By Jill NAgy
The COVID-19 pandemic has changed the dynamics of how offices run and how business meetings are held as companies work to meet health and safety standards.
“Everyone’s jumping on the Zoom,” said Rose Miller, head of Pinnacle Human Resources, an Albany company with an office in Saratoga Springs. Miller is quick to praise Zoom and other remote communication methods, but added, “We’re all looking forward to meeting face-to-face again.”
Saratoga attorney Debra Verni of Herzog Law has been presenting “webinars” on a regular basis covering such topics as “What To Do When A Loved One Dies,” “How Not To Pay For Services,” wills versus trusts, and “Aging in Place.” She has also mastered the complicated new rules for witnessing and notarizing documents remotely. Now she no longer has to meet with clients in a parking lot or back porch to have them execute documents.
“There were a few glitches in the beginning,” she said, but things are going smoothly now.
Patti Gray Whann, owner of Glens Falls Area Realty, said the real estate industry “was way ahead” using online resources for at least 10 years. In fact, one online source, Zillow, has revolutionized the industry.
“In the old days,” she said, “Realtors had the book,” which contained all the information on real estate listings. Clients had to come into the office to look at listings. Now, “Zillow took all the information we had and put it on the internet.”
COVID restrictions prevent real estate agents from attending closings, inspections, and other steps in the purchase and sale process. But transactions can now take place remotely. Also, mandatory continuing education courses are all online this year.
Tim Halliday, a Malta businessman and president of the Malta Business Association, said the current situation “put us three to five years ahead of where we would be anyway.”
He said the trend toward remote communication will continue in the future. He participates in meetings a couple of times a week and routinely sends documents electronically. Fewer people attend online networking meetings and seminars than previously attended face-to-face meetings, but the meetings are often lively and Halliday finds that people send business to one another, often people who never met in person.
“Frankly, I hate it,” he said, “I like people and for a sales person not to be able to shake hands is awful.”
Compared to other types of remote communication like telephone or email, media like Zoom retain some facial expressions, but it is hard to collaborate or do anything creative, Halliday said. While he finds it “incredibly useful,” he feels that it is a “huge disservice to the consumer” when they can’t go through documents in person.
He is more positive about working from home. He and many of his colleagues like working at home for several reasons, not the least of which is avoiding commuting time.
“There are a boatload of roles that worked perfectly” for working from home, Miller said. It places more emphasis on what gets accomplished and less on the number of hours worked.
Amanda Blanton, a spokesperson for the Adirondack Regional Chamber of Commerce, said as people are allowed to meet in person safely, the organization will go back to that. In the meantime, the Chamber is using the Zoom platform for educational events and meetings
“It’s working out pretty well,” she said, but most people would rather meet in person. The chamber’s staff returned to the office in mid-June.
Whann has a daughter in Seattle and has been guiding her, via technology, through the process of purchasing her first home. She began her search, as so many people do, with Zillow. Then, at her mother’s urging, the daughter drove by properties she thought might interest her. “
But pictures did not tell the full story, her daughter discovered in one case. The picture did not show the noisy nearby bus stop or the city park that has become a campground. The online research “is just the start of the journey,” Whann.
For one client of Whann’s, everything was done remotely.
Miller said she misses visual social cues. In addition, “looking at a screen has its own limitations” and can cause eye strain and back strain, among other problems.
Also, she said employers can catch a glimpse on Zoom of how people work from home. “There are lots of things going on in the background” like dogs and children wandering by. Overall, though, she said “We’re rolling with it.”
Many online events she has seen were carried out poorly, Miller said.
“You have to rethink the entire thing,” she said. Events should be more interactive and include some “fun” things. There should be colorful and engaging visuals. In other words, things to draw in the participants.
“Think of the audience,” she said, and what it is a meeting needs to deliver.
By Jill NAgy