There’s only been a few times in humanity that we have all had the same reaction as a society within America. The assassination of John F. Kennedy was one of them (it was the first time that everyone saw a horrific event transpire on TV), and 9/11 was another. 

COVID-19 will have its ramifications for generations to come in regard to the way we value our loved ones, how we work, and how we collaborate as a society. 

COVID-19 whispered to us in advance that it was coming, but we failed to prepare. Smallpox, Yellow Fever, the Spanish Flu, AIDS … they were all signs.  Yet, due to our busy everyday lives, we seemed to overlook the warnings until it was too late.

We’ve gone from the lowest unemployment rate to the highest unemployment rate since the Great Depression, all within a matter of weeks. Chaos is among us both in terms of our health and finances.  And yet, we have come together without hesitation, but with determination and resilience. Our first thoughts were fear — thinking of our loved ones.  As the virus progresses, we’re seeing changes in our workplaces and the market at large.

Our Workplace

At the time of the first announcement, we had just had a sprinkler pipe break in our building, and my office was damaged the most.  The remediation was said to take some time, so I told everyone I was going to work from home until it was dry and fixed.  Little did I know, the virus was gaining recognition at the same time, and I got a jump start on my work-at-home program earlier than others. The collaboration of my company, clients, and peers came soon after.

First was the SWAT-team effect of leadership that came into place.  Our IT systems had been already set up to enable work from home, since we’re based out of Chicago — nobody wants to come into the office at minus 20°F. Due to the 14-day quarantine, we had no other choice than to have 100% of our workforce work from home.  Our leadership recognized both the strain on our employees and the impact of a possible downturn to our business.  Adjustments were immediately made, and the business continuity plan was at task.  The result to our clients was seamless.

While most all of us work at home these days, many of us haven’t had a consistent ongoing experience of working at home and have our family constantly around us — the dog is barking, the kids are screaming, and your spouse is working in the next room over.  You are multitasking at levels that you had never conceived before.  But yet, as the script changes and we succeed, we progress.

For some, the workplace has become more intense.  Health care, first responders, grocers, transportation, and others all continue their work at a higher risk than ever before.  And they do it with dignity and without hesitation.  These are the true heroes of COVID-19. It’s not the politicians or government that should receive credit for the quick response to the crisis; it is the people on the front lines. COVID-19 whispered that it was coming, and our governments were not prepared. God bless the front line.

A New Type of Collaboration

At the office, there is a camaraderie and social environment among peers that seems to foster the good of the people as well as the company itself. Your work life also becomes your social life.  This is evident, especially with our millennial generation. Hence our hyperscale campuses that have free food, nap quarters, and other amenities on-site — all too create a human experience.

While you would think that this is hampered in a virtual environment, in many ways it is not. We were all separated in an instant, but the relationships that we built in the office still remain.  Within our virtual environment, we create not only project teams, but social organizations, luncheons, happy hours, and management announcements. The daily touch-base meetings between our group and management have created a level of communication that I had not seen working in an office environment.

While we see a new type of collaboration within the office environment, the collaboration with our clients is the most important.  Last week, our group conducted three major “page turns” (meetings where we go through page-by-page design drawings with our client) that were flawless.  It’s one thing to hit your deadlines, but it’s another to deliver the highest-quality  documents to a client, which were 100% quality assured during our virtual operation. 

When it was announced that the Environmental Systems Design (ESD) mission critical facilities group was in one of the top-ranking positions, I was so proud of each and every member of our group.  However, I’ve never been prouder of the collaboration and successes of what we are doing during this pandemic. I am humbled.

The Change in Script

The COVID-19 pandemic forces us to recognize that business continuity matters.  It also forces on us that, as a society, we need to be better prepared and be responsive to future pandemics. It mostly forces us to recognize the importance of family and loved ones.

COVID-19 has no borders.  It does not discriminate.  This is a humanity issue, not influenced by government differences, petty disagreements, or cultural ignorance. And because it is a global humanity issue, we all hope that the script changes on how we treat each other and come together as a collaborative world — not a combative society.

COVID-19, in an odd way, has a kind of correlation to a quote of one of the world’s great leaders, who sat silently incarcerated for most of his life.

“We can argue with the political few, or we can whisper to the intelligence of the masses,” Nelson Mandela said. “I choose the masses.”