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Our new (a)normal: post-pandemic work etiquette

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Our new (a)normal: post-pandemic work etiquette

None of us went through the pandemic unscathed.

Due to the need to work remotely, new practices were quickly incorporated into everyday life. Communication was streamlined. At home, we had more time. However, that time was soon taken by spurts of ‘lives’ and virtual meetings.

During the quarantine, when we received a call regarding professional matters, our interlocutor, when introducing the subject, stopped making simple preliminary inquiries, which were necessary until then: “Where are you? Busy? He can talk?”

The topic of discussion was promptly presented. After all, we were all at home and, in principle, free to discuss anything.

There are habits that we cannot break. Others we abandon, without remorse or embarrassment, like calendars of years gone by.

Thirty years ago, a professional relationship – between a lawyer and his client or between two business professionals, for example – had several filters. The person interested in the communication asked his secretary to call the other’s secretary.

Usually, through the secretaries, they scheduled a physical meeting. In some cases, before that, the person interested in the consultation would send a dossier, a bundle of paper, or a facsimile, so that everyone would be aware of the topic.

This process, started with the desire to establish contact and an effective meeting, took at least a few days. In the liturgy then in force, only when people sat down, eye to eye, were the relevant topics discussed. On very rare occasions, he would use the telephone to discuss matters of greater complexity or delicacy. We educated urgency to respect the limits of possibility.

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In the 21st century, with the technological revolution, the physical dossiers and the fax were buried. The documents started to be transferred by electronic mail.

They were at the touch of a finger, available as long as the devil rubs his eyes. The path shortens.

The secretaries also stopped participating in this process. That filter fell. It is no longer possible to say that you did not receive a document or information because of the secretary, the office boy or any other intermediary. They don’t exist anymore.

The use of cell phones and WhatsApp are other phenomena. A Jurassic minority continues to use the landline to communicate. Nowadays, most of the time, the professional call is made directly to the cell phone.

The classic telephone operator answer – “Not Found” or “Already gone” – became just a historical curiosity. People and their cell phones have become one. A symbiosis.

Eventually, the person who attends is asked if he can talk – with the same concern as one asks if someone is doing well, that is, a varnish of education.

No more wondering where people are. With the banalization of finding the professional through the cell phone, there is no longer a boundary between the office and home.

There is no longer the concept of working hours – for younger people, it is worth explaining: “working hours” was a certain time, dedicated to professional activities, performed in a workplace.

This division between professional life and moments of leisure or other occupation became blurred. Workplace means wherever the person is.

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Before the pandemic, physical encounters were the norm. Exceptionally, conference calls were allowed. Most people didn’t even know about virtual room systems. For some, even suggesting a videoconference indicated a lack of professional commitment.

Rarely did anyone hire a service provider over the phone. The practice was, at least in the first contact, to promote a face-to-face meeting, especially on more sensitive issues, such as the choice of a heritage manager, an architect or a lawyer.

This custom changed as of March 2020. Currently, most professional meetings take place virtually, without this leading to any questioning about the efficiency of this medium. On the other hand, when a professional requests a physical meeting, he is soon asked what the need would be. What was customary became the exception. Habits have changed.

On the small screen, relationships are colder and more distant. A joke in a virtual meeting resembles barbecue without salt. As good as the joke is, it loses a lot when told on the small computer screen.

You can’t catch a good look, nor can you whisper (because nothing would be heard). These encounters, although practical, dehumanize the relationship. A good proof of this is to see that that moment, which preceded a physical meeting, in which people spoke generalities, exchanged ideas about life, narrated some personal (or even intimate) event, became rare. Now the theme of work dominates the meeting from beginning to end.

The pandemic – thankfully – is over. We can circle now. However, the speed of professional relationships continues at the pandemic pace. The new habits, incorporated during the pandemic, took over everything.

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During the quarantine, when we got used to the new reality, we talked about the “new normal”: remote work, cascading virtual meetings, cell phones boiling from uninterrupted use. Now, we live in the new (a)normal: a world that spins faster, in which information rushes towards us, and in which the urgent screams louder than necessary.

José Roberto de Castro Neves is a lawyer and partner at Ferro, Castro Neves, Daltro & Gomide (FCDG).

José Roberto de Castro Neves

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