The world has changed. The COVID-19 pandemic and the economic uncertainty that has followed, when combined with the public outcry over social justice and the tumultuous U.S. elections, have meant that every one of us has lived a year of volatility and uncertainty. Those of us who could work from home likely started remote work with big plans. We would use our extra time to pursue a hobby, learn to cook and complete home improvement projects. Perhaps we even set self-improvement goals. Won’t this be a great time to learn a language or take a leadership course?
As weeks turned into months, the reality of remote work became sobering. Many of us felt isolation, anxiety and even outright fear. We worried about our friends and family who could not work from home. We missed the camaraderie and collaboration of the office. We missed going to restaurants with friends or taking our favorite fitness class. We missed wearing ‘grown-up’ clothes, and honestly, many of us ended up with our high school hairstyle, just with more visible grey.
Most of us did not achieve our grand intentions for our time at home (although kudos if you did). We may not have learned a new language or completed all of our home improvement projects. No matter our circumstances, however, we have all learned some things that merit recognition.
- The pace of life has slowed. Remember when every weekend was booked with errands, fitness, social engagements and projects? Now, we appreciate the ability to take a walk outdoors with our family. We have learned what some things that were part of our prior lives are things that we can do without. We have learned what is most important.
- Technology has given us access to a wider range of networking possibilities. We can now participate in events in another city or state without worrying about travel, or virtually chat with people we would not normally see in person. We are more open to networking conversations with new people. When someone reaches out, it is so easy to schedule a 30 minute video chat, and many of us have more time and desire to engage with others. If you currently are seeking to expand your network, reach out to someone new – you will be amazed at how many people respond positively.
- Technology also allowed us to share best practices across industries and geographies. I personally would have been much less effective in my new job without the support, knowledge and ideas shared across my online networks. With the ability to access a wealth of global knowledge, there is no need to reinvent the wheel (or to pay consultants or outside counsel to solve a common problem).
- The widespread use of video for legal proceedings is requiring us to learn to interact differently. We no longer are sitting next to our client during a deposition, and cannot read the body language while in court. We must learn to prepare differently. We must look for different cues, and must make sure that we have the ability to communicate directly and privately with our clients. We also must learn to pay attention differently. It is so easy for the mind to drift during video-based meetings.
- The need for protocol has diminished. I remember video interviews pre-COVID. I was so worried about my background, the lighting and the quality of my internet. I spent time on my clothing, jewelry and make-up, and worried about whether my dog would bark. While it is still important to present an appearance appropriate for the purpose, remote work means that everyone has had the experience of video chats from kitchens, dining rooms and less than perfect home offices. We have all seen or heard children, dogs and cats. The ability to let go of the old unwritten rules of formality means that we can engage as authentic people, and more time can be put into the substance of the conversation.
- We have had to learn more about the forums we are using to communicate and transmit data. We know how to use them, and whether they are secure. After high profile lapses, we check to make sure that we know whether the camera and audio are on.
- The virus has highlighted inequalities in education, health care and access to resources and has changed the social dialogue. As lawyers, we likely were able to work from home while manufacturing employees, health care workers, delivery drivers, grocery store clerks and others deemed essential employees continued to report to work every day. Small businesses closed, and workers at all levels are now unemployed, even though they did nothing wrong. Working parents are struggling with childcare and remote schooling. Childcare is openly talked about in the work force instead of being seen as a lack of commitment to work.
- We have been given a unique opportunity to support others. We can do this by reaching out to job seekers and the unemployed. Even if we do not have specific job leads, we need to make sure that they do not feel forgotten. We can give of our time and financial resources to charities in our area. We can buy some extra canned goods each time we shop, and drop them off at a local food pantry. We can get to know our neighbors and build local support groups.
- We are living history and building the future. What will work look like when the pandemic ends? Will more jobs allow for remote work, such that we have freedom to live in one city and work in another? Will an increase in remote work lead to an increase in contractor style engagements, where we are hired for specific strengths and goals with the understanding that we will work at or for many different companies over the course of our career? Will concepts like unlimited vacation time and other practices that allow employees to make their own decisions rise in popularity? Most importantly, will we be able to retain the authenticity of this time, celebrating the fact that we all have kids, dogs and maybe grey hair? If we want to see change, we need to work now to create it.
- Lastly, and most importantly, we have learned, and every day are demonstrating, resilience. We are still here. We are still strong.
The day will come when we can all meet over coffee, or at our neighborhood pub. We will go back to the gym or our yoga class. We will go on vacation to interesting new spots. For now, we will continue to adapt to the change around us. We will keep on learning and growing, in ways that we never would have imagined a year ago. We will remember that we are not alone in whatever we are facing. The world has changed, but so have we.
Until next time…