By Phillip Koblence
I sit in my Brooklyn bedroom office, looking out at the Manhattan Bridge. The bridge is there in all its glory, but the view has changed dramatically. The scene is completely devoid of activity. No cars. No bikes, no people—none of the energy or sound or movement that signifies life in a customarily busy city. The city that never sleeps is, seemingly, asleep.
Take this scene and replicate it thousands of times over and there you have it—The whole world is on pause! Cities around the world have shut down, along with businesses, schools, entertainment. Surreal, shocking, disruptive, unprecedented…the list of adjectives goes on and on. While all this is extremely disorienting, and the everyday news is profoundly upsetting, the pandemic has brought some lifestyle shifts that I am finding to be strangely liberating.
Goodbye to Commuting and Rushing
Rushing used to be a core feature of my work day. Hopping on the subway to rush to the office in Lower Manhattan in time to get on a conference call, rushing to meet clients for lunch, or rushing midday to get from one of NYI’s facilities to another, then rushing back to catch another call or to meet with an employee. It seemed that I was always on the go, always not quite in the right place at the right time. And at the end of the day, always rushing home to be with my family, trying to have a couple of last conversations while running to the subway or waiting on packed subway platforms.
For the last couple of weeks, things have been different. It seems like I am always where I need to be, and without any rushing whatsoever and this equates to a massive feeling of decompression. The phone or my next ZOOM meeting is never more than a room away. I am traveling places—certainly—but it’s all virtual. I can be in New York City one moment, in Chicago the next, Hawaii the next. No subways, no trains, no airplanes—the only limitation is the constant competition with my wife and kids for bandwidth!
The time savings extends to other areas as well. It’s such a relief not to have to spend time selecting clothes to wear to the office every morning. I’ve always been a little jealous of people who wore uniforms to work, and now I know why! Not having to pick out an outfit and spend precious time getting “ready” for work gives me more time to make breakfast for my kids, hang out with my family, and generally spend my time more valuably. (And, trust me, I wasn’t gonna grace the cover of Vogue based on my wardrobe choices anyway!)
As a data center guy who is used to being “on site” and interacting with people, I couldn’t help thinking that the “Stay-at-Home” order would generate all kinds of problems and make the world feel more complex and larger and less personal. All over the country, and the world, working people were retreating to their own safe little houses or apartments—into their little silos! In business and technology, having silos is generally considered sub-optimal — something that can lead to inefficiencies and dysfunction.So, how could so many individual silos or islands connect and integrate?
Within just a few days of working from home, I realized that “Stay-at-Home” was generating an unexpected feeling of connectivity – I was sharing ideas easily and quickly over the phone, over Zoom, over Google Hangouts, over Slack—with colleagues, employees, and partners. And, with no commuting to deal with, I was left with more time to think, to come up with ideas, to reach out to people, to connect the dots. The world, instead of growing larger, was curiously becoming smaller!
Another unanticipated outcome of staying at home is that I’ve gained an unexpected window into the lives of colleagues and clients and partners—seeing them not in an office but in the context of their homes—in their living rooms and home offices. This is serving to alter the nature of the communication, making it more casual and deepening relationships, some of which I’ve had for years.
A Smaller World
But the benefits are not restricted to the world of work. Due to COVID-19, I feel that the entire world has entered my home. All that energy and sound and movement that has been lost in the real external physical world is suddenly here within my own personal space. I am suddenly privy to my 3-year-old daughter’s Zoom ballet lesson, my son’s discussions with his class of first graders, my son’s FaceTime piano lessons and witnessing my wife jumping in and doing an incredible job managing the kids’ new reality. I also find myself connecting regularly with both extended family members and colleagues who I might otherwise typically see in person every few months at most.
But it doesn’t stop there. As I watch the global news, I see faces from all over the world, people struggling with common fears and concerns surrounding the virus. How can I continue working, how can my kids keep learning, how can I take care of extended family members who I can no longer visit, how can I find and put food on the table, when will things return to “normal,” how can I remain positive and hopeful in the middle of such a dire situation? The new universal vocabulary transmitted straight into my home is a visual one that transcends country and language barriers—one that is populated by human faces and masks and gloves and hospitals and ventilators.
The world has been brought closer by this pandemic, generating a new global social ecosystem fueled by shared experience and common concerns and while the road will no doubt be tough, I see that new humanity as a good thing, along with my somewhat liberated new lifestyle.