Jan 12, 2021
By Sean Bernard
Last year was like none other and one that we all hope never to endure again. The impact on our personal and professional lives has been dramatic, simultaneously universal and unique to each of us.
We have all heard about and experienced the heartache of not spending time with and not celebrating milestones with our extended families, not being able to take those planned vacations, and having to deal with the stresses and challenges of virtual learning with our kids. On the professional side, if you didn’t realize that our industry is very social before, we all understand that now. From cancelled industry events (golf tournaments, EFC conference and tradeshows, etc.) to the lack of in-person sales calls/planning sessions with customers, we have all had to adjust to a new way of advancing our business.
With all that said, when you remove the negatives and look for positives that have come from this pandemic, you can find them. Here are four highlights.
1. New and creative ways to reach customers
One of the most dominant changes was a move to virtual meetings. While not the same as in-person, many people made this shift fairly seamlessly. With the exception of what will be known as the phrase of 2020 — “You’re on mute!” — virtual meetings got better and better as the pandemic roared on. This allowed us to maintain some semblance of personal interaction and led to interesting conversations when kids, pets and spouses got involved, or conversations turned to interesting objects hanging on the walls of our home offices.
Industry members also got very creative with their customer interactions. Notably, some held interactive virtual customer events by sending out “care packages” prior to the event so that the group could partake in an activity. As well, many virtual tradeshows were very impressive in their complexity and effectiveness.
In a number of ways, these virtual meetings were a saviour of our sanity.
2. IT investments/improvements
While the tradeshows and virtual events mentioned earlier fall into this category as well, another of the big steps forward that we saw in 2020 was investment in IT. The shift from in-person to virtual meetings and sales calls required a serious review of current IT capabilities. From hardware to software, IT infrastructure suddenly became a top line priority to many companies within our industry.
In speaking with a senior executive in our industry about this topic, he said “We were forced to take all of the IT investments that we had been talking about for the last five years and implemented them in five days.” The complexity of this evolution is impressive, and while none of this happened without its challenges, the industry as a whole adapted well.
3. Opportunity to extend our reach
As National Chairman of EFC’s Young Professionals Network, I along with our amazing committee members had great plans for events across the country this year. This changed when the pandemic hit. Fortunately, along came EFC’s amazing support team with creative ideas for overcoming this obstacle. With the leadership and input from everyone on the committee, we put together our very first national event, the “High Five to the YPN,” which drew attendees from coast to coast.
This event celebrated our five-year anniversary by bringing back and honouring our founders, Jason Prevost of Leviton Canada and Swati Patel of EFC. We incorporated an interview portion where I was fortunate enough to pick the brains of these two amazing industry leaders, followed by breakout rooms where attendees held discussions and shared their thoughts on topics ranging from adapting to work from home to the future of the industry. It was a great event that we were all very proud of. Had the pandemic not come along, I’m not sure we would have even considered doing it virtually, but with the resulting national participation I’m glad we did.
4. Less time on the road = more time at home
The biggest positive of this pandemic would be all the time that we got spend at home with our families. Last week, I participated in an annual holiday gathering with some of our industry’s most respected and experienced executives, which went virtual for the first time. Personally, this is an evening that I look forward to every year as the stories that are told, the new relationships that are formed, and the many laughs that are shared are what make this industry so unique and incredible. A key theme in participants’ comments was gratitude for the extra time at home with their families. While I spend more than a few nights in hotels and plenty of time in the air for my role, my typical travel year is nowhere close to what some of our industry leaders face year in and year out. The stories of getting to spend time with new grandkids, sharing new experiences with family members at the cottage, and generally just being home really put things in perspective. This year will leave us with many memories we won’t want to forget.
Looking back at 2020, it will be universally remembered as a time full of concern, fear and change. However, positives are not hard to find. We are all looking forward to a return to normal sometime in 2021 and getting to see our extended family and industry friends again.
Sean Bernard is National Sales Manager for Ideal Industries (Canada), Corp. and National Chair of EFC’s Young Professionals Network.