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Six positive things about COVID-19 and working | Jana Schilder

Tuesday, April 14, 2020 @ 1:58 PM | By Jana Schilder


Jana Schilder %>
Jana Schilder
We have not faced a pandemic as aggressive as COVID-19 since the Spanish Flu of 1918. Life as we know it has ground to a halt. “Social distancing” is the phrase for 2020. We have new stresses in our lives coping with what is essentially house arrest, but for our own good.

For lawyers and law firms, working life has changed, but a number of silver linings have also emerged:

1. Many, if not all, white-collar workers have the technology in 2020 to work remotely most of the time if not all the time. That was not true in 1990, pre-Internet days.

Today, all white-collar workers need is a laptop computer, a smartphone and a high-speed Internet connection and they are in business. The “office” used to be a physical location; it is now a set of hardware and software tools. With e-mail, video conferencing software and file storage “in the cloud” like Google Drive and Dropbox (a.k.a. another company’s servers), we can keep working and remain productive.

Not everyone can work from home, however. Essential and service workers — first responders, health-care workers, critical infrastructure workers, hydro and natural gas, criminal defence lawyers, police officers, jail guards and workers who are essential to supply society with critical goods such as food and medicines — do not have the luxury of working from home. Quite the opposite, they are on the front lines where the odds of contracting COVID-19 are very real, given the shortage of personal protective equipment (PPE). For them, going to work is now dangerous.

2. Videoconferencing software is helping to turn us into almost professional broadcasters. Many organizations, including law firms, have discovered that Join Me, GoToMeeting, and Zoom Conference are great for not only internal and team meetings, but can also be used to conduct initial consultations with clients. The quality of these software platforms has increased tremendously; you can get into a videoconference with one click, rather than the 19-odd steps previously.

And people now know enough to elevate their laptop computer so that you don’t get the “Russian proletariat up-the-nostrils shot.” Plus, most people have quit either staring at the ceiling or into their laps. We aren’t CTV’s Lisa Laflamme yet, but we’ve made significant video progress lately.

And the inside of our homes does not look like organizing consultant Marie Kondo has been anywhere near this hemisphere. HGTV has been lying to us all these years. Everywhere you look is evidence of houses that are lived in. Sometimes, I try to see what books people have on their shelves in the background of a videoconference.

3. Dressing up from the waist up. Talking to your boss or co-workers on the phone is one thing, but doing a video call requires a new wardrobe for some. In the U.S., Walmart noticed an uptick in sales of businesslike tops, but not bottoms. So, professional on top and casual on the bottom: jeans, sweatpants, or yoga pants. Why sacrifice comfort when working from home?

Incidentally, reporters and on-air TV personalities do this, too. Many reporters wear jeans and sneakers to do “wo/man-in-the-street” interviews. Now, you know.

4. Life is full of interruptions. On March 10, 2017, the Internet went ballistic over a BBC interview of professor Robert Kelly being interviewed about South Korea — and his two toddler children confidently barge into his home office while his wife is frantically trying to round them up and get them out of the camera frame. That interview now has 37 million views on YouTube.

Three years ago, this was a huge giggle. Now, this is our new normal. Life has a way of piercing the veil of professionalism: the dog barks at a squirrel (or, throws up in your family room); Canada Post, Amazon, or Grocery Gateway ring the doorbell for a delivery; and yes, those with small children are particularly vulnerable to embarrassment.

Generally, child-related interruptions are inversely proportional to the organizational status of your interlocuter. So, if your video call is with the general counsel of a big Canadian or American corporation, you really need to be ready for infant and toddler antics. Always keep a large box of Cheerios handy: they can be counted and eaten afterward and keep little fingers busy.

5. For white-collar workers now working from home, we have also greatly reduced our commute time. My total commute time: 12 seconds, from the upstairs to the downstairs.

The reduced commute means I get between three and four hours of additional time everyday, for work, for food preparation, for chores, and for walking my geriatric dog. For some, it also means reduced stress in trying to find a parking spot at a commuter train, then pile on the train, and then a crowded subway car.

6. Less driving means less pollution. Major news outlets have all published recent reports about reduced pollution and how planet earth is the beneficiary.

In the last two months, satellite images released by NASA and the European Space Agency also show a dramatic reduction in nitrogen dioxide emissions in China when it implemented drastic coronavirus restrictions.

The New York Times reported huge declines in pollution over major metropolitan areas. All this has led to a massive drop in air pollution, which kills a total of 4.2 million people every year, and over one million in China alone. In about 60 days, the visible cloud of toxic gas hanging over industrial powerhouses in major Chinese cities has almost disappeared. This is tremendously encouraging in the global battle against climate change.

Jana Schilder is co-founder of The Legal A Team, a marketing, public relations and social media agency for lawyers and law firms. She also wrote the book on public relations for lawyers, available at Lexis Practice Advisor (LPA). Reach her at jana@janaschilder.com, or 416-831-9154.

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