Our panel of AV business owners and tech leaders discuss what they are facing in the age of coronavirus
The changes the coronavirus pandemic is effecting across all aspects of everyday life can not be understated. With everything from international travel bans to the implementation of more drastic measures — such as the closure of restaurants to dine-in customers instituted in Chicago and the closure until further notice of all movie theaters, gyms, bars and restaurants in New York, New Jersey and Connecticut — the mounting fear of an unknown future is a collective and global reality. How do we talk about what is happening without coming off as panicked or hyperbolic? How do we talk about what is happening within our industry without sounding alarmist or even worse, contrary?
Last week Friday, AVNation’s TV Tim Albright, host of the AVWeek podcast, sat down with QSC’s Cory Schaeffer, Luke Jordan of Electric Acoustics, Director of USC’s Learning Environments Joe Way, and our own Matt Scott of Canada’s Omega Audio Video for a candid conversation about what they are facing as AV business owners and leaders in the age of the coronavirus.
As major AV industry events are cancelled or postponed, where do we go from here? Schaeffer outlines just how serious these event cancellations are, stating, “When you postpone a show like NAB — there are contracts that are negotiated well ahead of time, so picking the venue, having the hotel space, etc. — that, just the postponement and trying to push and have it be a moving target is incredibly challenging.”
Schaffer adds, “When you talk about the end-users … Google cancelled two events that we at our company were participating in: Google Next, which is their user conference, and a partner summit they were hosting as well. The can is just getting kicked down. The ripple effect, the economic impact, I’ve never experienced anything like this in my lifetime.”
Fortune 500 companies have been pulling back and allowing employees to work from home, something that is being advocated more each day as the coronavirus infection rate continues to rise. But what about those for whom this is not an option, such as systems engineers and AV techs? And, with the closure of schools and universities, what does it mean for the tech departments that keep those schools humming?
“These are uncharted territories,” says Way. “There’s academic integrity issues going on; what happens with your classes. You’ve got coursework that’s not designed to be delivered online, research courses, Phd theses — there’s a lot of things that get impacted. Nowadays, we are aware we can teach online because those courses are designed to taught online. We’re now taking an entire university that’s not set up for that to say, ‘OK, now have a new learning experience.’ You have students who now have to learn in new ways and show up, who’ve we now be told not to show up. What does that mean and how do you serve them, especially those who say can’t afford their own laptop to do this.”
USC’s network has miraculously held up beyond all reasonable expectations, but beyond what will happen to students (and employees) who do not have access to the University’s strong network there is the emotional toll on the young university population, with Way noting, “The biggest issue we have is the youth, who don’t know how to handle something like this. They don’t know what this means. They’re afraid.”
AV techs, too, are facing special circumstances. Jordon outlines his own staff experience when his team had to decide whether they would continue with a school job planned for spring break. His team decided to go ahead with the job, leaning into taking all of the appropriate and recommended precautions provided by the CDC. But what if one of them were to say no? It’s complicated conversation, Jordon admits, but he goes on to highlight ways he would try to respect that decision while ensuring that his business still functions, including reassigning the employee to a different, perhaps, in-house job.
In the current circumstances, it is unfathomable to think that we will get pass this coronavirus crisis only to have to face it again in the fall — something some news outlets have openly discussed as a possibility. With so many of our industry events pushed back to later this year, how do we manage this uncertainty? How, too, do we manage the loss of planned for integration jobs that are no longer available?
“I think you have to essentially handle it day by day,” says Scott. “There is some forethought you can give to it and some pre-planning that can happen. But, I’ve never seen anything like this. This is nuts. From our standpoint, we’re a smaller team than Luke, and we’ve got people that are already remote, so they’re not really affected directly with us, but we’re seeing, even on the residential systems side, clients say, ‘We can push this off.’ We also have clients that say, ‘You must be free now, so let’s hop on by.’ Our corporate clients are dealing with the exact same issues we are. Normally, most of our team comes into the office. We now need to pivot to let them stay home if they need to. We need to have solutions so that if they to quarantine — we have a couple of clients going through that right now — can they be an active participant in their work life? And, how can you help us do that? We are having to look at that as well as how much do we want to be in someone else’s office. In theory, you know who’s in your office.”
Scott later adds, “If the majority of the economy slows to a halt and work stops getting done, I’m ok with it if we don’t have to hit the point of Italy. If we hit the point of Italy…”
And, three days after this conversation, some states in the U.S. very well might have hit near shutdown. But is there a silver lining, business-wise, in all of this? The entire panel agrees that now might be a very good time to take care of in-house business, such as inventory taking, that is often pushed off in favor of priority paid client projects.
Albright encourages all of us to do one thing that can help beyond just thinking AV: be cognizant of where we have been. The news that an attendee at the recent CEDIA Tech Summit in Fort Lauderdale was diagnosed with COVID-19 after the event, underscores this. It matters that we take care to be honest about our travels and that we take measures to ensure that we are being safe for ourselves as well as for those around us.