The Year of Living Dangerously

It's been exactly one year since our lives changed. On March 10, 2020, Governor Charlie Baker declared a state of emergency for Massachusetts, changing the way many of us travel. On March 11, 2020, the World Health Organization declared COVID-19 a global pandemic, its first such designation since declaring H1N1 influenza a pandemic in 2009. On March 15, 2020, I flew to Minnesota and prepared my Rochester apartment for a lockdown. I said my goodbyes to colleagues on March 16 and flew back to Boston. We've run the Mayo Clinic Platform at a distance for the past year.

During the pandemic, those old enough to have overcome adversity have done better than the young and less experienced. As we age, we do what must be done, responding to the unexpected and gaining resilience. Consider how resilience has created many good things over the last 12 months.

What have we gained?

Despite our geographic distance, the Mayo Clinic Platform team has truly become a family. The differences between our personal lives and work lives have melted away because we live and work in a continuous stream, navigating each day's events to care for everyone who depends on us at Mayo, at home and in the external world. We've increased our productivity, agility, and pace, doing more each week than would have been physically possible in person. We've also recognized that it's possible to have too much of a good thing, so we have put guardrails on our schedules, including protected Saturdays. As conferences and presentations have become virtual, the number of opportunities for communication has markedly increased. Lost days due to travel are gone, and a one-hour keynote takes just one hour.

We've mastered new remote working technologies, streamlined processes and shortened turnaround times. We've changed the way we recruit and hire talent, reducing our dependence on geographic proximity. We've also created a cadence that begins each week with decision-making and goal clarity and then empowered Platform staff to do what must be done. As servant leaders, we're always available, but staff working remotely have more independence than working in an office. This has enhanced their self-reliance and confidence. We've also brought every deal, every product launch, and every project to completion on time. Finally, we've all stayed healthy, and none of us have experienced any health-related consequences of COVID.

But what have we lost?

As work moved virtual, we lost the "over the cubicle" effect. We don't have casual conversations by the coffee machine or when crossing the hall.  Humans are a social species. We're used to proximity and communication with facial expressions, posture and the handshakes/hugs that offer reassurance. Without that, virtual-only communications can lack context and create anxiety.

Since everyone is connected all the time, there is an expectation of instant response and same-day issue escalation. That forces multi-tasking because we're doing two jobs — the meeting in front of us and the hundreds of mini-meetings occurring in email, text and calls.

That multi-tasking and the focus required to use video-based work tools has caused extreme fatigue.  That fatigue can affect our mood. Societies throughout the world are experiencing an epidemic of depression during COVID. As part of the response to stress, alcohol sales have skyrocketed and that will have its long-term consequences.

We've also lost the ability to decompress, gather for spontaneous conversation, or spend hours immersed in a book in front of a fire. Our mobile devices have become an extension of our brains. Sometimes the best thing you can do is just be together without an agenda. It's what I call the gift of time.

I've described the five stages of COVID as isolation/PPE, testing/contact tracing, therapies/trials, vaccines/passports and transition to a new normal. My wardrobe is now complete with many different mask types. I have my contact tracing apps. I've co-chaired the collection of data for evaluating numerous therapies. I've received my vaccines and have a credential on my phone. That means it's time to transition to a new normal — thoughtfully and incrementally. I return to Rochester the first week of April, following Mayo's guidelines for masking, expected behaviors and Mayo Clinic work patterns. The Subaru I keep in Minnesota has a dead battery after a year of limited use. We'll fix that. I've used the platform to "rent" a parking space at the Courtyard by Marriott so I can keep the car at the airport for $4 per day, coming and going in alignment with evolving work patterns. I will need to restock my refrigerator since year-old pickles, peanut butter and pepperoncini do not make a balanced meal.   

I'm ready to restart the pattern of travel, resuming daily living activities in Minnesota and rebuilding what we lost during COVID while also holding the gains we made. I can honestly say that I have no regrets about our lives together over the past year. We did what needed to be done. We were strong but still admitted our vulnerabilities. We helped those around us on the journey and never made decisions based on self-interest. 

As we reflect on the past year, I think we can say that it changed our lives and made us more resilient for whatever comes next. This year will be one we tell our grandchildren about.

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