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For some industry professionals, regular global travel has been an essential ingredient to successful business for years. With the pandemic grounding these working habits, we speak to Andy Lee, Datapath’s account manager for Eastern Europe, Africa, SAARC, CAS, Australasia and, up until very recently, the Middle East, discussing changes to work practices, the home desk dilemma and 10K times…

What’s your job title, and what did that typically involve prior to Covid?

Officially it is sales and account manager for several of Datapath’s key territories. Prior to lockdown this role would involve managing a large partner channel with plenty of long haul travel to the Middle East, South Africa, India, Central Asia and even Australia and New Zealand. This would be for customer visits and training, often combined with industry shows like InfoComm India and Integrate Expo.

Recently, due to our expansion, Datapath has appointed a local Sales Manager for the Middle East, so I have given up this region, but have gained some new territories including Eastern Europe and Turkey amongst others.

The obvious issue of the past 15 months is that we cannot visit current or potential new customers face-to-face. It has been relatively easy to carry on doing business, but it’s not the same. I, along with our customers, have had to adapt to ensure business and our great relationships are as strong as ever.

With travel restrictions, how are you managing to do business? What collaboration tech are you using (and any issues with it?)

My last specific work trip was in January 2020 to Kazakhstan, ISE followed close behind and then lockdown hit. Luckily, due to Datapath supplying many medical customers, we are categorized as an essential business and were allowed to continue to trade with most staff working from home, but with a skeleton staff keeping the operation moving onsite.

Zoom, Teams, WhatsApp and even the old favourite Skype have all been used in some shape or form, some more successfully than others I must say. These combined with a new Webcam and my headphones that I would usually take on a plane, have led to a decent standard of calls. The main issues are that all the different platforms seen to have different audio settings, or maybe that’s just me.

Biggest challenges to WFH?

Initially my home desk was my laptop on top of an IKEA 2×2 storage unit, not the greatest set-up in the world. This evolved to a small desk and then finally the current set up with a much larger desk (the relief when IKEA started shipping large items again was immense!) along with my record player linked to the Sonos system – an essential office item of course!

My children (three and five) being home was a challenge, but luckily, I got out of the home schooling and my wife took on that task. The bedroom office was usually out of bounds for them, though during the third lockdown, they did seem to become more confident and my son seemed to quite like getting his face on the group Teams call every week.

When do you think you’ll be back on a plane and what markets and territories are you expecting to open up sooner?

I’m looking forward to watching loads of movies and sleep! Seriously, due to the areas I look after being more long haul than short haul, it could well be Q4 or even 2022 before I fly to see my customers again. This is obviously fluid and could change. For example, India was battling very well against the Covid situation first time around and business was strong but recently, as you will have seen in the news, the situation is awful, and with lockdowns occurring, it is difficult to plan anything with them. Australasia is starting to pick up noticeably for us and hopefully, with their strict policies, we can see them continue to grow without too many issues.

What’s your proudest professional moment?

Developing the Middle East market for Datapath over the last six years from pretty much zero, to an excellent level, sufficient to now sustain my new colleague Steve Simpson managing the region locally, rather than me travelling to it.

I was involved in some fantastic projects in the Middle East, and it culminated in February 2019 where both Datapath and our distribution partner Mindstec won coveted industry awards.

How are you spending time away from work?

We have visited a LOT of parks with the kids and my shark impression (my kids are into pirates currently) is wearing a bit thin now! Without being able to play football due to the restrictions, I have begun to run four or five times a week.

That’s proving popular with many in AV circles, tell us more about that…

I used to run very rarely, discounting it when people said I should. Once lockdown kicked in, I got proper running shoes, set up Strava on my Apple Watch and took it quite seriously! It’s pretty addictive once you start and I have managed to get my 10k PB down from 55 to just over 45 minutes in about twelve months.

My latest running gadget is the Powerbeats headphones from Apple (highly recommended), which also help with wireless phone calls during work hours!

Something people don’t know about you?

I once abseiled down the side of Fort Dunlop, next to the M6 in Birmingham, to raise money for Birmingham Children’s hospital.