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  • Writer's pictureJohn Lipuma

Pandemic Life, Interrupted: Working In-Person Again

Like many of you, I've been inspired and encouraged by how many in my circle of family and friends have been making the best of a very bad situation the past four weeks. Many aspects of our lives that we've taken for granted have been stripped away virtually overnight. Simple things such as visiting family to entering a grocery store are suddenly potential life and death decisions. Thankfully being quarantined with the people we cherish most counterbalances the stress and anxiety of pandemic life.

Intellectually we know that "social distancing" and "flattening the curve" are short-term propositions at best. At some point very soon we will all have to make the decision to risk being exposed to coronavirus and return to working in-person again. We have to walk crowded streets, fly on crowded planes, eat in crowded restaurants, stay in crowded hotels and yes, work in close proximity to fellow human beings. How do we get there exactly?

Many of us have become amateur epidemiologists with our perfect attendance at governmental daily briefings, deep dives into pandemic documentaries, various medical sources and 24/7 news coverage. For what it’s worth, here's where I've netted out:

Social distancing was initially necessary given the lack of knowledge and actionable data specific to our respective countries; it was never intended to defeat the disease, it only delays exposure so that hospitals don't get overwhelmed and our local and federal governments can buy time for obtaining medical supplies and developing potential vaccines. Now that we've helped "mitigate" as best as we can, the inevitable next phase must be "herd immunity" - that is, healthy people getting back out into the world, being exposed to the disease, catching it, hopefully experiencing only mild symptoms and building immunity. Of course, herd immunity would still require the elderly and medically vulnerable to continue with social distancing - but the healthy among us must go forward and emerge from the pandemic world to live again.

For each of us individually, regardless of what our employers and government officials deem appropriate in terms of timing, that gut feeling eventually driving us back to normalcy will result from our own interpretations of the information we've absorbed and digested. The methodology of reading data to develop strategy and “follow the science” helps intellectually, but emerging from pandemic life will ultimately be driven by what feels right emotionally for each of us. Similar to rejoining the world after 9-11, air travel may have officially opened on a certain date but we made our own decisions as to when we felt comfortable flying again.

Admittedly, emerging from a pandemic cocoon is not easy. There have been some very pleasurable aspects of being in a virtual bubble and having the world pause for an extended period time. For one, just the sheer surrealism of having the entire world shift to a single priority for weeks on end has to be appreciated on its face. Secondly, the habits being formed to survive such an experience - whether silly things like trading in formal work attire for comfortable sleep-worthy clothing as your daily ensemble or extended binge-watching sessions with loved ones - there are vacation-like habits that have crept into our pandemic experience with which parting will be such sweet sorrow. The more serious habits like extreme hand washing and sanitizing are likely here to stay. What are some of the work-related habits and "new norms" that have formed and will endure?

My vocation technically is the CEO of a production consultancy, helping marketers identify process, technology and cost efficiencies within marketing supply chains; but in essence I'm an old-fashioned traveling salesperson. Since starting our company in 2007, we've always believed in making the investment to visit with clients in-person as opposed to conducting business via phone or video conferencing. When PostAds Group celebrated its 10th Anniversary in 2017, co-founder Mark Dunn and I went back into our decade's worth of travel diaries to see how many days we spent on the road traveling to see customers. It turned out to be a total of four years away from home and well over a million dollars in travel and entertainment expenses. The cumulative years were particularly poignant when I subtracted those years from the age of my then-13-year-old son and contemplated having missed four whole years of his life. (My wife on the other hand marveled at the data as a wistful example of how absence makes the heart grow fonder.)

During the pandemic all of us have become adept at managing our businesses with the help of Zoom and FaceTime - if this is the new norm it would certainly save our company a lot of money and return years back to my home life. And while there is great appeal in those two lovely outcomes, I would ultimately reject that choice. As long as I'm running a business and as long as customers are willing to see me in-person, its worth paying that price because ultimately my business supports my family and in-person relationships are the lifeblood of my business. My role as a father and husband have been immeasurably enriched by the life experience and friendships I've been blessed enough to create conducting business around the world. Business life, whether we like it or not, is inevitably our life's work...and life is not best lived behind a desktop video camera. We have to get back out into the world and commune with our fellow human beings, earn a living, support our families and share in the joy of newfound togetherness.

To all our business friends and colleagues locally and across the globe, you are our extended family and we miss you dearly. It won't be soon enough until we can greet each other with smiles and hugs again. I long to hear the stories of your families’ triumphs over adversity and the creative ways you've used this borrowed time. Here's to rekindling the camaraderie we all share earning our livings as a band of happy, healthy and rugged road warriors emerging victorious from our interrupted lives.

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