The other night, my husband and I were sitting at the dinner table, having a moment of peace after a long day of work, homeschooling, and parenting our two young children. We were talking about the impact of the coronavirus pandemic on our daily lives, and I said, “You know, this will be like September 11th. There will be a very clear before and after. Things will never be the same again.”
That conversation got me thinking about the way we work, how it has changed, and how it might be forever altered. I am fortunate to work for a company that has always been telework-friendly. I, along with several colleagues, work from home almost full-time, as we live outside the Washington metro area. And, our entire staff enjoys “Telework Friday” every week. So our organization probably stepped into this new reality a little more gracefully than others.
But even still, we have seen profound changes. Prior to COVID-19, most team members (myself included) strongly resisted video calls, preferring to hide our faces and join only by voice. Now we have embraced Zoom and similar services wholeheartedly – like seemingly everyone (even my kids now have regular Zoom meetings with their grandparents and teachers).
Last Sunday, almost 600,000 people downloaded the Zoom app (the company’s biggest day ever), according to Apptopia, which tracks mobile apps. And, while most of the stock market is in the toilet, Zoom’s shares have skyrocketed – the company now has a market valuation higher than United, Delta, American, and JetBlue Airlines combined. Who would have thought that possible?
In addition to our internal video calls, we’ve also started a weekly series where we meet with our marketing peers throughout the government IT community to brainstorm, share ideas, and hear from government CIOs on what they are experiencing during this challenging time. And we’re hosting weekly virtual happy hours with government leaders to unwind, connect, and plan.
There’s a dynamic I’ve noticed on all these recent virtual meetings – a sense of community and humanity. Though we are all, of course, dealing with different daily challenges and realities brought on by the pandemic, we are also participants in a global shared experience. It creates a bond. We smile when people’s children or pets wander into the room. We see people who previously seemed unapproachable or intimidating as human beings. We’re not as hurried. We listen more. We share ideas and reach out to help.
People are social by nature. Even introverts like me need interaction with others. In our government IT community, we are used to meeting in conference rooms, networking in bars, and checking in at a different event every week. As a marketing company that produces as many as 40 events a year, we have had to switch gears and focus on building digital programs that our clients can use to meet their goals for lead generation and relationship building. At the same time, we are exploring new virtual conference platforms that will allow us to shift previously in-person events to an online model.
We are learning as we go – as everyone is. But I believe that many of the “temporary” changes we are experiencing in how we work will stay with us even when things “go back to normal.” Here are a few:
- More people will work from home – either permanently or regularly – and organizations will ensure their employees have the right tools and technologies they need to do so.
- Business travel will greatly decline. When we can return to the friendly skies, will we? Or will we realize that we can achieve the same goals, save money and time, and reduce our environmental impact by staying home?
- We will continue to embrace virtual video meetings and the human connection, engagement, and productivity that come along with them – and our virtual collaboration tools will get better and better.
- We’ll see a surge in virtual events and experiences, even when in-person events are back on the table. These virtual platforms have some really cool attendee experience features, and until now, we’ve largely not taken advantage of them. Of course, virtual events will never completely replace in-person programs, but they are here to stay.
- Organizations will be more open to trying new approaches and technologies instead of falling into the “this is the way we’ve always done it” trap. When you’re forced to change, you realize that you can – and that confidence and experience drive other transformations.
- Finally, it is my hope – and expectation – that our shared experience during this crisis will forge a more connected community, stronger relationships, greater public-private collaboration, and more innovation than we ever dreamed possible.