Grid locked motorways, busy dual carriageways, the queue of brake lights in the town centre, car parks full to the brim and nowhere to park on the side streets. Sound familiar? Think back to two and a half years ago. How about now?
COVID-19, a term that haunts many people. A virus that’s changed peoples lives, a threat that’s changed the world forever. Life on the road during the pandemic was alien; the roads were ghostly, the shops were empty, the swings at the playground were still. People that were never previously allowed, now working from home, not because they wanted to, but because they HAD to.
Cars stocked up with gloves, masks, and anti-bacterial hand gel. Boot full of demo stock. Ready to complete that two and half hour, stop-start journey. Google maps throws up a mind-blowing hour and a half-estimated travel time. I have the right post code; I’ve double checked that with the customer. Zooming out on my phone shows the location is right and there’s no delays on the road. “Ha, brilliant!” on I go. The roads are scarily empty, as if driving on a chilly Christmas morning. The only few people you meet on the journey you nod, or wave to, as a sense of ‘We are in this together’.
I turn into the industrial estate, once overflowing with lorries, people running late to work, forklifts driving the wrong way down the road, and the old trusty breakfast van with a crowd of people around it. Today, it is overwhelmingly empty. A handful of lorries in the service yards, car parks are unoccupied bar a few key people essential to the running of the business, the forever illuminating sign on the breakfast van, no longer lit up.
I ring my contact. The reception is closed, there’s no one to man it. Gloved up, mask on, hands sanitised, temperature taken, covid-form handed in, lateral flow test completed, distance kept, I’m allowed on site. *Both go to shake hands but hesitate and pull away*. Never mind. Let’s go, demo time. It’s going well, the pitch is flowing, application knowledge is kicking in – but what are they thinking? All I can see is a pair of eyes gazing, listening, and computing everything I say. I can’t read their facial expressions. Combatting this, I instead throw in verbal queues to initiate a response. It works. The demo’s complete, the customer is happy, I’m happy. Business cards are no longer accepted as a form of sharing contact details. That’s fine, neither is cash an acceptable form of payment in some shops.
Turning up at the hotel, similar scenes, a number of cars you can count on one hand. Actually, mostly sign-written vans. So and so’s electrical, Mr’s plumbing services, Gas-R-Us. Key workers. People that had to be out on the road still, who didn’t have the luxury of being able to work from home or stay inside with their families. We had all heard about the risks, the potential consequences of catching COVID and what we had to do to best avoid it. Providing my name and a key worker letter to the receptionist, she checked me in. “The restaurant is closed due to the coronavirus, there are food delivery apps you can use to get dinner, or you could go to the petrol station.”. The hotel key was sanitised in front of my eyes and placed on the desk in front of me. I grabbed it and made my way up into my sanitised room.
An hour and a half after ordering my spaghetti and meatballs I get a call. “I’m here with your food, come out to collect it.”. Off I go, downstairs, through the reception and outside to collect my food. The delivery drivers aren’t allowed to come into the reception due to the hotel’s policy on the coronavirus, but I’m allowed to go outside, get the food from them, and bring it back in. In the bag I find a plastic fork, a napkin and underneath that a cardboard box with droplets of condensation on the outside, filled with slightly warm spaghetti meatballs. Bon Appetit.
Honestly, this was better than the Eat Out To Help Out scheme that came later. Suddenly, the restaurants were fully booked with people from all over the place and from a range of different backgrounds. There were no free tables for the hotel guests, most of which were still key workers at this point. The only way to secure a table was if you knew exactly where you were going to be and booked a table weeks in advance.
Waking up the next day and it’s the same thing. Arrive at your customer; masked up, gloved up, social distancing in play, friendly handshake now superseded by a nod. That’s until we managed to take some time out to create a virtual demo station. Utilising a range of different cameras, light boxes, HDMI switchers and the brilliant software we’ve all come to know and love so well, TEAMS. Fantastic, we could then demo our equipment right from the office to anywhere in the world and have done it over and over again!
It's 2021 (Nearly 2022… How?!) we’re living with the coronavirus, the vaccine program has been rolled out, people are getting boosters, lateral flow tests allow for quick and easy indication of a positive or negative result, the country is opening up, people are meeting face-to-face, we’re all socialising again more, trade shows are going ahead, and we can now all breathe again!
Oh and the traffic… that’s back too.