A Bright Outlook on These Dark Times

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I’ve decided to do text-based posts that run parallel in subject matter to the new podcast. Not an exact transcript necessarily, but pretty close. This is the first.

We know a lot about this situation (living under the weight of a pandemic) is dark times. It’s on the news and our social media feeds every blinking day. But for this episode I’d like to talk about something that isn’t covered so much these days, and that’s the good things that have come out of this situation.

For us in the entertainment industry, and a lot of people in other industries, telework or working from home, has been possible in large measure for almost 40 years, so why have most employers consistently claimed it was impossible, that it would cost more, or that it was less efficient? The fact is, many jobs, including screenwriting, video editing, and nearly every job in animation, have made the switch over the last couple of weeks and from what I’ve heard from several friends (after the initial bump of figuring out a new workflow) it’s going very smoothly so far.

In most cases, the only reason employers insist on forcing employees to be where they can walk up and touch them at all times is really because they don’t trust their employees. Those, in many cases, are the companies that are currently laying off employees rather than letting them telework and trusting that they’re using their time as efficiently as they would at an office. From personal experience, I can tell you that I actually work harder and more efficiently at home than I do at an office. There are even studies out there proving that teleworkers are more productive and efficient, more physically healthy, and happier than their office-bound counterparts. Hopefully the good of more entertainment workers being transitioned to telework during the pandemic will create some permanent changes in how we do business in the future. At the very least, wouldn’t it be great if we didn’t all have to cram ourselves into Los Angeles just to work in jobs that we can easily do from anywhere in the world, just like many of us are doing right now?

Another real positive, at least early on before the shelter in place order, was that sick leave was not considered shameful. People were, for once, so scared of illness (or at least of a new social pressure) that sick employees were sent home with sick pay until they were well. That’s what’s supposed to happen, but it’s the first time I’ve ever seen in happen, especially in this industry where everyone is bullied into coming to work no matter how sick they are and no matter how much getting coworkers sick will slow down productivity in the long run.

The same thing is happening in schools and universities. Thousands of classes that claimed they had to be in person are finally admitting that all of the learning and the work can be done online. Now, granted this isn’t the case for hands-on classes like clinical portions of nursing programs or certain physical production classes, but the vast majority of subjects can and should be available as online options – and now they are – at least for a while.

There are also some really basic behaviors out in the world at large that everyone ideally should have been doing before the quarantine that they are now doing, and they’re awesome. For example, washing your hands. It always seemed so weird to me that most people never wash their hands before they eat food, and a lot don’t even wash their hands after going to the bathroom. If even a small number of people like that are being convinced to have better habits because of this, I definitely put that in the win column.

Here’s another great example. Nearly every airline just installed HEPA filters in the air circulation systems inside airplanes so that germs and bacteria get filtered out of the air in a plane full of a couple hundred people. How insane is it that they weren’t already doing this? I’m hoping they’ll keep it up even after this is over because it would keep passengers so much healthier in the future.

Then there’s gas stations. Have you noticed how now, especially at Costco gas stations, they have attendants come and sanitize the pump handles and payment panel after each customer. What a great idea, right? Think how many thousands of people touch those surfaces every week and before now, you were getting all their contaminants on your hands too.

One truly amazing thing that’s happened as a result of this is that homelessness is being taken seriously. It’s always been an emergency, especially in big cities like Los Angeles, but this is the first time I’ve ever seen it treated like one. There’s emergency housing being made available, tons of mobile laundry units, showering and hand-washing stations, and even more mobile medical clinics.

There are also expansions for unemployment benefits and changes in policies surrounding housing and loan payments during the emergency that, possibly, could lead to realizations about how flawed the current system is – hopefully leading to the drafting of some new laws.

Finally, there’s the fact that this pandemic has increased awareness for healthcare issues being talked about by at least one presidential candidate, namely plans like lowering prescription prices, making the U.S. self-sufficient for certain drug and medical supply manufacturing, and Medicare for all – the term used to describe a government subsidized healthcare plan ensuring that everyone in the country has free or low-cost healthcare regardless of their economic status.

If the only permanent policy change to come out of this disaster is the adoption of policies guaranteeing affordable high-quality healthcare for every American, then it’s possible that we can prevent or significantly decrease the effects of the next global pandemic. And, given that a lot about the way this disease came about and spread was helped along by the effects of climate change and drastic global income inequality, there will absolutely be a next time.

But my point is this. As with every war, every disaster, every mass need in history, there are a lot of positive outcomes in addition to the many hardships that result from them. The trick will be making sure we keep track of all the good ideas and practices we’re coming up with now, and ensuring that they don’t just disappear and get forgotten once this particular emergency starts to become more manageable. The same old same old is what got us here, so if we can make a few of these lifestyle, workflow, and policy changes last, it’ll make for a brighter future both within the entertainment industry and for our everyday lives.

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