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Vulnerability and resilience during Covid – a lesson for businesses

“As a Type 1 diabetic you are classed as vulnerable but not shielding” my consultant said. Hm. When you think of those words in isolation, taken out of context, they’re pretty scary. I’m more vulnerable to the risks of Covid-19, but not judged risky enough to shield. There are upsides to this: my kids were able to go back to the childminder, giving me some blessed peace and quiet to work in again. Earlier than many, I was able to see friends and family again (if cautiously), but that word, vulnerability, really struck me.

This is partly because I spent the few non-working, non-child-rearing moments of lockdown reading and listening to the wonderful Brené Brown. Now, clearly, there are some fundamental and practical differences between the psychological concept that Brené talks about and my pancreatically-induced vulnerability, but haven’t we all felt more vulnerable in the last six months? Both personally and business-wise, the world has been turned upside-down, can we use that vulnerability in a positive way?

Having worked in PR and communications for the past sixteen years, banging on about authenticity and openness with leaders, it’s been fascinating to witness the ways in which the pandemic has forced us all to open up a bit and the organisations that have done that more readily have reaped the benefits.

While moving from Teams-call to Teams-call throughout my new working from home reality has its draw-backs (needing a wee mid-SLT meeting, every lunchtime call including zero video as we all munch away on sandwiches privately), I’ve loved the humanity that has been so much more on-show as we all working from our natural environments. We’ve all got our stories of embarrassing partners or children showing us up, but like it or not, this new way of working has stripped back our professional, war-painted personas and showed our colleagues our lives outside the office…and it’s enabled us to build better relationships and stronger teams as a result.

So personally, vulnerability has had a broadly positive impact, but the link between reputational vulnerability and resilience was typified for me by the business reaction to the Black Lives Matter protests in June.

Across the many members of Public Relations Oxford I’ve spoken to over the past few months, there’s been a common theme: the demands on the Comms team in the first half of this year were insane. The need to communicate clearly to employees – suddenly working remotely – when the pandemic caught hold was vital. Working at weekends, evenings, urgent creativity in how to get important messages out meant that most Communications and PR teams, globally, were exhausted by the end of March.

And then George Floyd was murdered. And people began asking what the corporations they worked for, bought from, gave money to, were doing to address the systemic racism that exists in our society. I’m not here to judge who got it wrong. There’s a lot of work that needs to – and is starting to – go into understanding what needs to change to improve equal access to education, jobs, the legal system and that deserves more than a paragraph in a blog post. But what came across clearly was that the organisations that came out of this situation resilient and with credit and praise from those most affected, were those that accepted their failings. Those that opened up their employment data and committed to making a change.

In that sense, those that made themselves vulnerable were truly the most resilient.

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