March 15, 2021

Taking stock of a pandemic year: A crowdsourced Team Denterlein reflection

The day in March 2020 that changed everything is not an anniversary one celebrates. But gather we did, virtually, as a firm to share our perspectives about who we were before COVID-19 and who we are now.

When it come to views on work, many common themes emerged for Team Denterlein. We like flexibility--but we ache to return to the simple but spontaneous act of walking down the hall for a gut check or instant brainstorm with a colleague.

We miss, surprisingly, the daily commutes that allowed time for reading or podcasts or simply time to shake off morning fog or the stress of a long day.

We learned to share our work lives with cats, dogs, children, lovers, and spouses. Who was our favorite each day? A toss-up!

On a personal level, some of us found time for overdue self-care, others, to use that old-fashioned expression, “let ourselves go”—sometimes even no longer wearing makeup!

One sentiment, however, emerged as universal after this awful year of so much death and so much loss in our nation and world: We are so deeply thankful--for our health, for our families, for our work, and for one another.

Here’s a look at some of the reflections that emerged from our Friday afternoon staff meeting by Zoom, the monthly meeting we look forward to resuming in person someday soon, with some non-virtual wine and non-virtual snacks, around our conference-room table in Post Office Square.


What’s been good:

“Time to see and walk with friends … A chance to re-explore the joys of slow cooking … A long-overdue opportunity to perform some self-care, in my case some physical therapy I’d been needing to do—and as it turned out, with some younger guys!”

“It’s been really nice not to have to come in the office when it’s raining or snowing. There’s nothing less productive than being damp all day.”

“I miss the mindshare, the spontaneity of interaction … “ But with Denterlein’s intentionality of scheduling at least three weekly staff meetings, mini-seminars, business-development updates, and organized brainstorming sessions, “I feel like I’ve gotten to know several of you much better than I would have” in a “normal” year with so many meetings and events outside the office.


What’s been challenging:

“I didn’t realize how many questions I used to ask all day—because everything was verbal, not in email or Teams. I appreciate how nice everyone has been about all my questions.”

Two new phrases: “I’m back to back to back to back” with 30- and 60-minute Zoom calls one after the other. “I’m on a wall of calls” without a break. “It’s amazing to look at how my calendar used to be scheduled a year ago and compare it to now. How did this happen?”

“Slipping backwards down Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs’’—feeling, as so many consultants have said, like many days have become more about completing long lists of client tasks but less about big-picture “self-actualization” and esteem in our careers as strategic communications advisors.


What’s been just weird:

“I have these clients that I’ve gotten to know so well online during the last 6 or 8 or 10 months—and yet, I’ve never shaken their hand. What’s it going to be like when we meet in person for the first time?’’ “And are we still going to be shaking anybody’s hand after all this?!”

For people who’ve enjoyed a major life milestone during the pandemic like getting engaged or having a new baby: “People will see me for the first time and want to say congratulations, which is wonderful—but it’ll be for this thing that’s now months old for me and feels like ancient history.”

“It took me the longest time to feel like it was OK to take a 20-minute break and go for a walk outside. I kept worrying that something would come up on e-mail, and people would think I was not doing my job. It took me longer than I would like to admit.’’

[After months of Instacart deliveries] “I’m not going to be able to go shopping. I don’t know where anything is in the grocery store anymore!”


What we’ve unexpectedly missed:

“I should have taken advantage of the option to go into the office’’—socially distanced and masked, of course—"much sooner. Just having that other kind of [physical and mental] space I found to be very important.’’

“Rubber-chicken dinners.” “Greater Boston Chamber of Commerce breakfasts with 1,500 people.” “Even the coat lines—you never knew who you might get to talk to.”

“Giving out business cards. I can’t wait for the next time I strike up a conversation with someone I hadn’t know before, and we wind up swapping business cards with each other because we realize we may want to do or refer business in the future.’’

“I used to consider my commute to work wasted time, not now I appreciate, it was the time I had to read a book that had nothing to do with work or to stay caught up on some of my favorite podcasts.” “I bet a lot of us didn’t realize how valuable that transition time was--so mentally important.”


Looking ahead:

If this past year was all about getting through the pandemic with health and business intact, we see the next year being all about companies and organizations trying to take stock: Naming and keeping what’s been unexpectedly positive about mandatory remote work, and identifying which structures and interactions we’ve missed the most and how to maximize them going forward.

“There are some pieces of the pandemic life that we will take forward and keep as part of our life,” one of our wise leaders concluded. “There are opportunities of good and silver linings woven into all this [challenge] we’ve had to endure.”