Legendary lessons from lockdown

By Bill U. Rock

Separating the business from the family is always a challenge, especially during (and after) a pandemic

Like a lot of businesses, the MLR Media team has been working remotely for over a year, and it’s been over a year since I’ve seen most of the team in person. And, like a lot of families over the past year, my family has held a number of celebrations and holidays on Zoom or via FaceTime. In some ways, this has led to a much more businesslike approach to our family functions, complete with Microsoft Office calendar invites and written agendas. (Thanksgiving basically came with a board packet.) Perhaps this was inevitable in a family business, and I am surprised it took this long before we implemented best business practices in family communications.

Separating the business from the family is always a challenge for many family businesses because business is discussed both in the boardroom and at the dinner table. During the past year, I found myself talking to my parents, with whom I work closely, about our businesses more than ever. This was partially because the pandemic’s toll on our businesses required constant decision making and partially because we found working remotely required more frequent communication. And, like many others, we transitioned from fewer, longer meetings to more frequent but shorter calls. 

Since business was discussed more often, and since we never cracked the code on how to appropriately use Zoom breakout rooms during virtual family holidays, many of our family holiday calls touched on business issues that were overheard by other family members (although no confidential or sensitive information was ever shared). At first, I was concerned about my brother and our spouses overhearing some of these discussions, but it turned out to be a great way for family members to better understand the opportunities and challenges of our businesses. 

Working from home also gave my young daughters a chance to see me work. Although given their ages, I‘m not sure how much they understood, they certainly taught me a few things. With their experiences in remote learning, they were able to help craft some handy Zoom tricks and shortcuts. After this past year, I think many of our family members of all ages have a larger window into our family business and a deeper appreciation for our common goals.

Like most companies, we have put much thought into our post-Covid plans and how our teams will operate. We are looking at potentially fewer days per week required in our office and continued use of Zoom and other collaboration platforms. But we’ve put far less thought into the future dynamics and technologies we will utilize in family communications. Will we use frequent Zoom calls, or will we limit business discussions to in-person conversations, as we frequently did prior to the pandemic? How much information should we share with other family members? These have always been critical issues. But over this past year, we have learned that we can continue to be close even when remote, thanks to technology. I feel just as close, if not closer, to my family now but, until we can hug through Zoom, I hope to see them in person much more often in the future.

May/June 2021

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