All of us have been forced to be adaptive in many ways since the start of the pandemic. We asked our Focus on the Future panelists to share some of the things they have done differently since the beginning of the pandemic. We also asked for how their organization is planning to handle in-person work moving forward. We also asked, and received quite a lot of feedback, related to the love-hate relationship we all have with Zoom and other virtual platforms.
Is there a personal or professional (or both) habit, routine or action that you have implemented during the pandemic that you intend to continue long-term?
I’ll probably think about using remote meeting software more often than before the pandemic. I have quickly adapted and appreciate the structure offered by these platforms, especially for smaller meetings. And be more conscious about washing my hands better and more often! – Mark Farris, Greenville Area Development Corporation (GADC)
The easy one here is virtual meetings. I’m looking forward to more in-person meetings, but over the year, it has become evident that it is easy and convenient to meet virtually. This allows more frequent, impactful meetings with clients and colleagues, particularly those that are out of town. – David Feild, Colliers International
I have moved to starting my day with exercise to get me going in the mornings and clear my head before work. I used to use exercise as a way to relax and unwind in the evenings, but have found that by switching to the mornings I feel much more relaxed and ready to tackle my day. If I have a stressful day I can still do some form of exercise in the evening, but have found that in general the stress level is kept down and I credit that to starting my day with the exercise. – Angie Gossett, BlueCross BlueShield of South Carolina
While we were already planning on doing so, COVID-19 expedited our plans to live-stream our City Council meetings. Additionally, we had to also stream our various boards and commissions meetings. Aside from providing greater transparency, we also saw greater engagement from the public for these meetings and processes. All of this – transparency and engagement – was great to see.
We will continue to stream our Council meetings and our boards and commission meetings from this point forward to provide greater transparency, access, and encourage more engagement. – G.P. McLeer, Mayor, City of Fountain Inn
Technology is my friend! The pandemic has forced me out of mu comfort zone and created a new comfort zone that is much more productive. – Amanda Munyan, Laurens County Chamber of Commerce
I had to make sure that I stayed strong physically and mentally. Because of the restrictions placed on workout facilities, my wife and I got a Peloton bike and committed to getting up early during the week. After the workout, I would spend a few moments in silence and thoughts. This is still my routine. – Terence Roberts, Mayor, City of Anderson
I have had more time to read as well as listen to Webinars during COVID, and I have pursued areas of interest more thoroughly. I will continue to do this even as we move forward from COVID.
I have also enjoyed being able to use Zoom for meetings as well as social connections, and I believe that will continue for everyone. Zoom meetings are cost effective and time efficient!
Being at home more has also allowed me to walk in the park more regularly, and I do plan to continue to do that. I believe that COVID has helped all of us appreciate the importance of being with our family and our friends, being outside and enjoying nature. – Minor Shaw, Chairperson, GSP Airport District
COVID taught me the benefits of shinrin-yoku, or “forest bathing.” I have taken up hiking, and I can’t believe it took a pandemic for me to discover the amazing recreational resources we have within Greenville County or a short drive away. I’ve always enjoyed long walks at Lake Conestee Nature Park, but these have now led to short hikes at Paris Mountain State Park, which have grown to longer hikes in anticipation of a multi-day hike on the Foothills Trail later this spring. – Katy Pugh Smith, Greenville Partnership for Philanthropy & Piedmont Health Foundation
As most offices we have had to hold virtual meetings to conduct business. We now feel that this is an effective way to hold brief meetings. It will still not replace face to face meetings but it has been good to know that we can still meet no matter what the circumstances. – Stephen Taylor, Abbeville County Economic Development Partnership
Once everyone within your team has been vaccinated, is your office planning to return to 100% in-person work? If not, what is your planned split between work-from-home and in-person? If you are planning some type of split, do you envision ever getting back to 100% in-person?
