On Friday, March 13, 2020, Practical Financial Planning celebrated its 20th anniversary. Despite all six rooms of our office being open, about twenty people jammed into our conference room (probably because that’s where the cake was)1. It was a good time.
Our processes were already based entirely in the cloud, in part to be prepared for disaster recovery (although we’d been thinking of a more pedestrian calamity, say, a garden-variety tornado). In late February, we decided a work-from-home test run at some point would make sense. As Britta noted at the time, “We need to be ready to all work from home for a few weeks. It probably won’t be necessary, but I want to be prepared just in case.”
And then, on Sunday, March 15, Ohio’s first statewide business shutdowns were announced for the following day. So exactly three days after our party, we began to work entirely from our homes. As of this writing, we have not yet returned to our offices. We didn’t yet know the scale of the pandemic or how profound the losses would be. And like just about everyone else, we’ve had to do things differently to protect our clients and ourselves. Along the way, we’ve discovered a few things we hadn’t expected.
How All of Us Do What We Do
We now take for granted experiences that were almost unknown one year ago, when physicians were still fighting the health care payment systems over telemedicine appointments. The web conferencing software we use was little known outside business circles; now, people are adopting the verb “to Zoom” instead of the longer “to video chat.” Our own office’s VOIP phones, intended at first to allow us to work remotely on occasion, are now an indispensable part of our working from three different homes.
By necessity, many of us have acquired new skills. Even though our office was better prepared to work from home than many others, we’ve still had to learn to do things differently.
Brittney is now an expert in juggling parenting and working. Ken has learned to work with (and work around) one of his cats, who likes to make sure her tail is visible in his Zoom meetings. (Poking into view from the bottom of the screen, it’s like a furry shark fin.) At the same time that we’re meeting these and other challenges, we have had the delight of being able to interact more with our families and pets than we had been while working from our offices all day.
On the other hand, we’ve not met with clients in person for a year—we believe it is part of our responsibility to avoid making you ill—but we’re pleased that almost all clients have adapted well to remote meetings. We’ve been saying for a few years that you can spare yourself the drive across town if you wanted to, but many still chose to meet face to face. Lately, we have heard instead that many of our clients now prefer to meet with us remotely. No offense taken.
It’s one example of how the things we’ve had to do will transform, in some cases, into what we get to do. And for many of us, it extends well beyond the workplace.
- Ken and Ellen routinely meet virtually with local friends, now including others who long ago moved to Virginia and Tokyo.
- Ken and Britta have attended (and sometimes led) virtual versions of professional events, some of which we wouldn’t have considered traveling to in person.
- For the past 51 weeks, Britta and her fiancée Craig have had a video call with his family; they have yet to miss a single week.
- Brittney’s daughter Bennett is closer with her cousins than ever, thanks to frequent video calls replacing less frequent in-person visits.
- For the second year, Ken (and some of our clients) will attend the Cleveland International Film Festival by streaming the movies to their homes.
Are these experiences the same as in-person events? Of course not—we have missed traditional gatherings, large and small, and we’re eager to return to them. (Ken and Ellen celebrated their anniversary last year sitting in their car eating take-out food and are not alone in their eagerness to resume dining out once in a while.) But through teleconferencing, we’re able to resume connections with people we had lost touch with and learn from the ideas of other professionals at gatherings that, before, logistics would have prevented us from attending.
What else will we get to keep doing once we’re able to return to the lives we had before the pandemic? What will we choose not to do the same way we used to, now that necessity has helped us create new ways to live our lives and see other possibilities there all along? It will likely be many years before we have a complete answer to this question.
If we could go back and undo the damage of the pandemic, there’s no doubt we’d personally prefer to trade away any advantages we’ve realized in the last year. But, as Britta points out, we’re all time travelers, relentlessly traveling forward in time one minute with every minute that passes. Since we can’t go back, we’re embracing what’s worth hanging onto. What we’ve learned in the past year will continue to give us the tools we need to build futures for ourselves that continue to be better than our past. And one important reason we remain generally optimistic is that it feels like, if we can get through this past year, we can get through anything.
- Thankfully, no one seems to have gotten the Coronavirus at the event.