Good morning, Guten Morgen, Bonjour and Ohayo gozaimasu. If you’re reading this somewhere in or around central Europe, then there’s a high to 100 per cent chance that I’ve caught you with the duvet pulled up to your ears as your bedroom is absolutely freezing and you’re wondering where on earth summer went. Unfortunately, I don’t have the answer to that but given that the good weather started in late March in this part of the world there’s not much to complain about. Also, there are still a few countries on the Med that are not on various quarantine or warning lists so you can make your way to Greece, Turkey, Italy or Gibraltar (see below) if you need a last blast of rosé, salty sea hair and fresh freckles. While I don’t need more freckles, I’m voting for a few days in Athens from next weekend – in part thanks to the steady stream of photos sent by my friend Christoph (his employers should not be surprised if he also starts prodding for them to open an east Mediterranean bureau over the coming months), cheerleading by the mayor of Athens (more from him if you tune into The Chiefs) and my sun-worshipping friends, Hugo and Nina (playmates during my stay).
With a gate-to-gate time of a little over two hours, my flight from Zürich to Athens is going to be the closest I’ve come to flying long-haul since my return from Tokyo just before most of Europe went into lockdown in March. How funny to look back to those early days of confinement, when I thought that I would still be going to the Olympics to host a series of radio shows from a special set-up we had planned for Roppongi Hills. In June I thought the Japanese might reopen the country to business travel by early September, when I would be in the midst of a grand tour around Asia. From the way things look at the moment, it seems unlikely that Monocle will be hosting its usual Christmas party, having a festive lunch at Shiseido Parlour with our clients or doing a last-minute shopping dash through Isetan and Tokyu Hands.
Over the past few weeks I’ve been covering a bit more ground (Paris, Vienna, Amsterdam and Munich) and while there was a brief period where it was a relief to be in one place, it’s good being out on the road. Correction – it’s great! A few good meetings, a client who’s receptive to a concept, a signed contract and a relaxed dinner with colleagues all remind you what you’ve been missing.
This week I tried a video conference for the first time since the start of the pandemic and it’s not for me. What could have been achieved in an hour took nearly three, associates drifted in and out and there was a lack of urgency and engagement. Is it a good way to stay in touch and have some level of corporate-wide connection? For sure. Is it a way to build company culture or make yourself or your big pitch properly understood? Unlikely. For many corners of the economy there’s a creeping fog that’s starting to blanket businesses where “getting by” and “coping” are the acceptable norms despite there being tools (travel, seeing clients, being among colleagues) that would allow them to shift things up a gear and not just accept a clutch of defeatist and short-term narratives. If I don’t see you in Athens, I look forward to seeing you in Tokyo. We need to move forward