Well, that escalated quickly.
I had to go back to my emails to trace when we started getting more “official” thoughts and perspective from leadership here at Root regarding the current COVID-19 crisis. From what I could find, the first mention was February 28, but that was more geared toward our travelers. Then, on March 10, I was asked to join a task force to make plans to address the issue in the event that we might have to significantly change how we go about running our business. Why was I asked? Because my team is responsible for all the printing operations at Root, using large printing and production equipment (think the size of living room furniture, but way less comfy). Those machines aren’t really movable so we can’t exactly “work from home.”
One week later, on March 17, our office was effectively closed and everyone has been working from home ever since. Woah. And uh-oh. Then this thing just kept getting crazier and crazier. Thoughts from my team sorta went like this:
“Maybe this will only last a couple weeks. It will only last a couple weeks, right?”
“Wait, this is now affecting that too? Oh crap, we never considered that might be a factor!”
“This is starting to look like it could be a while.”
“Things are definitely going to be different from now on.”
I was having a lot more conversations about mental and emotional states than ever before. What I was fascinated to see, though, was that folks went from feeling convinced they would be out of a job to realizing that instead of spending time worrying about things they can’t control, they could (and should) focus on the things they can!
Now What Do We Do?
At Root, a cornerstone of what we do is based on bringing people together, literally and figuratively, to talk thru business challenges. We use creative approaches and solutions as a vehicle to fuel critical conversations. My team is responsible for producing and supplying the physical/printed form of the deliverables that are part of the solution. In the early days at Root, our final deliverables were solely in physical form, but over the years we’ve added a ton of digital experiences, such as virtual Learning Map® experiences, workshops, conferences, film and animation, as well as other strengths like ethnographic insights and manager development programs.
But obviously for my team, the overriding concern is what happens when no one is getting together in person anymore, where you might use the bulk of what we’re producing? As we all know, the standard answer now is, “let’s just go digital!” Problem solved! Right? As Dr. Phil might ask, “how’s that working out for you?”
So let’s spend a minute thinking about this whole 100% digital world. For me, I can say that even though I’m fairly tech savvy, I’ve still learned how to do a lot of cool things digitally that I never really had to do before. I’ve gotten a lot more adept at things like WebEx and VPNs and video chats and file sharing. Man, there’s some amazing s**t out there, isn’t there? But even with all that, it’s just not the same, is it? As much as I appreciate the new tricks I’ve learned and the opportunities I never knew existed before this, I’m really, really longing for the in-person, human interaction again. My guess is, we all are. I’m also finding that my home office (kitchen table) is filled with tons of sticky notes, pens, and paper because my laptop alone just doesn’t cut it for me.
Don’t get me wrong, digital definitely has its place and some of the things you can do with digital, are downright amazing! But as we always say at Root, “It’s not the or, it’s the and.” And you know what? There’s some good research out there that suggests that a blended approach to learning is usually best. Not the or, the and. While we’ve been doing this for a while at Root, I’m not sure I and my team have fully appreciated the power of this concept.
People Still Like Paper!
How do I know this? Well, early on in this COVID thing, I was talking with Ashley, one of my team members, about what sort of an effect it might have on our part of the business. In the course of the conversation, we started thinking about how we might pair printed materials with our digital offerings.
We started to pick up steam in our brainstorm. Ashley considered her own preferences of having physical materials in front of her for reading, as a reference, taking notes, etc., as opposed to learning solely on a computer. She assumed she was not alone in that preference, so we went in search of facts to back it up. Spoiler alert: she’s not. What we found in short order were a couple of separate but similar studies conducted for both the United States and Canadian Postal Services. Now while these studies were primarily focused on advertising, they did find differences in the way our brains process the two formats. Here’s a summary of the results prepared by the Postal Service Office of Inspector General (OIG), who commissioned the study – the “x” indicates the medium that performed better:
The writer of the article summed it up nicely:
“Science clearly shows paper can be more impactful and memorable than digital. Digital, meanwhile, offers its own huge advantages, including instantaneous access, localization, powerful personalization and targeting, audio and video, and more.
Marketers should take advantage of the unique properties of both paper and digital.”
So, what are we learning from all of this (I’m consciously using the present tense, as we’re definitely still in the middle of this, with a long way to go)? A lot, actually – about our team, about our business, and about being humans in general. And definitely a ton about how we can be agile and relevant and really push our creativity and innovative thinking when we must.
Printed, Physical Materials Won’t Disappear – It’s an Evolution, Not an End
Here’s how I would break it down, with pop culture references to help with retention:
Don’t You Forget About Me
There has definitely been a lot of concern from members of my team, specifically about maintaining relevance. For years, we in the printing industry have heard that print is dead, and that was before this pandemic. Could this be the final straw? I certainly hope not, and I don’t think so. I kindly reference the brilliant words of Mark Twain, in a cable he sent from London to the press in the United States after his obituary had been mistakenly published: “The reports of my death are greatly exaggerated.”
It is my feeling that these things tend to be cyclical in nature and the old adage of everything old is new again will prevail. After too long, people will get oversaturated with digital and will want the comfort and touch and feel of paper. And then vice-versa. Hence the merits of a blended approach. And by the way, I fully admit that I didn’t appreciate the role that digital played in our business and its ability to open up a world of possibilities to our clients. Full disclosure: I wish we had thought about this blending concept before COVID, but necessity is the mother of invention and so here we are!
Listen to Ross from Friends and PIVAT!!!**
Be agile, flexible, and ready to change course at a moment’s notice. And don’t wait around for someone else to save you. Do what you can to control your own destiny! You might not feel very essential now, but there’s a good chance you will be called upon later. What can you do now to make sure you’re ready for when that opportunity presents itself?
**I know it’s spelled with an “o,” but if you’re familiar with the episode, you know that his exaggerated pronunciation of the word makes the comedy of the scene!
Let’s Stay Together
Al Green knows what’s up. Remember when we all took for granted the simple act of being together in larger groups and enjoying the comradery and conversation that goes with it? They say absence makes the heart grow fonder, and I think we are all much more keenly aware of the mental and emotional benefits of in-person human interaction. I think most of us believe in its power so much that it’s not a matter of if, but when. To that end, we are also working on ways to make in-person experiences COVID-friendly for when that time comes. That will be an awesome day, won’t it?
Until then, stay healthy and safe and we’ll promise to work with you to help find the right approach for your business. My gut says it probably won’t all be digital. Either way, we’re ready to PIVAT!