One year, big changes

This past Friday I hosted a one-year reunion of the Virtual Happy Hour group I started this time last year. We met weekly at 4pm on Fridays for 16 weeks during 2020. I dissolved the sessions in July because I thought they had served their initial purpose – to check in with a global group of folks on how they were adapting, share some laughter and connection, and allow us to learn and play early on with virtual tools which have become so important this past year.

So with a spirit of curiosity, I invited the gang back to check in. We had about 30 in our group, but at different given weeks we usually had 9-12 folks join in. It was the same for the reunion, but with numerous others sending updates since they couldn’t make the scheduled time. While I’d like to acknowledge it’s been a tough year for many – with isolation wearing thin, layoffs, industries shutting down and health concerns, what really shone through with our reunited group was RESILIENCE, and for the most part a positive year. It was heartwarming to hear how people had adapted and used their time. I think it can best be summed up as a period of intense creativity, new beginnings, and growth through learning. 

Intense creativity

After having his first book tour in Canada and the US cut short, and returning to New Zealand, architect and university lecturer Guy Marriage (and my former NZ flat mate in my 20s) wrote his second book, sequestered in his beachside batch. He was celebrating having just sent the manuscript off to the publisher on our call. Check out his first book, TALL The Design and Construction of High-Rise Architecture

Traci Brown, a body language expert in Colorado, saw her face to face speaking engagements dry up overnight last year, so while she was adapting to virtual delivery she also started a podcast and filmed a TV pilot called “Truth Lies and Cover Ups” which is being pitched to Hollywood, A&E and Netflix. (As a side, I was a guest at her online premiere, and it’s friggin awesome! Watch the trailer here.

Susan Jarema created “The Grand Connection” a virtual networking group that now spans the globe. Boasting 1,000 members with 100+ attending bi-monthly meetings and masterminds, she has filled a niche beautifully – uniting individuals and other joint venture networking groups. It was the right time and place for her.  As a side, I spoke for the group in November, and helped connect Susan to a stellar line up for this year, which I’m thrilled to be associated with for a return talk in November 2021.

Barb Cameron, a digital consultant with Colliers Real Estate by day, but a travel and food photographer by passion and purpose has been shortlisted out of 10,000 entries for the prestigious Pink Lady Food Photographer contest. The photos are still under wraps, but here’s a link to the contest site Barb noted that although she initially crawled into a Covid cave, she rallied towards her passions. She’s planned an Artic road trip in a VW Van this August/Sept to reignite her love for travel photography.

New Beginnings

Travel podcaster and adventure travel writer Kit Parks of, had all her trips abroad cancelled by Covid. She took this time to take stock of life, and realized she needed to rid herself of attachment to an owned house and trailer park rental business in North Carolina, that often proved a hassle with tenants, despite the positive income generation while she was traveling abroad. So she sold both. The business went in the summer and her house in the fall. With her edited down possessions safely stored away for eventually settling down somewhere, she is now venturing around the US in “Sofie”, her converted Mercedes camper van. She plans to head to Europe in the fall, provided borders open up.

Denise Kelly, a franchise consultant for A&W Canada and Dogtopia saw her contracts released or downsized, and took the opportunity to restructure her life untethered to location. She and her husband, who can work remotely, sold their North Vancouver home (likely at the peak!) and have moved up the Sunshine coast, oceanside.

While many of us have added some pounds (they don’t call it Covid +19 for nothing), Sheena Capozzi and her husband over in Spain lost weight during the pandemic. Collectively over 190lbs between the two of them. With their socializing shut down, it became an opportunity to cut out alcohol and all its empty calories, and instead spend their time eating well and walking – her husband now being up to 8 miles/day.

Kim Little, a Canadian realtor had her best year ever in 2020, working in a completely new region up the Sunshine Coast, which happens to have exploded with demand. With one foot still in the city, she is increasingly drawn to her new ocean front life up the coast.

Annique Boelryk, formerly a prof and head of instructional design at Georgian College in Ontario retired in December. She took early retirement, citing her already compromised health situation, and decided life was too short to make the shifts being asked of post-secondary instructors. She is now enjoying new found freedom, looks forward to gardening once the snow clears, and traveling with her husband once the borders open up.

