Coronavirus Q&A: Jessica Owens

You’ve heard from our leaders, now hear from our team

About the Coronavirus Q&A Series

When the COVID-19 crisis reached us in Gainesville, our instinct was to publish a leadership article about the pandemic. But the truth is, we’re in the same position as everybody else. We’re not medical professionals or global leaders. It’s not our place to tell you how to respond to lockdown measures or how to create a work-from-home routine. We’re a branding agency with clients and a team to protect. And right now, our team is understandably on edge. In just a few days, many of us have seen our partners and friends lose their jobs. Our streets are lined with restaurants and bars that are now closed. Given the enormity of these changes, we decided the most appropriate action was to give everyone at Parisleaf a voice, a creative outlet, an acknowledgment of their feelings, a safety valve for fear, and a record of our agency as we overcome our biggest challenge to date. This is the most honest action we knew how to take. During this eight-part series, you’ll hear from Parisleaf employees on how they’re coping with the ongoing pandemic, both at work and in life, and how they’re finding hope and gratitude during this time of unprecedented unknowns.

Jessica Owens – Executive Assistant
You were the influence for these Q&A articles. How does it feel to be asked about your experience? 

I’m glad to have this outlet. It feels like a lot of the content out there is directed toward business owners. I’m seeing posts about how to take care of employees or tips for remote working. But, there’s not a lot for people who are being impacted on a workforce level. I can’t be the only one who is feeling – not necessarily left out – but not represented. Leadership and advice articles are great, but I don’t think any of us are operating as normal right now. There are only so many ways that you can talk about working from home routines. 

On the other hand, when I see a personal article from somebody, discussing the things they’ve had to change, or being vulnerable and saying, “I tried this and it didn’t work”, or even asking for help, that’s what catches my eye. Just people being vulnerable because that’s what we all are right now. Everybody is going through the same stuff, and we need to know that we’re not alone with our experiences. I’m glad to have this opportunity to maybe make even one other person feel that way. 

At what moment did you realize that COVID-19 would affect you?

It’s hard to remember an exact moment. I think we’re living in a time when we’re flooded with news. It became real for me when I heard about the devastation in Italy. Knowing their healthcare infrastructure and how strong it is, it was scary to see how much they were suffering and the measures they were having to take. Then it reached Washington and it took off so fast from there. 

What’s the situation in Florida? 

We’re on “stay at home” orders. We’re staying at home, but we’re lucky to be able to get outside. There are people riding bikes (alone), roller skating (alone), and walking dogs (with their dogs). It’s also lovely to be in a city that’s big but small. It’s been really beautiful to see how everyone has come together to support the local businesses that make Gainesville what it is, and even seeing employers taking care of their employees even when it’s really not even financially feasible, just because they know it’s the right thing to do. In my apartment complex, I only knew a handful of people. In the last few weeks, I’ve probably met 15-20 people – from 6 feet away or more. I think everyone is craving human interaction, so we’re all making the effort to speak to each other. Everyone is waving hello and saying “hope you’re doing okay.” That’s a real positive that’s come out of it. 

How has this impacted your job?

Chad & Ali have been super great. They didn’t do anything behind a curtain. They kept us in the loop with everything, asked for our opinions, and made sure that we felt comfortable. Even before we started working from home, they made it clear that coming to the office was optional. They didn’t want us to have that anxiety about coming into the office for no reason. So that was really lovely. Then, after our regular Friday team lunch, we had a meeting back at the office. They told us we would all be working from home from Monday onwards. So much happened in a short period of time that it was pretty overwhelming. It didn’t really sink in. It took a couple more days after that before I finally settled in and realized, Oh, I’m working at home now, indefinitely. It was almost delayed acceptance. Tuesday was hard because I realized, Okay yeah, we have to make this work, all separately, and I won’t see the others again for a while

Has this changed the way you’re working with Chad? 

For sure. Chad and I realized that we are both having a super hard time reading each other without that in-person body language. We spend so much time across a desk from each other that there are so many little nuances that you just know, so I can look and tell, you’re listening. You’re thinking. You’re about to speak. Now so much of that is just gone. There’s energy that you’re not feeling even when you can see each other on Zoom. We ended up creating a document that’s pretty extensive that we use every morning to both get on the same page. We then do a midday check-in, and an end-of-the-day check-in. We’re keeping our expectations high, but we’re also being flexible and we realize that not every day is going to go the way it would if we were in the office, and that’s okay. 

How are you dealing with the volume of inbound messages, both from work and friends?

