2020: A year like no other

January 12, 2021

SeleneSullivanby Selene Sullivan, CPA, 2020-21 OSCPA Board Chair

Wow! What a year 2020 has been. I could never have imagined the events that took place last year. When reflecting on the year, it has brought to mind a few things I have learned during COVID-19, the wildfires, and a polarized political environment.

This pandemic has brought a few things to the surface for consideration — first off, working from home full time. This is not the first we have seen of working from home, but it has certainly impacted businesses that never expected to be working from home. It has come with the challenges of finding an appropriate space to work, equipping the space to be efficient, and maintaining coworker interaction.

Creating workable workspaces
Like many people, my husband and I had to adjust and make changes in order to work from home. My husband is an auditor and used to working remotely at other locations — but not full time at home. This was a big adjustment. Fourteen steps up to the “office” isn’t quite the same as driving to Salem and Portland for work. We moved furniture around to make an office space that is for work only. We have also spent quite a bit making the office a comfortable workspace to be in every day. The right desk and chair make a big difference. The upside of not driving as much is, we have saved a lot of gas money!

Staying connected during WFH
Working from home also changes how we work and the way we interact with coworkers. There is a natural collaboration that happens when you are working on a project together in the same space. You can ask the quick question or bounce an idea off someone. When working on something new, there is someone close at hand to guide you through the process.

Effective virtual collaboration takes some patience and persistence. Chatting through Teams or Skype doesn’t give you the same feel as face-to-face interaction. It’s harder to pick up on a coworker’s well-being or mood. You can’t just pop into someone’s office or check in on them at the water cooler. We miss hearing about each other’s families and pets or trips.

Even introverts like my husband (and a few accountants I know) get some of their social time at the office. So, it’s important to use the technology not only for business tasking and collaboration, but also for creating intentional opportunities to connect with each other as human beings, friends, and colleagues.

Wildfires, straight-line winds, and community resilience
Last fall, Oregon experienced terrible devastation from natural disasters — wildfires and straight-line winds. The wildfires, in particular, hit close to home for me. I had clients displaced from their homes, and some of my own real estate was close to the fire line. Wildfires are a somewhat regular occurrence, but not to the extent that Oregonians experienced them last year. At times, it appeared as if the whole state was ablaze.

Our communities will be dealing with the aftermath of the wildfires for months and years to come. My family recently drove to our property up the McKenzie River and witnessed the devastation in our county. It was like driving though a war zone — smoking chimneys with no buildings to keep warm, cars and fences melted or burned in place. Just shells of the homes that were once there.

I saw our community come together to help our neighbors in a time of great need. The amount of goods that people donated was awesome. My husband and I worked with an organization to give out basic supplies — toothpaste, soap, deodorant, etc. It was humbling and inspiring. (And many of you helped in similar ways, both formally and informally, through CPA Season of Service & Giving. See page 11.) Despite any difference in beliefs or political viewpoints, we came together to help each other out.

Political polarization and the importance of listening
Our politics have been as polarized as I have ever seen. I know, historically, our nation has experienced similar political unrest, but 2020 stands out in my memory. I’m far from being an activist but voting and knowing what is going on in our nation is important to me. My clients and fellow accountants have widespread viewpoints and priorities when it come to politics. My daughter got involved in the political process for the first time. She is too young to vote but is vocal about her views and own sense of right and wrong. She and I have talked politics quite a lot this year. My advice to her is what I try to practice: People have different priorities based on their personal experiences. We all have our own pain or passion points based on our life experiences. We can learn a lot from each other if we really listen to each other’s ideas and concerns. Although we may not agree, that doesn’t make either one of us wrong, just different.

2020 has challenged me like no other year. The lessons were often tough for all of us as we were forced to adjust and change. Yet, I am motivated by the resiliency of Oregonians. You all continue to inspire me. How have your experiences over the last year shaped you and your business? Contact me at ChairSelene@orcpa.org.

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