Editor’s Note: The world changed right before our very eyes. We now work, live, exercise and entertain ourselves in our homes. This is the new normal. In this new on-going series, we check in on ad agencies, production companies, post-houses, and anyone else who wants to talk about their personal experiences during this coronavirus COVID-19 pandemic.
Anne Jordan, counsel at Mandell Menkes, shares her stay at home experience.
I have worked remotely for years, mostly as a result of frequent travel, but also because it’s convenient. I have a home office with all the necessities and few distractions, making me as efficient at home as I would be in my office in Chicago’s Loop. On the road, hotels provide the printer, and local versions of Kinko’s offer other logistical support. Knowing that I could always go into the office or connect with those who were there when I wasn’t gave me a “tethered to the mothership” sense of security. With a call or email, I could get help with any issue and move on.
I still can, of course, but with the office now closed and everyone working from home, there’s a feeling of greater distance, a sense of dislocation. Although the major downside of working from home has always been the isolation, school closures have solved that problem for many. That’s not always a positive as parents try to simultaneously work and home-school kids without the usual support systems – playgrounds, toy stores, movie theaters, and restaurants with large, sugary desserts. Frankly I don’t know how people with kids out of school are coping. Maybe they’ve got a therapist on speed dial or can achieve a Zen-like state by closing their eyes for thirty seconds. Hopefully in hindsight they’ll remember it fondly as a time of bonding and not as an existential threat to the family’s survival.
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I’m fortunate that my work – I’m an attorney, arbitrator and mediator – can generally be done from anywhere with face to face meetings being scheduled infrequently. And even more fortunate to be employed when so many businesses which were humming along a few weeks ago are now shuttered. Despite my happier circumstances, it’s hard when you can’t take a break and walk in the park or on the lakefront, meet friends for a drink, or on the spur of the moment pop into a restaurant on the way from one meeting to the next. It’s even harder when we don’t know when we’ll get those things back. End of April? May? That’s what I look forward to the most, like everyone else, when the time comes.
Zoom has invaded our personal space
In the meantime, with everyone connecting through Zoom and other meeting sites, we have invaded the personal space of our friends and coworkers. The space that we took for granted, which felt like a haven that was ours to inhabit alone, that would never be used as a basis to judge us, is now more public than our living rooms ever will be. Some have home offices or even libraries where books, carefully arranged decorative items and furniture suggest the involvement of a big-name interior designer. Others are in spaces where all the books that were assigned reading in college take center stage. I expect that the effect of our newfound exposure will result in our being divided into aesthetes and those who desperately need a reality show makeover, with Instagram accelerating the culling. Too late now for most of us to upgrade, but a wake-up call for the future when mismatched bookcases, thrift shop furniture and posters advertising long-ago, obscure museum exhibits may not project the image we want to convey.
Every day brings a barrage of offers for things that we can’t live without but somehow didn’t know we needed. I expect to soon be able to buy a life size cut out of myself that I can position in front of my computer as a placeholder on video conferences. In the meantime, I would be off to the side in my pajamas, sans make-up and with wet hair, nursing a large cup of coffee, in other words working from home as it was always meant to be. A related invention would allow me to pass the “attentive” test on Zoom or WebEx while I’m catching up on the latest news, watching the market decline further, ordering groceries or dinner, or planning my next trip, whenever that might be. The attention tracking feature, if you’re not familiar with it, signals the conference leader when you’re not actively paying attention to the material presented on the screen. But most important is the Zoom feature called Touch Up My Appearance; don’t start your day without it.
Work-from-home clothes and all day pajamas
I’m already seeing ads for work-from-home clothes and all day pajamas, as though what we’ve been wearing all along doesn’t make the cut. The pitch is that with fancier pajamas we’ll feel more professional and act accordingly. I’ll order from the first retailer to publish hard data on that. One major advantage of working from home has always been that you don’t need to stress over what to wear and a pandemic, no matter how out of control, is no reason to change that. By definition, any pajamas are wear-all-day and sweats are always a classic look, unless you’re at day 5 and then it’s time to do laundry.
Without even reading the stories about how devasting the pandemic has been on businesses and their laid-off employees, we know we should be doing something to help. The scale of what is happening, though, is almost impossible to comprehend, so what to do, where to start? There are various relief funds and many informal opportunities to contribute. If you are in the mood to shop, check out businesses that are donating a portion of their sales to relief and other charitable causes. Some ideas are here. The only thing better than shopping, is shopping with a purpose.
As my Zoom conference starts to lag, my mind wanders, and I ponder questions large and small:
- If I double the number of times I go to the refrigerator every hour, will I get in my 8000 steps?
- Why did Americans who already own 120 firearms per 100 residents, need to buy another 2 million guns in March according to the New York Times?
- Will the sequel to Dante’s Inferno be set on a cruise ship that hasn’t been allowed to dock?
- Will there be a clinical trial that studies what I have observed anecdotally – staying inside and drinking red wine every day is effective at keeping the virus at bay?
What’s the takeaway?
Hopefully, we will take away two things from our time inside. First, we’ll never take what we thought were routine, even mundane, daily interactions for granted. Second, we are seeing the biggest lesson in leadership play out on a daily basis. In another time, that lesson might have come only after prolonged study or pursuit of an advanced degree.
But now, as we watch the number of infections grow exponentially and the U.S. numbers surpass other developed countries in both Asia and Europe, our tutorial in leadership is immediate and tuition-free. Whether a decision was right or wrong can be judged in days, not months or years.
The foresight of various infectious disease experts and numerous governors will be the basis for detailed case studies in the handling of future public health crises. Those whose leadership ends up prolonging this crisis or contributing to increased mortality will likewise be memorialized in case studies, ones that will help others avoid where we now find ourselves.
We may not be able to bring individually what we’re learning about leadership now to bear on our current crisis, but we’ll be prepared to lead in our own ways and have an impact that we might not have previously thought possible.