittle, Anxious, Non-linear, Incomprehensible (a possible reaction our VUCA (see below) world?
BOPIS Buy online pick up in store
Casual collisions The serendipitous meetings that happen in the workplace and trigger a piece of delegation
FOGO Fear of going out – a new condition by the various lockdowns experienced over the last year.
MOOC Massive open online courses
Riff Raff An online club where members meet to chat and generally moan about things and “put the world to rights”.
RTTO Return to the Office
S2S Screen to screen:  with no face to face /real life contact
SOSR Some Other Significant Reason – a pressing business need to justify something (usually a dismissal or termination of employment). Not to be confused with “soz” – text speak for sorry
SPOS Small private online courses – the opposite of MOOCs (see above)
Unfacilitated Unfacilitated often used in relation to learning materials which in effect means – self paced or left do your own thing!
VLE A virtual learning environment where learners are brought together in a technologically mediate “space” to work and learn together
Vlexible A combination of virtual and flexible working practices
VUCA Volatile, Uncertain, Complex, Ambiguous
Zinks Having drinks- often alcoholic and which we mix ourselves but ‘shared’  via a Zoom call
Zoffee Having a coffee – which you prepare yourself as we have all become amateur baristas – with someone else who happens to be on Zoom
Zoomvite An invitation to a Zoom meeting

And finally, a piece of advice that does not make for easy tabulation, is the inspired wisdom from a friend (who punctures the very human propensity to discuss ailments and vaccinations) by insisting everyone on his calls obey the “organ recital” rule. Which is that when asked “How are you?” you may speak about any health issue for no more than five minutes, and then not again on that particular call.

So, as our use of collaborative technologies has become part of our new normal, and we grapple with what “hybrid” means and how to make “hybrid” work… it may be useful to remember the four questions posed as a recent event by Matthew Taylor of the Royal Society for Arts and Manufactures in London:
• What have we started doing during these times that we should continue?
• What have we started doing during these times that we should stop doing?
• What did we stop doing during these times that we should restart?
• What did we stop doing during these times that we really have no need to start doing again?

As we navigate a new hybrid way of working, these four questions would seem to be a useful way for leaders to cut through the acronyms and new terminology and to engage in some serious reflection and conversation – without using the language of the pandemic – to help our people navigate their way to creating a new normal for what our working lives may be in the future.
*Epidemic – a widespread occurrence of an infectious disease in a community at a particular time.
*Pandemic – (of a disease) prevalent over a whole country or the world.

Mike Mister is a partner at PSFI and specialises in the areas of development of leadership and change management. With over 30 years’ experience working internationally with senior leaders and their teams, his key interest is the intersection of strategy, commercial success and the organisation’s people agenda. Mike is also a Senior Fellow in the Human Capital Practice of The Conference Board and is the co-author of “How to Lead Smart People” with Arun Singh, a Senior Fellow with The Conference Board. Most of Mike’s articles are also published by The Conference Board.

Mike Mister
Mike is a Partner at PSFI and works with professional services firms on designing, developing and supporting change agendas and building improved leadership capabilities in partners. His areas of expertise include helping organisations understand the importance of partners as leaders in building sustainable practices, the leadership and motivation of diverse, high performing teams and leadership across the partner life cycle.
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