I’ve had my nose to the grindstone for the last several months, as have so many of you. My kids are home 24/7, and my husband and I are taking turns working in between preparing snacks, mediating disputes and building LEGO masterworks. It’s the new normal! (She says through gritted teeth.)
I have been fortunate during these past few months to be engaged in an internal communications project for a client that has involved interviewing dozens of people from a wide range of backgrounds about how they’re adapting to working from home and how they’re keeping their spirits up. I feel like an amateur sociologist, and it’s really helped me to see the creative ways people work to stay energized and focused and to hear about the little strategies they use to adapt to new circumstances. One of the biggest takeaways from all these conversations has been that how this pandemic affects you depends a lot on who you live with, or if you live with anyone. It’s also clear that it’s not easy for anyone.
The format of the project involves a short podcast in which the subject introduces him- or herself along with six standard questions that form the basis for a written interview. In each interview, I get to ask people about the adaptations they’ve made and lessons they’ve learned that they’ll take with them when they return to the office environment. The answers range from predictable to wildly unusual, and it has reminded me how much I love interviewing people. At heart, I’m fascinated by people, and the interview format gives me permission to ask people questions about the way they live their lives that you’d never ask a stranger otherwise.
One man I spoke to told me about how he’s pouring the energy he’d once dedicated to following his favorite professional sports teams into sumo (watching it, not doing it). Several said they like to unwind by doing complex, 1,000-piece puzzles, so I tried it, too. One woman said she maintained her sense of community by shopping at farmers markets and food co-ops in her island community. Short stories about the farmers posted next to their offerings give her a sense of connection to the people she’s supporting. A family of musicians are holding nightly jam sessions with a 10 year old on the clarinet, dad on the ukulele and mom on an accordion:
“When we play together, it’s kind of terrible and the dog whines to be let out. But (it) usually end in fits of laughter. It’s been really cool.”
There were also heartbreakingly honest words from a middle-aged single guy, a self-described introvert who said he was born to social distance, but also expressed worry about how easy and comfortable it all felt:
“I am perfectly content to be at home by myself doing my thing and not interacting with others, but I can unfortunately take it to an unhealthy level where I turn into a hermit.”
Many told me they were surprised to discover that most of the travel they’d convinced themselves was necessary to do their jobs was not. Almost all loved working from home and hoped to be able to continue doing it at least some of the time.
One of the ancillary benefits of this project is that it gave me a chance to dabble in podcasting. I have always been a huge fan of public radio and of podcasts, so it was a thrill to produce my own. Initial results were fairly rudimentary, but I loved the heck out of it anyway, so I signed up for a class through the University of California Berkeley’s Advanced Media Institute this summer to polish up my production skills, and I’ve now got a list of 67 new podcast ideas and growing, daily. I haven’t seen a lot of companies producing podcasts for their internal audiences, but I think my client is on to something, particularly at a time when workers are separated from one another. Podcasts are helpful for building rapport because they invite the listener into an intimate relationship with the speaker. Emotional energy is conveyed through the voice in a way that is very hard to do in writing. For employers and managers willing to listen, the experiences of their employees can offer incredibly powerful insights into how this experience is changing them (and it is changing them) and how they will need to respond when we emerge on the other side of this.
For those who aren’t podcast listeners, or haven’t thought about it as a possible communications tool for their workplace, I thought I’d share a few stats about the medium. Most of this data comes from Edison Research, in the study entitled “The Infinite Dial 2020.”
- The percent of Americans who have listened to a podcast in the past month grew from 26% in 2018 to 37% in 2020
- Monthly podcast consumers are considerably wealthier and better educated than the U.S. population as a whole:
- 41% of monthly podcast consumers have an annual household income of more than $75,000 per year, compared to 29% of the population as a whole
- 53% of monthly podcast consumers hold bachelor’s or master’s degrees compared to 39% of the U.S. population as a whole
- 68 million Americans listen to podcasts on a weekly basis
- Weekly podcast listeners averaged six podcasts in the past week, and spent 6 hours and 39 minutes listening on average
- Monthly podcast consumers grew by 16% year-over-year, and topped 100 million Americans for the first time ever.
(The income and education figures above were gleaned from a separate report called “The Podcast Consumer,” also by Edison Research, in 2019. If you need more proof of the size of the podcasting audience and its value as an industry, consider that Edison Research no longer makes “The Podcast Consumer” available for free – its in-depth analysis comes at a cost of $40,000 per year!)
So here’s my self-promotional piece: Want to create a podcast? Let’s talk. Want to jabber about podcasts in general and tell me what you’re listening to? Please comment. I’m always on the lookout for great new shows. I’ll start by leaving a few of my current favorites in the comments.