We are there for each other despite being socially distant

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Gina London writes about support, sense of togetherness and IrelandTogether in her column, The Communicator, in Sunday Independent. 

On the morning of the 18th of March, less than one week after Irish children nationwide were sent home with all their school books, office doors were closed and words like “self-isolation” and “social distancing” were still far from commonplace, Joanne Griffin wrote a message to two contacts on LinkedIn.

“I barely knew either of them,” she told me via a Whatsapp call this past Wednesday. But the former LinkedIn executive turned founder and CEO of Adapt IQ, dedicated to helping organisations prepare teams for the future of work, was thinking of the uncertain future in which we all suddenly found ourselves.

“I pinged Colin Harris, Managing Director of VIP Recruitment and Louise O’Conor, a partner at Beta Digital. I knew they were both creative, connected and believed in creating social impact.”

Joanne asked if they were interested in designing a way to pull people together from their new separated worlds. To create a community. Her idea ignited a fast-moving spark in the others. “I wrote my message at 10:23 a.m. Eight minutes later they both got back to me and said, ‘We’re in.’ By 1:44 p.m., we were on a Zoom call,” she said.

“We are all running businesses on the side, but we are also committed to the strength of the collective brain to solve common challenges.”

By April 1 (no fooling), the trio had added Mindi Caselden as a fourth partner and launched IrelandTogether.ie, a brand-new non-profit committed to providing free online support for Irish businesses struggling with the effects of the ongoing Covid-19 restrictions.

“We are a small enough nation to make this stuff work. It’s the solidarity of the Irish people. Our platform already has over 300 members made up of senior leaders of SME’s across Ireland and the diaspora,” Joanne told me.

“We have a thriving community on Slack and our ethos is reciprocity. Advisors give their time for free. For instance, today we had a number of accountants come forward. They are providing financial support to companies who are trying to access the Covid-19 supports whether for their employees or for their cash flow. In return they need help for social marketing. It’s a ‘pay it forward’ community.”

In addition to providing a supportive network of members and advisors, IrelandTogether has also been conducting sentiment surveys for participants. With three weeks’ of surveys returned so far, the results are somewhat surprising.

1) Confidence is declining

Rather than people settling into a remote-working groove or positive pivot, many members are feeling like they are losing their footholds. “We are seeing a decline in people saying that they have the right networks around them to support them,” Joanne revealed. “All the advisors who signed up, at first thought they were the right people to provide support. But now they’re saying, ‘oh no, we’re running out of sales pipeline and what should we say to attract more customers?’”

In fact, only 11 pc of those surveyed described themselves as being “very confident” about the future. Over the past week alone, the survey has reported a significant increase in concerns over cashflow. “We’re also inundated with webinar ‘shoulds’ and ‘woulds’ and that just adds to anxiety.”

“We’re now preparing to roll out an ‘Ireland Talks’ video series to examine the real-life stories of our members and networks who are making tough choices and learning from experience,” Joanne said.

2) Willingness for collaboration is expanding

The feelings of isolation and precariousness are catapulting people’s desire to collaborate. It’s not better to go it alone, it’s better to join forces. Tackling problems together is also a goal for IrelandTogether.

“We’ve established working groups within the membership to help tackle and offer solutions to identified problems,” explained Joanne.

“Even though we’re physically distant, there’s a real willingness for competitors to help people get out of hustle mode and start to collaborate and pivot if that is what they need to do.”

I agree. You don’t have to know it all on your own. But you do need to not be afraid to reach out and ask others for help.

3) Sense of urgency is increasing

For the first week of restrictions, Joanne said to me, she observed that people seemed very patient. “Now, people are feeling a big sense of urgency, anxiety and ‘me me me’. We are only three weeks old and already have hundreds of members and advisors. But we’re still not moving fast enough.”

Along with the increasing need for speed is an increasing wave of enthusiasm from the community.

“It’s overwhelming,” Joanne marvelled. “The initial caliber of the people we expected were middle managers, but we have top companies, top leaders. We are getting reach-outs from Groupon, Google, Virgin TV and RTE.”

At this moment the world’s population, according to the United Nations, consists of 7.8 billion people. Each person has a story. Of the distinct set of concerns, questions and events they’re experiencing during this time of remote working, self-isolation and continuing uncertainty.

The more we can come together (virtually, of course) connect and collaborate, the more we will feel the power of community. Of being together. Apart.

Sunday Independent, Gina London: We are there for each other despite being socially distant

Write to Gina in care of SundayBusiness@independent.ie or right here on Linked In.

With corporate clients in five continents, Gina London is a premier communications strategy, structure and delivery expert. She is also a media analyst, author, speaker and former CNN anchor. @TheGinaLondon

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