We are fortunate to have both a smaller staff and enough office space to effectively social distance so our return to the office was relatively quick last year. While still taking appropriate precautions, especially with office guests, we are already 100% back. – Mark Farris
With a focus on masks, social distancing, lots of PPE, adoption/use of more technology, and strict adherence to CDC guidelines, our office returned to a more normal workplace back in the early summer of 2020. We allowed some work-from-home options as needed to accommodate school challenges, potential exposures to the virus, and for anyone with unique health circumstances, but we realized very quickly we serve our clients best by being part of a collaborative, in-person work environment. Recruiting and developing our younger or newer talent also proved difficult from home. We have been very pleased with our results, and we are currently encouraging all our staff to get the vaccine. – David Feild
All of our employees are essential – not only to the operation of our departments, but they keep our community running. As such, most of our employees had to come in to work every day during the pandemic. We made every effort to keep our workplaces safe, investing in regular cleaning, implementing various protocols that created less interactions between departments unless necessary, and kept our COVID leave policy running even to this day. Those that were able to work from home have now returned to the office.
We have worked with local pharmacies and healthcare providers to be sure that our essential workers have had access to vaccinations should they choose to get one. We are not requiring them for our employees. – G.P. McLeer
All of our office is socially distanced enough now to continue working in the office as we have been since early summer, 2020. – Kelly McWhorter
Our staff is already at 100% in-person work. We have a small staff and social distancing has not been an issue. – Mamie Nicholson, Self Family Foundation
We are anxious to welcome our remote workers and learners back to campus as soon as possible. We are grateful for the flexibility that technology has provided, but realize the immense value of being in community together. – Liz Seman
I am involved with several different organizations and each one is unique to their circumstances. In some cases, our workforce will adapt to the new normal in which some employees will continue to work from home. However, in organizations like GSP, we do envision getting back to 100% in person employees due to the nature of the jobs. I am also on a mutual fund board, and I believe that we will have a much greater number of employees working from home and using virtual meeting platforms. – Minor Shaw
One lesson we’ve learned over the past year is the UWP team doesn’t have to be in-person to make the magic happen. Going forward there will be great flexibility around where the work happens and that will be driven by project and need. Pre-COVID, we had a few team members working remotely on specific days. Going forward once it is safe, we will have some required in-person gatherings, but I do not see us returning to 100% in the office on a daily basis. – Paige Stephenson, United Way of the Piedmont
Our office has been working 100% in the office for most of the time. We were closed to the public and worked alternating days for about 1 month during the high impact timeframe. We will continue to practice social distancing measures for as long as needed to ensure the safety of both our employees and citizens. – Stephen Taylor
We are a small office of three and have very few visitors (even pre-pandemic), so we have operated almost the same throughout the pandemic. One employee has worked remotely approximately 50% of the time for several years and he will continue that schedule. – Tim Todd, Discover Upcountry
What is your current feeling about Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms? How do you anticipate you and your company/organization using these platforms once most people are vaccinated and in-person meetings are again an option?
While in-person meetings are and always have been my preferred meeting format, I expect that virtual meeting platforms are here to stay. The pandemic has forced us all to adapt and to learn how to operate remotely, and to do so very quickly. I think the quality of virtual meetings are lower to in-person meetings, but virtual meetings allow greater flexibility to bring together people who are geographically far apart. – Paul Cain
Zoom has positive attributes. It can be extremely efficient saving on time, especially with travel, and doesn’t apply to me as a lawyer-legislator, but I can imagine it will change corporate office overhead. For my lines of work, though, it is better to meet in-person. Too much is lost without the face-to-face communication. I expect that we have learned in my lines of work that virtual is an option if needed, but we will return to face-to-face. – Neal Collins
We often hear the phrase, “Business is about relationships!” The pandemic taught us that while business can effectively be conducted remotely, most of us miss the person-to-person interactions that made a business deal seem more gratifying. I appreciate Zoom and the other remote platforms that kept many of us moving forward, although I’d hate to think of those as the default or primary option for the future. – Mark Farris
I recognize virtual fatigue is a real thing. I think we are still over-using the platforms when a simple phone call or conference call could suffice. Despite the fatigue, I think the general adoption by almost everyone is an innovative by-product of the pandemic, and it will remain extremely relevant even as we return to a more in-person environment. – David Feild
