As we pass the one-year mark of being thrown into a life of facemasks, homeschooling, toilet paper shortages, and isolation from family, friends, and coworkers, it is almost difficult to remember what pre-COVID “normal” was. We have all been impacted on some level, some much more than others, including the loss of loved ones. If the pandemic wasn’t enough, we have experienced civil unrest and endured a divisive political environment. To say that it has been difficult and stressful is perhaps the grossest understatement I have ever made, and the bar was already set pretty high.
However, somehow we have adapted and will hopefully emerge even stronger with a deeper appreciation for every day and a fully stocked pantry, including paper and cleaning products.
Despite the challenges that we had little time to prepare for, many of us fortunate enough to not have had our employment status impacted, as so many have, have adjusted to working from a home office. For me, I thought it would just take me a couple of weeks, so I didn’t spend much time making a comfortable work environment. Over time, that has changed, although I still miss my large, dual screens. Now I struggle to not work way into the evenings and on the weekends because it is so readily accessible.
We had to quickly learn how to use new tools to connect remotely in a secure environment, conduct or attend meetings virtually, and convert documents to accept digital signatures. At first it was cumbersome, but as time went on, we have gotten better and better at it. However, we, at least me, grew more aware of missing the face-to-face interactions with coworkers.
Suddenly my commute went from a daily 80-mile round trip to a walk down the stairs. My monthly gasoline bill went to almost zero. I went from putting 25,000 miles per year on my commute car to less than 3,000 in the past 12 months. When I did go out the first few months, the roads were empty. Despite the drastic, unanticipated change, I was still producing work products and staying engaged with colleagues.
All meetings, conferences, training and work-related gatherings were either postponed or converted to the virtual environment, which turns out to not be all bad. The cost and time of work travel has been almost completely eliminated. Meeting capacity is no longer restricted to the physical venue. Meetings that I have attended for years suddenly experienced a boom in attendance, almost tripling. I can assemble an interview panel of members anywhere in the state, and interview candidates from anywhere, with nobody involved having to travel or impact their time extraordinarily. Granted, I have hired staff that I have yet to meet in person, but that hasn’t impacted their ability to meet the requirements of the position or to deliver work products in a timely, professional manner. We adapted and prevailed.
Many training offerings have now been converted to “on demand” products, rather than one-and-done events. Efficiencies have been created by necessity.
As we look ahead, it appears that some form of hybrid telework will remain an option for many. Some companies may elect to offer it full time for office staff, which opens up their hiring pool while reducing their need to invest in physical space, reducing overhead. There will be less impact on the transportation infrastructure, less emissions, and likely some improved work processes. Unfortunately, it took a pandemic to impart these changes, but we will be taking some positives with us as we emerge. It hasn’t been all bad.
But, nothing “virtual” can replace the people interaction element. I hope that this is recognized as we determine what should be returned to a face-to-face experience. Our personal lives should serve as an example, when we again gather to celebrate weddings, graduations, birthdays, or holidays. Or we assemble in an arena or stadium to cheer on our favorite team, or gather to celebrate the life of a loved one who has passed. And especially when we again gather at a professional surveying association conference or chapter meeting to share information, tell stories, argue opinions, and share the surveying bond that we all have.
We simply can’t share a robust story and cold beverage “virtually.” Some things just aren’t an option for the “new normal.”