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Exclusive: Why 2020 is already a strange and distant land

Octavius RE director Emma Bigg marvels at how things have changed this last few months

ISE 2020 seems like a strange distant and land now, the thought of attending a packed trade show now feels alien and fraught. Personally, I felt reasonably relaxed about heading to Amsterdam last February despite reports of a dangerous virus sweeping through China and into parts of Asia. I could understand certain exhibitors dropping out or grounding their Asian teams, but was slightly surprised to see as many Europeans exhibitors and companies not risking sending their staff.
On reflection, my attitude seems very blasé and cavalier. Within six weeks we were in full lock down. It seemed so impossibly shocking and fast at the time and suddenly we were all thrown into uncharted waters.

Many of my clients are in the hospitality sector, and in the lead up to lockdown sites closed down, projects were put on hold and things went quiet. Disconcerting as this was work did not grind to halt. Many clients choose this hiatus in physical activity to plough on with design work and take advantage of having more time to complete the detailed design process. 

Inconsistent preparation
What was very noticeable was how differently prepared companies were for the mass working from home phenomenon. But true to form the AV industry rapidly pivoted to offer their products and services to support staff and customers alike. I was struck by the responsive nature of our industry and the creativity of people in challenging situations. It was impressive.

And now several months later we are embracing a new normal. Consultancy has been changed and we are all working differently. The initial shock of not being able to meet in person was quickly replaced by an appreciation for how much calmer life is not having to deal with traffic, travel disruption or micro stresses such as forgetting your charging cable and only having 4 percent battery by lunch time. 

Consequently, we made more time to connect, to replace the physical contact with virtual contact in the form of VC or a well-timed phone call. Work conversations are as much about checking in with how people are doing emotionally and mentally as they are about business. We have come to know a more personal side of each other now that a variety of pets, children and relatives can participate in meetings. And I would argue it’s really crystallised working relationships and given us a new appreciation for each other.

Precious health
The other side of the coin is that when we do meet in person or visit a site, it has to be productive: our health is precious and people are loath to make unnecessary trips. So, these visits become fruitful and more productive with an added bonus that we all have a greater knowledge and understanding of infection control and PPE. They also remind us how important human contact is: meeting in person is the new luxury and we feel all the better for it, taking time to appreciate the experience and not just rush through our day. There is a greater sense of camaraderie now .

The flow of work continues unabated, projects that were on hold have now been completed. New projects are underway with a new confidence now that we have not one but two effective vaccines close to deployment. The extra time we had to really work out all the details led to smoother installations on site. 

End users are now reimagining their workplaces, keen to leverage AV tech to facilitate a more remote working model that still allows individuals and teams to come together and collaborate in person when needed but without the pressure of marshalling thousands of people to one building each morning and sending them all home at the end of the day. 

Virtual and hybrid events seem here to stay, this has led to a new approach to in-house event and presentation system design. We’ve all become more savvy on how XR or VR can enhance a remote event and increase participant engagement. And Zoom Fatigue is now a thing!