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Covid: One year on 31 Mar 2021 - 4 min read

Google boss on Covid: sometimes strange, definitely character building

By Rhys Williams, Interim Managing Director - Google ANZ

Rhys Williams: "You need downtime and to manage the peaks and troughs of intense work. Putting on your own ‘oxygen mask’ in a crisis is important for me to be a consistent leader."

As technology expands further into daily life post-Covid, Google's interim MD Rhys Williams expects more “focus and scrutiny” on how tech can improve and provide “benefits for people, communities and businesses”.

One area I see renewed focus on is privacy and it’s something we want to lead on as an industry when it comes to consumer expectations.

Rhys Williams Interim Managing Director, Google ANZ

Ambiguity rules

It almost feels like an impossible task to put the last year into a few hundred words. It was so many different things to people. It was hard, uncertain, odd - yet, forced us to think differently and positively, and see the opportunities.

It was the best case study of learning to thrive in ambiguity, coming up with answers to questions we’d never been asked before, and working things out as we went. 

One thing that’s clear is that the last year accelerated the digitisation of how we work, do business and live. Not surprisingly we saw big changes in how people go about things and what they’re interested in.

Consumers have searched for content and answers to help them make sense of the new world, understand why things are happening, and to meet their unique needs.

They’ve taught themselves new skills and hobbies to equip themselves for the future, and looked for inspiration in how to adapt and thrive. It seems many have also become master bread bakers if YouTube views are anything to go by.

Big gulp moments

For almost all businesses we work with, large and small, there were some initial pretty big ‘gulp’ moments - for many the foundations of their business models changed overnight.

And after careful thought and often tough decisions, we saw some brilliant examples of Aussie entrepreneurship and resilience where businesses reinvented their operating models, and found new ways to connect with their customers.

Take Woolworths and Coles, who prioritised communities’ needs by offering boxes of meals, snacks, and essential items with free delivery for people with disabilities, seniors, and others in mandatory isolation.

Bunnings introduced “drive and collect” services so customers can stay safely inside their cars while an employee delivers their order. And as online shopping continued to rise, we saw the biggest ever retail seasons in Q4 with Cyber Weekend outstripping expectations

At Google, we tried to match this with helpful product updates, ads credits for businesses, support for government agencies and NGOs, and digital skills training - but most of all, advice and help for businesses wanting to succeed online.

WFH position is messy

For me, it’s been sometimes strange, and definitely character building. As a leader at Google, people reacted to working from home in very different ways - some totally loved it and some completely hated it.

I’ve tried to be understanding of what works for different people and to help them be at their best. As a dad, I’ve got a lot more face time with my kids without the normal level of commuting, travel, and work commitments, which I’ve loved. Perhaps the one Covid-19 ‘souvenir’ I want to get rid of is some extra kilos I’ve added. That’s a work in progress...

We had a session on ‘mental fitness’ at work that resonated with me. It’s the theory that to be at peak fitness you need to allocate time for recovery, training, a support coach can help, having the right fuel, and so on.

The same principles apply for mental wellbeing - you need downtime and to manage the peaks and troughs of intense work. Putting on your own ‘oxygen mask’ in a crisis is important for me to be a consistent leader.

Not out of the woods yet

So what’s next? We’re not out of the woods yet, but it’s good to see the green shoots of recovery, and optimism and confidence returning amongst consumers and businesses. 

And with technology taking on an expanded and critical role in our lives, assuming these trends stick, there will be a continued focus and scrutiny on how tech can best improve and provide benefits for people, communities and businesses.

One area I see renewed focus on is privacy and it’s something we want to lead on as an industry when it comes to consumer expectations.

Being able to easily and quickly source reliable information online will continue as a key community need, as the world continues to change at a rapid pace.

We’ve provided helpful information throughout this pandemic through Search and our other platforms, and will continue doing this. And we also want to continue helping businesses and brands successfully adjust to this new environment so they move from recovery to future growth.

The ongoing challenges may at times feel daunting, but it’s also providing opportunities for everyone to rethink how we do things in order to drive a new phase of growth and discovery.

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