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April 21, 2020

Written While Wearing Pants

What’s Changed with COVID-19? Workstyles have been forcibly altered under lockdowns that have been in place in the U.S. for many weeks now (and elsewhere in the world as well). I’ve taken note of some of the major changes that have occurred since.
Suddenly, everyone’s using Zoom. As a video conferencing platform, Zoom certainly isn’t bad. But whatever happened to Skype or, as it’s known now, Microsoft Teams? And what about its Google counterpart, Google Meet? Or the old tried and true platform GoToMeeting? There are numerous other platforms as well; these are just the ones I’m familiar with. While there are research reports available on the category, some of which appear to be COVID-19 current, they’re being closely held at this writing. I did find that Zoom added 2.22 million monthly active users so far in 2020, while in 2019 it added 1.99 million, according to Bernstein’s estimates. But I see surprisingly little information on what’s happening to the category overall. As a marketer, I'm just interested in this stuff. I also think we've only begun to take note of the data security ramifications of all this.

COVID-19 is heightening disparities between technocrats and the tech underclass. Business people, by and large, are accustomed to videoconference tools and teleconferencing, and the etiquette that has become de rigueur with each. But our larger society is brimful of people who don’t live and breathe these apps every day: small business workers, stay at home parents, retirees, and the impoverished. This is especially apparent in my church. As services have shifted from face to face meetings to online platforms such as Facebook Live, it’s easy to see that some are struggling with these technologies – and others aren’t participating at all. It’s not enough to say, “Go watch a YouTube video” to learn to master a teleconference tool. We need better ways to coach and engage them – or better platforms that are more intuitive and universally accessible.

Let's talk staging. I watch a lot of TV news. Rarely do I not have one of the news channels playing in the background in my home office. And now with everyone from anchors to individual journalists and commentators broadcasting their punditry from their home offices and living rooms, we’re seeing everyone in different settings. Some are shown with shelves of books behind them. Others with more carefully arranged items, such as flowers and strategically positioned lamps. Some are not at all self conscious about it; I get the sense they’re simply using their everyday offices. But others are clearly putting some real effort into staging. My favorite was a former colleague of mine who lives in a small NYC apartment and video conferences from what looks like Grandma’s sewing table squished between his bed and the wall. For a bit of fun, check out this Twitter account.

Do you feel more respect for IT? Few people are less appreciated in Corporate America than IT (Information Technology workers, who supply us with the apps, hardware, and supporting technologies that give us such great productivity potential. Therefore, few I believe are aware of what a scramble they’re having to undertake to equip armies of workers to connect from home. It isn’t simple. If you work for an organization large enough to be concerned about data security, you know you can’t simply hand over a laptop and say, “here, plug it into a net somewhere.” Do we really want health care workers accessing our private data while connecting via Starbucks? Or any open network? Corporate IT is having to jump through a series of flaming hoops to ensure continued tech availability while retaining security and compliance requirements that simply haven’t been budged by COVID-19. A little more respect would be appreciated, I’m sure.

What enduring effect will these changes have on American workstyles? In one vast, global movement, we’ve all but halted air travel, rail travel, even auto commutes have ceased for many. We’re working in homes cluttered with bookshelves, children, spouses, partners, and parents. We’re feeling anxieties about work, income, the economy, separation from family and worship groups, and yet we may be experiencing more closeness with those nearest to us, even as others are more isolated. These things have never happened before in my lifetime or yours. It's vast, unprecedented and unpredictable.

And COVID-19 won’t be flipped off like a light switch. There is no cure. There is no vaccine. And until there is, it will remain a persistent threat to many, especially our many more vulnerable populations.

This is all too complex for me. But, while it lasts, enjoy the extended time with family and friends. And step out now and then to take a deep breath of air that is less polluted than it has been in many, many years.

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