We cannot return to the pre-pandemic madness

Decades of industrial revolutionary thinking led to a near cardiac arrest for many, yet one of my early favourite bands did warn us we were risking our heath.


Walking to the bus stop

He’s longing for his bed,

Waiting with his neighbours

In the rush hour queue

Got to get the first bus

So much for him to do.

He's got to hurry

Got to get his seat

Can't miss his place


Back in 1982, ska band Madness from London sang that the hell of getting to work and life in an office would lead, as the song is titled, to a cardiac arrest. As a nine-year-old it was an amusing song and one I rushed to the local branch of Woolworth’s to buy on cassette tape. Although the UK’s Woolworth’s stores were an early victim of behaviour change by customers, and the cassette tape has been superseded a number of times over by improvements in storage technology, the pain of travelling to work, meetings and job insecurity continued, and in fact grew throughout the 1980s. No doubt the accepted ‘madness’ would have remained until a respiratory virus brought about the most significant economic change since Suggs and band reminded us to: “Pull yourself together now”.

Like so many, I failed to take heed of the wise words in the lyrics of Cardiac Arrest for much of my working career. As a series of further lockdowns keep places of work and live music shuttered, now is the time to finally really consign the madness to the same bin as all those cumbersome music tapes that littered our bedrooms. 

“His mind wanders to the office, his telephone, desk and chair”


Way before the pandemic CIOs and CTOs were enabling organisations to support the distributed enterprise. Yet, until Coronavirus forced each and every organisation go one step beyond the threshold of the headquarters, businesses largely failed to take advantage of the opportunity. The reason was of course cultural, and even though many organisations tried to ape the house of fun they had seen in Silicon Valley, the truth is the promise of greater collaboration rarely came to fruition.

I'll be late, oh dear, what will the boss say?

When forced to tell their staff “don’t come round here no more” organisations no doubt worried that productivity would fall off a cliff. But the truth has been very different, yes your team may be wearing baggy trousers in a Zoom call, but they have delivered not only the results the boss wanted - and therefore had little to say - but they have also taught children and cared for vulnerable relatives and neighbours in their house, at the bottom of their street. 

In the CIO/CTO community I chair, the pandemic has led to a chorus line that as leaders, their focus has to be on outcomes, not hours. Each and every business technology leader I speak to admits their leadership style has been challenged, but they have adapted and enjoyed the increased focus on people, wellbeing and now spend a great deal more of their leadership time reminding team members that they cannot “get in a state”. 

There's a meeting this morning, it's just his luck, oh damn

One area of the working day that has been positively transformed is the meeting. CIOs report shorter meetings, no travel, better diary management, greater structure to the meetings and as a result, there is more time to ask colleagues: “What about the wife and kids?” And not just them, CIOs tell me they know their team members' pets, flat mates, tastes in books, art and hobbies. We have seen the humour that binds partnerships together. 

There are of course challenges to the distributed enterprise, Not everyone has the luxury of a spare room, and for many of our colleagues, trying to complete a challenging technical role from the kitchen table with kids present has been as much a journey towards madness as sitting stationary on a wet motorway. The intensity of lockdowns and health fears creates a weariness as taxing as the commute.

As vaccines lead the world towards one better day, the lesson of the pandemic and the world of work has to be one of learning, and not repeating the madness of the pre-pandemic world. Less rigidity, a focus on outcomes, and most importantly to make sure every member of our organisation can say:

He's been happy with the company, they've treated him real fair.