It wasn’t just professional growth and learning that dominated conversation though. Many noted on the call, and in private emails new activities they took up (XC skiing, baking, gardening, surfing) for example, and how their new-found passions had re-energized their lives. In fact I’ll count myself among them. I fell in love with Vancouver all over again this winter, regularly skiing our local mountains – both alpine and XC, much like I did when I first arrived here in my 20s.  With commuting gone, and business travel abroad shut down, it was re-energizing to play in my own backyard again. Likewise, when a cancelled US reservation allowed us to charter a 45’ Bavaria to cruise Desolation Sound in summer 2020, it was like revisiting our 20 & 30s again for my husband and I, joining friends in an activity where we first met.

Growth through learning

Speakers David Gouthro, Traci Brown and myself included saw face to face speaking engagements dry up overnight last March. But over the last year many of us have shifted our delivery to the virtual environment. Often learning and growing together through the supportive groups of CAPS (Canadian Association of Professional Speakers) and NSA (National Speakers Association), as well as countless online support groups, we have all upped our game with technology and studio gear that allow us to produce and deliver content we could have only dreamed of a year ago. For many of us, even after the return to face to face meetings, there will be a net gain with virtual business. For some, it may well shift to their primary model.

You’d think with the pandemic and its impact on travel, that Kulin Strimbu, the CEO of TIMA (Travel Industry Marketing Association) in the US would have had a challenging year. Indeed she did initially, but all signs are leading to resilience and future ballooning demand, which is what her team spent time preparing for this year. The shifts required and learning was intense to keep her association members engaged and employed, but I’d like to think a little consulting advice from me helped her along the way!

University instructors Andrea Eby, Guy Marriage, Halia Valladares and myself, saw classes switch to online learning this year. There has been incredible personal growth in not only learning new technology and adapting it for learning outcomes in the virtual classroom, but also seeing future opportunities and how Covid pushed education forward at least 10 years. It was a tough year on many instructors, and not all adapted well. But it may well lead to a healthy injection of new talent that embraces technology going forward, and have provided an exit door to those unwilling to adapt.

There are many other stories, and more yet to come I’m sure, as people find my email invitation and realize they missed the call.

What’s does it mean for marketers?

A lot I would say. While this is just a small sampling, it does represent some bigger themes in how life has shifted, and how values have changed for consumers on a larger level. But it also demonstrates I’m afraid, the deep division in how this pandemic played out across demographic and class structures. The picture has not been nearly as rosie for many in front line positions, service sectors, and the hospitality or travel industry.

I’m fascinated by trends and how all of this will play out. Will there be an audience for all the new material created? Will remote work continue, grow or be scaled back? Will educators roll the calendar back to 2019 entirely or see net gains in virtual learning? Will major shifts in lifestyle during the pandemic continue with no regrets? What about business travel – will it resume or be shifted forever? What about conferences and meetings – what adaptations might become permanent?

Unintentional consequences

But an even bigger concern as we navigate the next several years of business, will be the unintentional consequences of the pandemic – many of which will shape psychology and consumer behavior forever. Will we even have common colds and the flu season in the future due to new hygiene habits likely to become permanent? How does that impact over the counter pharmaceuticals in the category? Or how will a generation of children, at a critical age for socialization be forever impacted by the imprint of non-contact or hugs from anyone other than their parents? How has this last year shaped young adults, who should be maturing towards independence, but instead learning online at home, and removed from peers, have become increasingly dependent or stalled. What about the future of long-term care? You can bet the boomers who had to endure a year of not hugging a parent will NOT be choosing this route for themselves. Then there’s the work from home trend, and it’s impact on home space, as well as the design of urban centers and transit. How will all of that play out in real estate?

There will be many unintentional consequences of this pandemic – some positive and some negative. And for sure there will be opportunity amidst the changes, as it becomes evident what will remain permanent.

One thing I know for certain though, if we’re looking for 2019 this year or next, we won’t be finding it. That past is gone forever. Let’s embrace what is to come!

Mary Charleson

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