I don’t know about you, but most of my professional life has involved working and interacting with people—in person and in the same room whenever possible.
Maybe I’m old school but I like to hear what is being said, see facial reactions and body language, know that people are paying attention to the obviously wonderful and impactful things I have to share (Ha!), and believe spontaneous personal connections in the workplace can spur great discussion through impromptu idea sharing. Well, just as COVID-19 has made us switch gears in many aspects of our retail operations, those of us in support roles had to get with the times and figure out how to survive and thrive through the communication pandemonium we now casually refer to as “virtual communications.”
Whether it’s Teams, WebEx, Zoom, GoToMeetings, FaceTime, Facebook conferencing, I was thrust into the virtual world in mid-March after returning from a trip we cut short in Mexico when the pandemic hit. Since I was immediately and unexpectedly quarantined due to travel, a delivery person left everything I would need to work virtually on my doorstep (notably, the delivery man dropped the goods and then quickly ran away with a wave while watching me wave back from behind a window). Then, the quest began.
I don’t know about you, but I felt pretty good about my interoffice virtual conferencing skills, since we all used the same platform at Casey’s. However, I soon realized that I should have invested in the video conferencing sector long before. I mean, who knew there were so many platforms to learn, use, navigate—and yes—suffer through while often appearing to the other outside meeting participants as if we’d never used technology in our lives!
I’m guessing that I’m preaching to the choir, as we like to say here in the Midwest, which some refer to as flyover country, yet we refer to it as the place where the salt-of-the-earth folks who feed America live. So, I thought it might be fun to re-live some our likely similar virtual pandemonium experiences together. Do any of these ring a bell?
If you don’t have a real office in your home, have you set up a pretend office environment with the hope of making it look professional, or do you pretend that your video conferencing isn’t working to avoid the hassle? Martha Stewart supplied us with plenty of video tips to get the right angle and lighting, although I just “haven’t had the time” to do any of them. All I know is that my dining room hasn’t had a person in it this much in the 20 years we have lived in our house.
Have you come up with fun little quips for the surprise appearance of one of your pets? Like my cats, King Louis and Goober, that walk across my computer at inopportune times. Or, there’s the unusually boisterous family member who had no clue you were on a serious call with a member of Congress, advocating on behalf of our industry for COVID liability protection. Yep, been there.
Have you spent a good chunk of a Zoom meeting semi-listening while trying to figure out how to set up a cool background of your favorite destination or sports venue to look as hip and happening as the other people on the call? Those who change their background each time to a theme that matches the topic of the phone call are just showing off!
Have you found yourself feeling somewhat like a “peeping Tom” by checking out the surroundings of the people on the call? Random thoughts occur (that had remained unsaid until now) like making one’s bed in the morning is clearly not a habit for many, why is there a refrigerator next to the clothes dresser, how many neon beer signs can a person hang in a 5x5 area, is that a full professional outfit or is it business on top and party on the bottom? Or, I wasn’t expecting to see such cool artwork, and why did someone organize eight shelves of books according to size and color AND the shade of that color. I call this type of experience multi-tasking, which is an important business tool—especially for convenience store operators!
How about that mute button? Wait! I can’t hear your response. You’re on mute. HEY, YOU ARE STILL ON MUTE! Just nod if you agree since we can’t hear you. Hey, now you’re causing the system to screech because you’re on the call through the internet and you’re on phone. Hmmm, she must have gotten disconnected. I’ll just email her later to get her opinion.
In all seriousness, as essential businesses, and more importantly, as essential convenience store businesses, we should feel pretty proud of ourselves and the way we have changed our way of doing business—sometimes over and over again as state regulations change—to keep our stores operational and serve our communities and guests. Our ability as an industry to adapt doesn’t surprise me because we are a group that simply makes things happen.
While the focus often goes directly to our store operations when talking about this crisis, those working behind the scenes in the support functions at the office also have adapted by embracing the virtual communication world and have just simply “figured it out” to continue necessary conversations and discussions both internally and with our outside business partners. To be honest, many of us have also figured out how to feel somewhat normal by partaking in virtual social outings and happy hours, a much-needed appointment for one’s calendar, but that’s another story.
While I truly look forward to personal interactions in the future, this pandemonium that we call virtual communications have provided a few lessons that can carry beyond this pandemic. It has allowed us to expedite scheduling meetings when we can’t otherwise get everyone in one location. Video get us some of those necessary personal interactions that email simply doesn’t provide. And, importantly to all our businesses, we can save on travel time and costs by getting people together virtually from all over the country, or the world).
Who would have thought that most of my year as NACS chair would have been virtual? While a bit disappointing at first, I have come to realize that this virtual world has provided me with the opportunity to be at more online events and meetings, speak to more of our congressional representatives at length, and be involved in more outreach events with our members than I probably otherwise would have been.
I have enjoyed communicating with so many of you virtually, and in doing so I hope King Louis and Goober didn’t steal too much of the show!