It’s been a delightfully social week here in Zürich – in no small part because Wednesday marked a reunion with the colleagues that keep our businesses ticking over. With the threat of a 14-day quarantine in the UK on the horizon (now confirmed to start on 8 June), I decided that it might make sense to find a window for the top team to get together; I immediately set to work to figure out how you get three people from London and one from Berlin into Switzerland. As the Confoederatio Helvetica is all but closed to cross-border workers, closest family members of citizens and residents, and special medical or business cases, it’s not exactly a simple case of having your colleagues rock up for a meeting. After a few enquiries with the appropriate authorities, it was soon clear that getting the London crew in was going to take some precision timing, appropriate sequencing and just the right tone in letter writing. With the help of my assistant Linda, a backing act from our security correspondent, my doctor and friends at the nation’s flag carrier, we were able to assemble the required signatures and stamps to ensure smooth travel from Heathrow to Kloten. Along the way we were warned that it would still be down to the officers on duty to make the final call on entry/no entry, so I waited somewhat anxiously for my phone to ping just after 21.30 with an “all clear” message from my colleague Ariel.
The following morning we assembled at Monocle’s HQ on Dufourstrasse for a quick coffee and a brisk morning walk through the woods and some of Zürich’s more established residential districts. As I’ve worked with most of my senior team for anywhere from 15 to 23 years, these past two months have marked the longest period of separation both professionally and socially. As we’ve also been living very different lockdowns, I felt that a little urban hike would be a good way for everyone to catch up on the past weeks before settling down to look at financial forecasts, group structure and new projects for the months and years ahead. Under perfect skies we wandered along gurgling streams, admired elegant homes backing onto vineyards, said “hello” to the sheep and shared stories that never quite found time to be squeezed into daily conference calls. After 90 minutes of chatter and observations we were back at base and it felt like we had all been on an extended summer holiday rather than scattered around London, the English countryside, the heart of Berlin and Zürich’s Kreis 8.
While we agreed that much of our various management and project set-ups functioned better than expected thanks to various digital wing-wangs, we also agreed that business is not won over a video conference; company culture cannot be built over a webcam; and that there’s a certain efficiency that comes with reading the curl of a lip or the slight arch of an eyebrow.
Mission accomplished, we ventured out onto the streets and met friends, clients and contributors over rosé and Swissy bites. “It feels like a normal day,” said Ariel, who runs our agency business. “Look at the crowd out here.” Up and down the sidewalk, people were chatting in small groups of four or five (all roughly in step with Federal guidelines), enjoying drinks and savouring the decadence of freedom. After dinner at our local Italian we said our goodbyes and the next morning they flew back to London. They had enjoyed an advanced sampler of what easing feels like and how quickly the world can get its groove back. I miss them.