I think that all of the various video platforms to host meetings have been a welcome way to still get to ‘see’ others, but not without their challenges as well. Our company has used a few different methods to hold meetings—both internally and externally—and will likely continue to use these in the future, even when staff is back in the office. Since our organization has employees throughout the state this allows for people to attend by video with their co-workers who are in another part of the state and will be how we handle some of our meetings moving forward. We have also moved to using Microsoft Teams, which allows us a lot more flexibility and easy ways to access co-workers in other areas quickly for quick answers, calls, meetings or document sharing. This will definitely be a platform that will continue to be used here. – Angie Gossett
We are seeing a return to more in-person meetings already. Our Council meetings are in-person, with limited seating, as are our boards and commission meetings. However, we do see an increase in virtual meetings for more regional gatherings that historically have been harder to schedule around, and other meetings which may need to happen sooner rather than later. We see Zoom as a great tool for us to use to allow for remote participation in various meetings so that we can be sure multiple perspectives are heard. – G.P. McLeer
While we are still trying to get used to virtual meetings and their formats, the platforms appear to be here to stay. We have begin holding in-person meetings, but many of our attendees have still been taking advantage of the virtual meeting offerings as well. I feel like this will continue to be utilized for the unforeseeable future while our country continues to navigate the pandemic. – Kelly McWhorter
I personally appreciate some Zoom meetings. We began this method kicking and screaming with hesitation, but it seems this has become more productive in many areas. The in-person meetings, mainly the few minutes pre and post are definitely missed. However, the virtual meetings have a better attendance and allows for more productivity, without travel time. moving forward we will have a mix of virtual and in-person meetings, depending on the topic. – Amanda Munyan
ZOOM and other virtual platforms have allowed us to continue to operate at an almost normal pace with the absence of onsite meetings. Our board has adapted well to virtual meetings and I expect that for those board members who are not local, this will continue to be a viable option. This pandemic may result in a combination of hybrid and in-person meetings for board and staff going forward. – Mamie Nicholson
I believe that virtual meetings will always be in our “tool box” for meetings. Iit’s an option that will be use but very sparingly. In person meeting work best in a government setting. Transparency and citizen participation are very important. – Terence Roberts
While the ability to utilize technology (Zoom, Teams, etc.) has allowed business to continue in a safe and socially-distanced manner, nothing can replace the innovation and accountability that comes from meeting in-person. I believe that the use of technology will remain, but I hope we rely on it less and less as the overall health of our community improves. – Liz Seman
I think that Zoom and other virtual meeting platforms have been both useful and effective. However, it is difficult to form deep personal connections on virtual meeting platforms like one forms in face to face meetings. “Socialization” is lacking. That said, I believe that companies, foundations, non-profits, etc. will continue to incorporate virtual meeting platforms in their business plan. Virtual meetings are cost effective and efficient. People have enjoyed the flexibility of virtual meeting platforms. I feel sure that many organizations in which I am involved will continue to incorporate virtual meetings. – Minor Shaw
I’m so glad that we are now familiar with Zoom, and I believe we are already anticipating when this can take the place of an in person gathering and when face-to-face makes more sense. Meetings with just updates or deeper conversations or strategy sessions with well-established relationships can work well on zoom. I don’t want to drive across town anymore for a 30 minute meeting that fits that description. Event planning has been so much easier without having to arrange lunches, print nametags, and the like. But – for other things, I crave that in-person time and contact, and look forward to starting those gatherings soon. – Katy Pugh Smith
Over this past year, board and committee meeting attendance and participation has been stellar. I believe that has been largely due to the ease of virtual attendance. Going forward, we will probably have a blend of meeting styles – some completely virtual, some completely in-person, and many that are hybrid. For the hybrid meetings to work well, additional investment in good audio will probably be necessary. – Paige Stephenson
I believe Zoom/virtual meetings will continue to be utilized post-pandemic by our organization and other groups with whom we interact. I don’t believe they will replace in-person meetings and gatherings, but will be utilized for meetings where a lot of personal interaction is beneficial and preferred. – Tim Todd
I am torn between the convenience of a virtual meeting platform and the benefits of in-person interaction. There are too many networking opportunities missed due to the virtual meetings. Our company has not made any decisions regarding the future use of virtual platforms once the majority of our staff have been vaccinated. – Trentsie Williams, GLEAMNS HRC, Inc.