Sean O’Leary, Vice President, Susan Davis International

In this article series, SDI presents helpful hints for coping with the COVID-19 pandemic and offers observations on a world turned upside down.

I can’t be the only one who watches footage of past events and get instantly horrified that people are close to each other. Right?

I know some feel my pain. On a recent episode of Last Week Tonight, host John Oliver showed a clip of food lines during the Great Depression and revealed his “quarantine brain” could only focus on the lack of social distancing.

If you’ve watched any amount of television – maybe all of it? – over the past few weeks, you have been constantly reminded by consumer brands that we live in uncertain times. That feels like an understatement, no? It is very, very certain that our times are changing dramatically and may never be the same.

As an avid sports fan, the changes are already apparent. It’s weird watching Korean baseball with no one in the stands, the least of which is that I’m watching Korean baseball in the first place. German soccer without fans isn’t too different most of the time, until a goal is scored and your brain waits for cheers that never come. If Bayern Munich scores a goal and there’s no cheering, did they really score?

June is shaping up to be a critical month for this country as we transition to, nah, let me choose a better phrase. It’s an important time for our economy and mental well-being as businesses and states re-open to customers. Since my last business trip to Boston in early March – at a hotel that ended up as a covid19 hotspot, in a fun twist – the majority of office employees like myself have been stuck working from home. Some tech companies have indicated that people will be working from home for much longer, even through 2021.

For most of us, though, the next 30 to 60 days will see us trying mightily to return to life as normal. But what is normal in 2020? Is normal still a thing that exists? I haven’t fallen asleep before midnight in two months. I’ve cooked so much I think I’ve become Barefoot Contessa, right down to the bare feet and massive cocktails for breakfast.

Unusual sleeping patterns and morning drinks aside, here are other ways that our daily working lives will never be the same.

Do Not Shake My Hand 

When I was in Boston, I stopped by my Dad’s office and said hi to his co-workers, some I had met previously, and some I were meeting for the first time. Every interaction started with a weird, “Are we still shaking hands or not?” vibe because the guidance was unclear at the time.

Well, it isn’t now. Do not even think about shaking my hand. I may not shake another hand for the rest of my life. Do you have any idea how many germs are on one hand? Why were we even shaking hands in the first place? Forget fist bumps too. Even an elbow tap seems risky. How about we nod our heads at each other?

So, About This Elevator…

As we discussed returning to our office, no one seems that concerned about what we’ll do when we’re back in our space. We have a spread out office layout, we’ll wear masks, and everyone understands the precautions necessary to get back to a normal routine.

But the entire 11 stories in the building aren’t solely dedicated to SDI. At least not yet. So what happens for the elevator? Are we going to squeeze back in there at least twice a day? Who is monitoring everyone coming into the building?

If you don’t mind, I’ll take the stairs up and down, and work on my calves while getting in those extra steps each day.

I Miss Potbelly’s (What To Do About Lunch?)

Across the street from our office, the closest sandwich shop is a Potbelly’s. In the before times, it was my go-to on a busy day, as I could run over, pick up a sandwich, and eat by myself at a table for about 30 minutes before diving back in. I miss that. But I don’t ever want to sit in that shop ever again, do I?

As I think about any place that I would eat lunch during a normal work day, there is no social distancing anywhere. Heck, the deli a block away with the tremendous daily buffet? Don’t see too many buffets in my near, or distant, future. The lunch line at Chipotle with social distancing would stretch past two blocks of K Street.

Are we doomed to an eternal future of eating lunches at our desks?

Is In-Person Networking Finished?

Whenever people from out of town asked about working in D.C., I would tell them we’re a very old-school town where we meet at events to shake hands. Shake hands? Gross. Drinks together at a bar? No thank you, please go stand over there.

While it’s possible that live events can return and even potentially thrive in a new normal of social distancing and masks with some creativity, how will networking go? The best networking events I’ve been to are in a crowded space where drinks are flowing. Does that happen in a world with a deadly virus on the loose?

On a list of consequential consequences of covid19, meeting new people over a drink may seem to rank about dead last. But I think about how many future colleagues, clients and partners that I’ve met that way. What replaces that? I don’t think Zoom meet-ups are going to suffice.

What About Business Travel?

My last plane ride in March is going to stick with me for a while. An empty Logan Airport on a sunny Saturday spring afternoon. Some people in masks. Everyone was washing their hands profusely. Odd silence. Most people flying seemed to be a member of a high school or college athletic team. Upon arriving home, I sprinted to the shower without touching anything or anyone — to the delight of my worrying wife and to the righteous anger of our dog desperate for a belly rub.

Business travel has always been a part of my career, whether it was for meetings or events. I don’t realistically see how that’s going to be happening any time soon. Partner meetings can take place virtually. Events are already online. Who wants to get on a plane right now without a really, really, really good reason?

Do We Have the Patience to Do This?

My friends have needled me since high school for my complete lack of patience. I don’t like traffic jams or waiting in line for anything. I get up early to run errands. I’ll eat dinner out late to avoid a wait. The weeks of being stuck inside have challenged all of us, but even I’ve had the patience required to not protest for haircuts. I’ve embraced my Aquaman-inspired look. If only I worked out enough to fully realize it.

This past weekend, a neighborhood farmer’s market that runs weekly from April to November outside of my apartment building returned for the first time in 2020. It was a bizarre scene to say the least.

In addition to everyone wearing masks, only a limited number of people were allowed into the market at a time. A queue of people, six feet apart, stretched past the entrance of the market onto an accompanying grassy area that is usually overrun with dogs, and likely still overrun with dog poop. No one looked particularly happy or thrilled to be there.

That farmer’s market return every spring used to be a glorious reminder that winter was over and the endless possibilities that accompany warmer weather had arrived. Instead, it was a stark reminder that our world has changed forever.

Wait, I was trying to write something amusing, and that’s way too depressing.

Instead, let’s end with wisdom from New Jersey’s greatest philosopher, Bruce Springsteen:

“Someday we’ll look back on this and it will all seem funny.”

One can hope, right?