By Alvin Hermanto – Principal, Relab

It is halfway through the second quarter of 2020, and for some, time has never moved so slowly when you are staying indoors every day, trying to stave off a massive Covid-19 outbreak.

As more countries look for a way out of this pandemic, I’m grateful that Australia is one of the few lucky countries that flattened the curve considerably and are looking to define a new normal, relaxing restrictions stage by stage until we get to a Covid-19 safe economy. 

I hope you are well in spirit, body, and mind. Most of my friends and network seemed to have accepted the situation and are dealing with it well. Some are, of course, finding it harder.

In times like these, I think of the 5 stages of grief model by Elisabeth Kübler-Ross, which explains the emotional cycle we go through as we experience a deep loss. It is apt for our situation today because it is highly likely that our normal is gone, at least not for another year until we find a vaccine. 

The stages are:

  • Denial
  • Anger
  • Depression
  • Bargaining
  • Acceptance

The cycle looks something like this:

Kübler-Ross Grief Cycle

Depending on where you are in the broader economy and your personal situation, you will be able to associate ourselves to one of these stages. When you are in the Denial and Anger phase, what you need the most is information and communication. During the Depression stage, you need emotional support the most. And as soon as you step into the Bargaining and Acceptance phase, what works is guidance and direction.

As the principal of Relab, a digital design agency, I have a responsibility to check in on my team regularly. Fortunately, we have been relatively unscathed, but everyone is adjusting to a new way of doing business and working. If anything, our team is in the Acceptance phase, recognising the new reality around us and trying not to be naïve about it while staying grounded.

With more people slowly coming out of their houses as the government eases lockdown restrictions, there are 3 things I’m looking forward to sharing and witnessing in our industry and the world in general.  

1. The Past: Our lessons

After watching the Lion King over and over again with my toddler during this lockdown, I think it would be wise not to dwell, rather, to look forward and learn from the past. I love this piece of wisdom from Rafiki in the movie, “Oh yes, the past can hurt… But the way I see it, you can either run from it or learn from it."

Rafiki and Simba discussing life lessons

For our team, I think the biggest lesson we learnt is the importance of accountability in our work and our words. Although this is one of our company values called "Service", this pandemic really brought the meaning home for us and the absolute importance of it, both from a teamwork perspective and a client services perspective. 

One of the main survival ethos that I hold strongly is that we will go through this and together we shall. Keeping our teams together is as important as being able to support our customers to get to the other side. The critical phase in all this is to get to the point where you accept and embrace the reality. There are things you can’t control, but you can work and navigate around it instead.

This Covid-19 pandemic will go down in history books, just like the two world wars, the Great Depression, and the Great Financial Crisis. And just like all the previous bleak and depressing events, you will learn from it and, hopefully, emerge better.

2. The Present: A new normal

We are already seeing a new normal. More and more people are relying on food delivery services, exercising at home, joining online classes, working from home, shopping online, and decorating their homes. With the uncertain economic environment and rising unemployment rates, people are also more reluctant to spend money. 

New perspectives will arise, and old habits will slowly fade away. Many are now willing to accept, adapt or even prefer what they used to scoff at such as virtual offices, co-working hubs, cloud services and online shopping. 

In the retail industry, where a bulk of our clients are in, I expect many businesses will fast track digitisation and automate processes to accommodate the shifting consumer behaviours. Companies will double down on digital projects, making them more efficient to support this new environment. Bricks and mortar stores will focus on brand experience rather than a shopping outlet. 

3. The future: New opportunities

Some businesses will collapse, some will survive, others will thrive, and new ones will be created. Ultimately, the market will tell us what it needs. Some of the leading companies we know today were born out of the last global financial crisis such as WhatsApp, Airbnb and Slack.

I think the playing field will be more level. Big companies or conglomerates may be laden under enormous debt and bureaucracy, giving a window of opportunity for small or new businesses to compete on a more balanced footing. It is like a massive ‘restart’ button, one that allows you to rethink, reinvent or pivot to a completely new idea.

For us, I am raring to look at opportunities beyond our borders. We’ve had clients in other states before, but now that we’ve seen how efficiently we can do work online, I don’t think there is an excuse for us to limit our reach to a small client pool. Distance is no longer an issue, and we can easily expand our portfolio and services without opening a new office or hiring a new team. 

In addition, I want to expand our knowledge sharing, creating more content on what we are good at, for others keen to learn the digital design craft and methodology. Whether it is an online class, webinars, or one-on-one coaching sessions, I feel this is a good way to hone my craft, meet new people and give back to the industry. 

What about you? Tell me what you’ve learnt and what you’re looking forward to...