Covid-19 and forever changes

April 9, 2020 on 9:32 am by Michael Grey | In News | No Comments

One of the more challenging jobs I’ve had in my life was trying to convince managers and employees at a big Canadian bank that work could be done anywhere. Remote work, distributed work, telework, mobile work; pick the jargon of choice but it really boiled down then, as it does now, that work could – and can – be done anywhere – not just at the company office.

Like the proverbial yeasty condiment, Marmite, the idea of mobile work (my preferred phrase) is both loved – and hated. Many employees love the freedom, increased productivity and removal of stressors like the drudge of commuting. Many more managers mistrust. Employees trusted enough to hire can be seen as pyjama-wearing slackers.

Now we’re in the middle of a pandemic and everyone from the Prime Minister to teachers and techies regularly complete a day’s – or night’s – work in their underwear. Of course, you can wear track pants, or nothing at all, as long as you sport a shirt with collar for your Skype, Zoom or FaceTime meeting. We can make anything work if we set our mind to it. Including, of course, mobile work.

I never dreamt of “pandemic” as a first-line change-enabler. But here we are. Gone: the queue-less grocery store entrance, the packed movie theatre, the humble house party – and the salad bar. Physical distancing and frequent 20-second hand-washing are the orders of the day.

I wonder if we’ll ever be the same?

We can think of changes of other big events in our history. In Canada in 1917, as a temporary measure to help finance the war, the federal government introduced the Income Tax War Act, covering both personal and corporate income. “I have placed no time limit upon this measure … a year or two after the war is over, the measure should be reviewed.” So said, Sir Thomas White, the Minister of Finance. We all know how temporary that change came to be.

After 9/11 the world was upended. Citizens were under increased government scrutiny – pretty much everywhere. And travelling, especially flying, lost most of its fun. Shoes off, belts off, legs spread, all routine and accepted parts of the modern travel experience.

When it comes to the piping world we can only guess what changes we can expect to see. And there will be changes.

With physical distancing sure to be a part of life for a long time to come it isn’t a stretch of the imagination to see our band formations transition to something featuring greater space. If we continue to perform in anti-audience backs-out circles then there will likely need to be larger rehearsal spaces. Now is a rare moment in time to introduce a performance approach that respects the audience. Some kind of suitably spaced crescent formation? Anything beats the current circle.

Band halls and rehearsal facilities will need to be larger to accommodate physical distancing. This might be the siren call to finally put parameters on maximum band size – just as we currently do with band minimums. As the grocery store today limits shoppers, so, too, the band hall may limit the number of band members; if not by local by-law then by the newly hyper-aware germaphobe pipebandsperson.

And everyone’s favourite, “massed bands” (where pipers and drummers squeeze cheek by jowl on a field to do their best to play in time)? We may have seen the last of it. Cue Leonard Cohen.

The handling and testing of reeds will need to be carefully managed. Gone are the days of passing around a bagpipe at a party. Though, to be fair, that practice of old was fading fast even before pandemic. Teachers and pipe majors will need to go carefully in how they set-up and test the tunefulness of any instrument. Will we see a bottle of sanitizer hanging from the pipe major’s sporran chain – right next to the sweaty, virus-magnet bar towel? Wait, The bar towel is gone (yay). It’s been replaced by a packet of sanitizing wipes.

While we seem to be making the most of technology to connect, perform, teach and even create the day will come – if it hasn’t already – where we appreciate face-to-face and in-person as the best way.

And so, in an ironic twist, the Covid-19 pandemic may mark the death nell of mobile work.

I’d like to think unlikely. Home is where the soap is.

Off to wash my hands. A hummed part one of “Minnie Hynd” repeated does the trick.

M.

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