Some Reflections on Change and Resilience

On Father’s Day, I took my two young boys to a wildlife sanctuary. We began our trip by watching the reptile show. It made quite the impression on my four-year-old, Emmett. For days later he knowingly repeated what he had learnt: “If you see a snake: stand still, don’t move, call for help.”

This is advice given to help control our impulsive reaction to a perceived threat. Some will instinctively want to fight to protect themselves and others. Some will catch flight by jumping, screaming and falling over themselves to get away. Others will be overcome by fear of the threat, shut down all cognitive and physical function, and simply freeze.

In the case of the Eastern Brown snake, it’s the latter group whose instincts will serve them best. The snake may not see the enormous, frozen human being as being dangerous to it, so is less likely to defensively strike out. A sudden movement while you take flight or a move forward to fight will be a signal to the snake that you are a threat, and the snake will get defensive.

Many committees and strata managers displayed the evolutionary tendency to freeze when our industry was confronted with the challenges of the COVID-19 pandemic. It was not an instinctive reaction that would serve them well.

The second half of March 2020 was when this pandemic became real for many. Non-essential services, businesses and gatherings were restricted and eventually locked down.

Law firms were not immune. I was working from home by the end of March 2020 at close quarters with an incredibly energetic four-year-old who had little to do. Emmett found it very exciting that his dad no longer had to go to an office in Brisbane each day. He would dress up in a collared shirt and a jacket, and proudly march towards my home office each morning with his iPad under his arm confidently telling his mum that he was going to work with dad.

I spent much of that time on the phone dealing with that instinctive reaction to freeze many took to these restrictions and lockdowns. Gatherings of more than two people were not permitted, so some strata managers and committees no longer considered it possible to hold meetings. They were intent on just waiting it out until the world went back to normal.

There were two important features that stood out with this line of thinking:

1. Those who had frozen underestimated how long we would be contending with this pandemic.

2. It was held by those who had been in the industry for decades and had not adapted their business practices in line with technological advancements.

The most utilised strata legislation in Queensland is the Body Corporate and Community Management Act introduced in 1997. They were very different times in the 1990’s. In 1997, there were approximately 1 million websites. On 1 January 2020, there were just over 1.7 billion websites. We now live in a very different digital age, but many of our professional habits were shaped in the 1990’s.

1 October 2020 marked my five-year anniversary since joining Grace Lawyers. With my personality being what it is, it didn’t matter to me that I was the fresh face in the partnership: I saw room for improvement.

I noticed an abundance of paper and an under-utilised document management system. One of my first priorities was to make the firm as paperless as possible. My fellow partners were understandably of the mentality that “if it isn’t broken, don’t fix it”.

That didn’t deter me. I told them I would prove over time that the business would be more efficient and resilient if paper was the exception to the rule. Slowly but surely, 50odd lawyers and support staff started to come around.

I also recently arranged personality testing for our team. I wanted us to better understand ourselves and who we are working with. My result was INTJ – Architect. The two people I work closest with on the firm’s operations both scored ESTF – Executive. The personality testing explained what drives us and put perspective around how we have worked together over the last five years.

On the Architect:

Architects question everything. Many personality types trust the status quo, relying on conventional wisdom and other people’s expertise as they go about their lives. But everskeptical Architects prefer to make their own discoveries. In their quest to find better ways of doing things, they aren’t afraid to break the rules or risk disapproval – in fact, they rather enjoy it.1

On the Executive:

Executives project natural authority, but they sometimes expect this authority to be abided unconditionally, resisting change and demanding that things be done by the book … they do tend to rest on the security of tradition and precedent.2

In late January 2020, I told these Executives what I had learnt about COVID-19 affecting other countries and its spread. I was worried about Australia eventually being put into a lockdown and the effect this would have on the business. I said we needed to immediately start a transition to working from home.


They calmly and methodically explained to me the significant costs involved in the IT upgrades, the disruption it could cause, and that it all might end up being unnecessary.

Despite our personalities being polar opposites in many respects, we had learnt how to accommodate each other. We agreed to a middle-of-the-road approach: we would begin an immediate audit of all IT infrastructure, assess capabilities for working remotely and identify the source and cost of upgrades to fill any gaps.

When the lockdowns suddenly started, we were in a good position to be agile. We had utilised our paperless document management system, servers to support working remotely, and the ability to equip staff with whatever they needed but didn’t already have.

It freed up my time to get on the phone and work with strata managers and committees to confront the reaction many had to the pandemic. I explained how the legislation leaves room for holding meetings electronically and coached them on the use of video conferencing technology. I was reasoning with people to move them out of a fightflight-freeze mentality and to open their minds to a different way of working.

Many of those I worked with in March 2020 have now fully embraced technology in their businesses and the way they manage strata communities. They are all now advocating for change to strata legislation to fully recognise the existence of the digital world.

For all the damage and disruption, perhaps the COVID-19 pandemic is what many of us needed to force a move into the digital world and open ourselves to new and improved ways of working. It reminds me of Emmett’s first swimming lesson. He cried his eyes out. Now look at him…

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