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Laptop on a desk with a pot plant © Unsplash.com

Running into the end of 2020 signals the end of a difficult year for everyone, both domestically and at work, and there is little need or inclination to reinforce this in any great detail.  However, there have been some intriguing aspects, some partially amusing effects, some revealing insights and a great deal of positives to reflect on too.

The standard workplace has never been so scrutinised with a realisation we may have taken our previous little office space for granted. Even as I sit and write this I am disturbed by some rustling and cleaning around my feet.  How common has that been for us all? Finding the perfect work haven has rarely been achievable during lockdown, either too cramped, too shared, too cold, too hot, too lonely, too noisy, or too badly connected.  I personally feel myself lucky with a dedicated attic space, but have felt for those with young families and siblings or a fuller house where the potential for interference to work (ordinarily so welcomed!) is ever present and can be problematic.

And so we have had to rely and trust in a newish friend. We have all had to learn a new level of dependence on IT and remote connection, and in the main, we have embraced it well – particularly in SITU.  This will not go away.  I am not sure I know of anyone who is not ready to go back in some small part to a normal office with those important but appropriate 3D interactions, a reassuring touch, a pat on the back, a shared pot of tea, a hug and giggle between close colleagues, a divided cake and seeing how people smile from more than one angle.   The tech may advance and improve even more, and we will continue to enjoy the benefits, but to discard the human side would be a mistake.  Achieving the balance between remote and togetherness will be key for us into the future.   

But the remote working has also had many advantages.  The words “you are muted” has been the phrase of the year.  Ordinarily this is a negative and suggests a suppression of the collective voice at discussions or meetings.  But in this case it has been a positive - meaning we can’t hear you, and we want to hear you – and actually, we need to hear you.  People who perhaps have been heard less in the past now have a better voice and maybe have more visibility.  The lack of time spent in the car or in traffic, with associated climate and personal health benefits, the decrease in unnecessary journeys and the sheer pleasure of immediate “start on time  - finish on time” meetings has created a new etiquette (at least with most).  The flexible working patterns and the access to a perhaps superior chocolate store are all substantial gains. 

The new way has brought some side advantages and amusement too.  Being able to identify your hair if you arise with a wild fuzzball or flat pancake before it is too late, checking the hot chocolate/froth stain on the bridge of your nose (yes, I spent a whole day in SITU with one once – people thought it a scab).  Looking at stark black silhouettes wondering who the devil you are talking to; scrabbling to find a document on your multi-layered pc windows and deleting it by accident as too much is open; realising a jumper or shirt you loved is downright ugly, desperately filling in the words as sensible as possible of a broken transmission; freezing on screen in a pose of awkwardness ordinarily bypassed in a flash, even thinking good grief, do I look like that weird creature from the side?; looking at people’s backgrounds and thinking crikey, do they live in castle? (only to find it is a castle… usually a background [but not always]); and frowning at the odd halo loss of a person when using such a background – truncating their cranium making the participant look like a trepanned half twin.

But to change tack completely and on a very serious note, we mustn’t forget those who have suffered badly and some of you may have lost friends or loved ones in this time.  It would be incorrect not to spare some time or space here to consider and appreciate some of the tragic consequences that have resulted. No amount of levity or introspection will compensate for that.  Our thoughts are truly with those folk and their families.

In terms of work and the future, as the vaccine rolls out things will ease, but I don’t want any of us to forget the effort and long hours put in by so many of you over this period.  I certainly won’t. I know the most of us have never worked harder, sometimes doing 10, 12, 14 hour days for weeks at a time.  Just getting the job done according to need.  As a unit we have kept on going.  People have worked so hard and fastidiously showing fabulous resilience and independence.  Trials have been worked up, submitted, started, paused, salvaged, continued and progressed.  All thanks to you and the team at SITU (and in the Dept and Division beyond).   

I hope this be a more personal piece, as a simple open expression of pride and immense gratitude to you all. Thank you for being part of the SITU team. Thank you for allowing us to start 2021 in a better position than I ever thought possible at the start of this unprecedented period.

Have a wonderful break.

David