LifeBook’s Transition to Remote Interviews

Adapting to unprecedented times

I love telling people about my job as an editor for LifeBook. People are, without fail, fascinated by the idea and overwhelmingly positive. The phrase I hear more than any other is: “I wish I’d done that for my parents/grandparents. They used to tell me these stories and I never really listened, but now they’re gone I wish I had listened and made a note of them.”

Without realising it, they’re echoing almost word for word what Roy, the founder, says. He wanted to record his father’s memories for posterity, and he realised that face-to-face interviews were the perfect way to achieve that. Using an interviewer from outside the family introduced an element of objectivity and impartiality that is so important to compiling a life story, and the personal contact was another huge bonus.

Sadly, Roy’s father passed away before his book could be finished.

Roy was adamant that the human, face-to-face interviews should continue, even when the company expanded to having global reach. That’s why, when COVID-19 struck earlier this year, we were concerned that we wouldn’t be able to carry on conducting interviews as we had before.

We have had to adapt to this “new normal” by transitioning to phone and video-call interviews, and the reaction has been absolutely fantastic. Our project managers have been hard at work training interviewers and authors in how to use the technology, and their hard work has paid off. One memorable author, who had never used video-calling technology before, told us that they’re “delighted” that they can now call their family and “see them for the first time in months”.

None of this would have been possible, though, without our flexible and open-minded authors. They’ve been receptive, supportive and positive, which has made a huge difference.

One author who adopted the new remote interviews, Gerry Gooch, said:

As an 82-year-old, I am not IT literate in any sense of the word, so when I learnt that the next interview for my LifeBook was going to be with Zoom I shrank back into my shell in alarm.

However, after a little help I was soon up and running, with Zoom installed on my recently acquired smart phone.

I must say that I was pleasantly surprised at how enjoyable the whole experience of my Zoom interview was. I didn’t need to get another chair into my quite small study for my interviewer to sit on or even to make him a cup of coffee!

His interviewer, Simon, added:

“When the lockdown arrived, Gerry and I only had four more meetings to conclude. Despite the challenges of familiarising ourselves with new technology we pressed on, aided by our ever-patient and supportive project manager. We were able to conduct the interviews and chats in a relaxed and productive manner.

I was really impressed with how the whole team pulled together to make this happen, as well as pleased to help see it through to its conclusion.”

In recent times, when interpersonal contact has been more difficult than ever and many people are isolated and lonely, our interviews are a welcome lifeline of human contact. The refined LifeBook operation is running as smoothly as ever, and we are happy to keep running with remote interviewing until such a time as people can safely and comfortably meet face to face again.

We’re looking forward to the day we can return to normality, but for now we’re delighted with how well the alternative is working and with the support we’ve received from authors.

If you’d like to learn more about writing your own private autobiography, or giving it as the gift of a LifeBook, please get in touch.

By Matt Tomlinson, LifeBook editor.