We all live in a world where the unexpected is the only thing we can expect. This blog will NOT be about COVID-19 or my thoughts on whether or not it is blown out of proportion. I hold this back for many reasons, but primarily because my opinion is worth exactly how much you paid for it: not a penny.
This will also not be about my opinion on the benefits or pitfalls of working from home in this time where we, as employees and leaders, must act with flexibility and agility while continuing to be productive.
I simply want to write about my day. This day. March 11, 2020.
Our company, being global and true to our Core Values (Employees ), was quick to react to the potential spread of COVID-19. Just 5 days before our annual Sales Kickoff Meeting, which brings all sales and sales support employees as well as partners and leaders to one place to network, collaborate and learn, we cancelled the conference. I can only imagine the financial impact this had on our company. A few weeks later, as we saw the rise in the number of cases of the virus, we decided to close some offices and heavily promote a work from home policy.
My commute is either to and from an airport in Atlanta or whatever city the business brings me. My home commute is typically 45-70 minutes from the ‘burbs to Buckhead, an Atlanta neighborhood where all the cool kids live. I would imagine most share a similar commute if you are in a fairly large-sized city or even a smaller one that is trying to keep up with the growing infrastructure that smaller cities often endure.
Today I woke up around 7:00 am. On a normal day, I would wake up around 6:00 to ensure I had time to get myself ready before my attention-craving offspring wake up in full force. Once they are up, it’s on for about 90 minutes. My kids typically go to the bus stop around 8:10 am. On a normal office or commute day, I would have about 2 hours to get them and me ready with everything from hygiene and breakfast and the occasional packed lunch.
Now back to the story. I washed my face, brushed my teeth, and threw my hair in a high pony tail. I headed down to make the girls a healthy and balanced lunch. I never do that. Ever. In fact, if I am being honest, this lunch only had a few warm things in it like chili, bacon (yes I put that in their lunchbox) and butter pasta. The rest of the items were in individual mass produce packages . Don’t worry fellow average moms, I won’t let you down.
Without the pressure of racing to an office or a flight, I had the time to go into each of my daughter’s rooms and wake them up with gentle strokes on their hair and peaceful comments about how proud I am of them. The normal wake-up call for me is broadcasting through my Alexa, “Girls, get up! Brush your teeth and hair. Put on something that kinda matches and is cleanish and meet me downstairs.” Convenient and efficient, sure. Impactful on who they are going to become as young ladies? Not really. This was really fun. Personal touch number 1.
Unlike other mornings, I wasn’t yelling “hurry up, let’s go, 7 more minutes until the bus!” As they were getting ready, I went and took a quick shower and slapped on just enough makeup to ready myself for the day. We met downstairs around 8:00 am. Typically at 8:00 am, we were in crunch time: racing that sound of the bus engine and knowing we had exactly 45 seconds from the onset of the sound to when the driver would zip away with no mercy. I am not mad at the bus driver, I get it. She has a schedule to keep, and it doesn’t always align with what I think is a universal Meredith Foster Schedule.
I was ready at 8:05, and so were the girls. I live one mile from school. When you drive your kids to school, they don’t have to be there until 8:45 am. After calculating the math, I had 30-35 minutes to depart my house in time for them to be admitted without me having to walk them in the front door in my house shoes.
My 7 year old looked at me and said “Mom, can you make breakfast today?”
My initial thought was “no way, we don’t have time. Breakfast at home is a weekend thing.” But the reality is, today, I had time. In fact, I had time to make them eggs and cinnamon rolls and sit down to eat with them. I looked at Bitty and said. “Yes baby. I would love to make you breakfast.” And we did. Personal touch number 2.
The girls grabbed their lunch boxes, backpacks and binders and I took my $0.25 (at most) cup of homemade coffee down to the car, and we hit the road. The girls has created cards for their favorite teacher who happens to work in carpool line in the morning. Since I drove them, they were able to personally deliver their hand drawn notes through the sunroof of my Mini Cooper. Personal touch number 3 on the day, and it wasn’t even 8:30 am. Hugs and kisses, and they were off to school. I didn’t hate this start of my day.
I returned home and fired up the laptop. I have a home office, but I prefer working at my breakfast bar. I get more natural light, I am steps away from my unlimited pot of coffee, and I can stand while I work- very 2020.
My first meeting was at 9:00 am with a prospect. Two of my workmates were in the room as they were local. The rest of us were on video conference via Zoom . I was presentable, but not as fancy as I would have been onsite. I felt very connected to the others in the meeting. Our team utilized an app to virtually whiteboard and prioritize their needs of their company. Everyone was able to work together and collaborate from our own homes. Don’t get me wrong, there is nothing better than face-to-face meetings, and there was a time during this meeting that I wanted to jump through the video and have a 3 hour conversation with the SVP of HR around the new wave of work and experiential gigs (ok, ok I will settle my HR nerdy self down now). Since we aren’t at a place where I could actually jump through my screen, we capitalized on the opportunity for him and me to connect again in the next few weeks. Personal touch number 4. To all my sales people out there, how great is an immediate plan for the next steps?
