Jon Mew: Digital is the antidote to social distancing

By Jon Mew, CEO, IAB UK 

Tuesday afternoon, I’m sitting at home and the early spring sunshine is streaming through the open window. So far, so great. But as we all know, these are not normal times and things are far from great.

With the COVID-19 outbreak causing massive and unprecedented disruption to our daily lives, not to mention the accompanying dose of anxiety about loved ones’ wellbeing, it’s fair to say that 2020 is not going anywhere near as smoothly as planned. 

Over the past few weeks – amid growing UK cases, daily ‘Boris briefings’ and a sudden shutdown of ‘business as usual’ – one motto has been striking a chord: “We’re all in this together”. You’ll have heard it spoken by the Prime Minister, seen countless Instagram posts bearing the hashtag and perhaps repeated it as a morale booster for family and friends (via FaceTime, of course). 

The digital antidote

I couldn’t agree more and it’s clear how vital digital channels are as we forge a virtual sense of community and navigate this new world. From both an individual and business perspective, digital is our antidote to social distancing.

Not only are Zoom, Teams, Hangouts and the like helping to engineer a different sort of 9 to 5, social media has become a forum of shared experience – helping to ease the loneliness and anxiety that COVID-19 has brought with it. 

With all of us disconnected from the familiar, enhanced communication is a necessity and it’s heartening to see so many examples of businesses harnessing digital solutions to adapt to the changing circumstances. 

Just look at our industry. From internal measures to motivate the workforce – such as Tailify’s all-staff Zoom pub quiz (an idea we have nabbed at IAB UK) and many introducing virtual lunchtime workout sessions (again, co-opted) – to wider initiatives such as Facebook’s Business Support Hub for SMEs and Google’s new campaign to encourage people stay at home #withme.

Digital platforms are allowing companies to build innovative, agile solutions and swiftly adapt from the physical to the virtual.  

In a similar vein, we at IAB UK aren’t going to let social distancing come between us and our members. In the current situation, we believe that it’s more important than ever that we unite as an industry and continue to facilitate collaboration.

Just like everyone else, this means changing the way that we usually work and leveraging our digital capabilities to make sure we’re delivering the level of support that’s needed at the moment. 

IAB UK Connected, our new initiative to unite the digital ad industry, brings together everything that we’re doing as a company – from virtual training courses and events to podcast specials – alongside resources and inspiration from other companies.

It’s not a finished article; we’ll keep adding to it as we go and welcome input from across our membership base. If ever there was a time to share expertise and learn from one another, this is it. 

Which leads me to my final point. There’s no denying that we’re all in a challenging, frustrating and, frankly, scary situation. The sort of situation that puts the important things into perspective; physical health, mental wellbeing, the safety of loved ones and the simplest of joys that we probably all took for granted until recently. 

Regaining a normal foothold on life is a priority for all of us but, until we do, let’s keep learning and embracing different ways of doing things. One of the unintended consequences of this crisis could be a permanent shift in how we do business.

As a result of this shared experience, will virtual meetings and remote working become more commonplace? And, with digital offering an eco-friendly alternative to air travel, will international trips for work still be viable? 

Without wanting to venture into the territory of sweeping predictions, this crisis is giving us all practice in how to get the most out of digital communication and nail a new WFH routine. While physical offices and face-to-face meet ups aren’t going anywhere, we’re also learning what we’re capable of – virtually.

As well as the fear and uncertainty, the disruption caused by COVID-19 is being met with both creativity and innovation.

The silver lining? Thanks to digital, we really are all in this together. 

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