Last February, managing my headphones was a seemingly small task that constantly proved to be a challenge.
I had three sets – one each for my office, car and home – that never seemed to stay where they were supposed to be. I’d wind up with three sets in my car and none in my office when I reached for one. Occasionally, all three would disappear, resulting in a maddening scramble before a lengthy call where I needed to take notes.
Long about August, I realized that two sets of head phones had disappeared but my problem had evaporated. Working from home meant my head phones were always just where I left them – in my home office.
That got me to thinking, as we enter the second year of the global pandemic, about everything that has changed during COVID-19 – and the list is long.
- Technology: Always important, technology in all its forms became uber critical over the past year. As offices emptied out, we watched several clients race to equip their teams with laptops, remote file access and faster Internet connections. The SPR team was already well-positioned for this shift since we already had laptops and a cloud server, enabling us to work from wherever.
- Home offices: When I launched SPR 18 years ago, home offices were still looked down on by a lot of people. Working from home was somehow equated with a less-than-serious career path. COVID-19 has finally kicked that antiquated notion to the curb. Our team hasn’t missed a beat in delivering exceptional client service, no matter where we are officing.
- Business attire: Prior to the coronavirus, our workweek was very much segregated. Monday through Thursday, professional dress was the rule – on Fridays, we could enjoy more casual attire. I was often envious of our marketing and branding colleagues who were casual 365. Since COVID, we’ve collectively embraced a more casual approach to our wardrobes. I personally may never wear heels again.
- Meetings: We approach meetings far differently, too. I used to spend a good bit of each week traveling to and from in-person meetings. Over the past year, we’ve all switched to video conferencing, virtually eliminating travel. While I do miss being in the same room with my team and our clients, I don’t miss getting stuck in traffic or imperiled by winter weather.
- Media interviews: Our team sets up a lot of media interviews each week – a lot. Prior to COVID-19, these were fairly straightforward. Since Michigan locked down, though, most have shifted to video conferencing. We have the occasional reporter demanding to have an in-person conversation, which are tougher to accommodate wearing a mask and maintaining physical distancing. We’ve see media outlets that would never have accepted photos or videos pre-pandemic now asking – and often grateful – for the Broll and environmental portraits our clients can supply.
- Networking: Pre-pandemic, my networking medium of choice was the after-work drink. For my husband, it was golf. For several of our team, it was a cup of coffee. COVID-19 has challenged me to find a safe alternative. I’ve done distance happy hours via Zoom or, when the weather cooperated, on our back deck but am still looking for a more rewarding formula.
- Professional and team development: The pause in group get-togethers abruptly ended the opportunity to connect as a team or embrace learning opportunities with peers. We’ve had to be more intentional to make time for both. I give my team huge credit for making time to take online classes or attend virtual educational programs over the past year. As a team, we used to go out to lunch together and do a brown bag in the office monthly. During the pandemic, we set aside many Fridays to spend the last hour of the week sharing a drink and decompressing virtually. As we turned the corner into 2021, I’m lining up monthly activities that aren’t always alcohol-infused, such as renting a theatre from Celebration and watching a movie as a team or taking a class on making baklava.
- Time off: I firmly believe in the value of our team taking time off to recharge the batteries (even if I don’t necessarily practice this myself). We have a use-it-or-lose-it policy at SPR to encourage people to take vacation. During the last year, though, vacation requests from our team plummeted – and I understand completely. Who wants to take time off when we’re being encouraged to stay home – and we’re already working from home? We modified our policy to allow hours to carry over, and I am optimistic I’ll start seeing more requests as spring returns to Michigan and the vaccine will become more readily available.
For all the things that have changed, and for all the professional losses we may be mourning, the truly important things remain unchanged. Great storytelling, impactful images and powerful graphics still resonate. Great customer service still sets you apart. A solid work culture still attracts talent. An exceptional and engaged team is still priceless.
I suspect my headphone struggles will resume once we finally get back to the office – and I probably won’t mind a bit.