All jazzed up on talent and performance strategy, I noticed I had missed a text from my friend who lived up the road.
“Mer, I know you are working from home today. Is there ANY way that you could swing by my house? I have a delivery that I need when I get home, but I can’t get there in time and it’s signature only,” he wrote.
“There is no way I can do that,” I thought to myself. “Wait, I actually can,” and I did. Twenty minutes later, I was back to kitchen office plugging away at my task list. Personal touch number 5. I’ll let you keep up with the personal touches from here on out. For the next several hours, I knocked out so many work items and meetings.
I did miss the human interaction that I get in my office or in my meetings. Fortunately, I had plenty of time to address the 50ish notifications on my Slack app. About 1/2 of these were based in work and productivity. The other half were the exact mid-morning social interaction I was craving. I went to our #shelterpetsrock channel and saw some great stories about my Workmates and their pets. I went to #workdaylife channel and read about all of the cool things the we are doing to collaborate across our company. These chats were filled with videos and pictures and communication threads. Ahhh… my social craving was subsided.
However; much like having seven peanut M&Ms from our office snack program, I wanted just a few more. I wanted more “local” social. I visited my #workdayATL Slack where we had a contest going where our office coordinator sent out random fun facts about our local workmates. If you guess who it was, you earned an Amazon gift card. How fun is this? I didn’t win, but I learned a lot about others I may not have otherwise known. Social craving subsided and now back to work.
Now I’ll admit, the next part of my story is a little different for me than others. I took my lunch break at 3:00 pm. I live in Atlanta but work PST hours, so my 3:00 pm is my job’s 12:00 pm. Who cares what time it is when you take your lunch so long as you are continuing to be productive throughout the day? I didn’t have any 3:00-4:00 meetings, and I was ahead on my to do list having sacrificed the 60 minute commute or the lack of airplane WiFi.
It was 70 and overcast today, so I decided to skip the gym and walk to school to get the girls. My daughter is in 5th grade and has always taken the bus to and from school knowing she had a single, working mom who wouldn’t be home in time to walk to pick her up.. Not today Lottie, not today.
I slapped on my gym clothes, popped in my MerPods and fired up my normal commute Podcast (one of the things I look forward to on my drive to work). I was off. I ran to my girl’s school to greet them for the first time as “walkers”. This is a luxury I would have loved to have tapped into for the 6 years my girls have been in school.
I was 10 minutes into my Podcast and halfway to the school. The sun tucked away and the bottom fell out. I was getting poured on, I mean drenched. I knew it would pass, and I was so close to creating an amazing memory for my girls. I decided to Smile Through the Rain and just keep going; after all, smiling through the rain has been my mentality for the last year or so.
I started to get pretty wet to the point where I needed to tuck my MerPods into my pocket. As I did, I felt a car stopping beside me on a highly trafficked road. The city girl in me went into full defense mode.
The window rolled down, with rain soaking his passenger seat and I heard “Hey! Take this umbrella. Just get it back whenever.” A man, later to be identified as a bad ass neighbor, just stopped to hand me an umbrella- through his window- on a busy road- with people behind him. (Read that whole interaction again in case if didn’t sink in).
I stopped in my tracks. I grabbed the umbrella and thanked him. He turned out to be a neighbor, Todd (something in that name?) who I hadn’t met because life simply gets in the way.
At this very point in time, I stopped. I stopped walking. I stopped listening to anything but nature. I looked at the umbrella and I stood in the rain for one more minute, smiling.
Will I or one of my my loved ones die of COVID-19? Who knows? Will I lose my financial security in the stock market? Who knows? Will the way we work change the way we live? Who knows? Can I do anything about any of the above? No.
No matter what happens, we can control being kind, being neighborly and stopping to just smile and embrace what takes place around us.
Today on my walk, I got rained on, I was handed an umbrella in traffic by a neighbor I would have never met otherwise, and I made it to school to get my favorite little people just in time.
Y’all, my kids spotted me in the walker area, and their faces. I can’t even. I’ll let my camera tell that story.
Six years in and my 5th grader finally got to walk home from school. We had 30 minutes of undivided family time. We talked about homework, boys they liked and the power of the umbrella story. We competed on who could pick up the most trash on the way home and the winner earned a Fun Dip.
We walked. We talked. We cleaned the Earth. We brought a neighbor’s trash cans to up their driveway. We met and thanked our neighbor who we would have otherwise never known. And I was back to my computer to finish the rest of my meetings.
I finished completing my “unreads” and closed out my work day. I ended up exactly where I started: in the kitchen, making a healthy (for real this time) dinner for my little girls and chit chatting about the beauty of this world we are living in.
Rain is in the forecast for tomorrow. Does this make anyone else smile?
Now more than ever and until next time, don’t forget to clean your tray tables.