It’s hard because you can’t just tune out or unplug because of the climate. I tend to run a 7–8 on the anxiety scale at all times, so it would be more detrimental for me to not have that access if I tried to shut it off. I need to feel like my family and friends can contact me. My cousin is an RN at a hospital and I need to know she’s able to contact me. There are definitely times when I have to tell myself, I’m putting this away for an hour and then I’ll check. And every time I’ve done that the world has still been totally fine. I think setting small parameters for myself while also knowing that I can’t expect myself to totally unplug has been healthy. For me anyway. 

Has your relationship changed with others in the team? 

As cliché as this sounds, it’s one of those “absence makes the heart grow fonder” times. Whenever we’re all finally able to get back into the office, I don’t know if we should even be expected to work that day. I think we should just share stories and eat snacks. Slack has been so important for us to stay plugged in, and we’re still doing team lunches virtually, on Zoom. We even have a couple of fun Slack channels that have gotten a bit more exciting during all of this. We have a “gratitude” channel for posting gratitude for other team members, positive feedback we’ve received from clients, and gratitude we feel towards our clients. I think one of our most important channels right now is our “Friday” channel. It auto-posts a bunch of really great, good vibes, happy, dancing videos all day long, every Friday. That has become a staple.

Are there any unexpected upsides to this change in routine? 

I rescued a dog a couple of months ago, so it’s been great to have more time to work with training him and getting him more comfortable. I also have a cat who is finally becoming comfortable with being a brother. I’ve been able to get outside more. It’s so nice to not have my long eight-minute commute…that just really wears me down every morning for 8 minutes! I’ve gotten some backlog home improvement projects done. 

On the flip side, one of my routines I’ve had to cut out during this time is drinking coffee, because that has just made me extra anxious. We may continue that one post-quarantine, it might be a healthy thing to carry over in the long-run. Also, home is work and work is home right now. I turn one light off and turn on a different light when I’m not working anymore. That’s how I know where I am. 

Is this what you thought an economic crisis would be like?

In the 2008 crisis, I still hadn’t graduated high school, so I wasn’t immediately impacted. But our generation has dealt with an unkind job market, student loan debt, all kinds of experiences that we’ve just had to endure. This is the first time anything like this has happened in my adult life. I’m seeing my friends getting laid off. Some of them with children have been asked to work from home, and they’re homeschooling as well. I have other friends who can’t afford to buy 2-3 weeks of groceries. It all happened overnight, things just hit the fan and people were getting laid off, schools were closing. The strangest thing is being adult enough to know that this will take a long time to fix, and that we haven’t even begun to see a lot of the effects of this yet. 

One of the things I keep seeing on Twitter is, “At your next job interview, ask that employer how they helped their employees through this Coronavirus crisis.” Employers are going to have to directly answer those questions in a big way.

Do you have a favorite place that you are no longer able to visit? 

Anywhere! I miss places. Honestly, I love going out downtown here with my friends at night, out after work, to the farmer’s market, on the nature trails – all the little lovely things that make Gainesville what it is. None of those things are available right now. All of us at Parisleaf love walking to Karma Cream or to Opus, which are two lovely coffee shops near us. There are event venues downtown that have had events cancelled, The Arcade Bar, The Atlantic, Signal, Simon’s, High Dive. Several small bars like Madrina’s, Cry Baby’s, The Bull. Bo Diddly Plaza, which is where they hold the farmer’s market and other free community events like live music and yoga. It’s normally packed with families and people being out under the sun or stars, but it’s just a ghost town.

What feelings have taken you most by surprise? 

I’ve been surprised by every single emotion I’ve felt. Ali shared an article with us about collective grieving during this time, and how that’s essentially what’s happening. Everyone is in a different place with a grief cycle and it’s collective and there’s no end in sight. There’s so much uncertainty that it’s hard to move out of that cycle, there’s something new added every day that may push you back. And the process isn’t linear to begin with, it just comes and goes. That article opened me up to accepting all the feelings I was experiencing. There’s no way you can have a plan for how you’ll deal with this and what emotions you’re going to feel at what time. Being hard on myself was more detrimental than just allowing myself to be and to know that it’s okay to feel confused or sad or anxious because this has never happened before. I had to realize I’m not the only one feeling this way… and I had to realize that’s okay. 

What new skills would you like to develop (or wish you already had) to help you through this period? 

I wish I knew how to sew. It is insane to me how much of a need there is in the medical community for masks and other equipment. As I mentioned, I have a cousin who is an RN, and she was given one mask to last for the rest of the crisis. One. They don’t have enough supplies. There are manufacturing plants that have shifted some of their lines to making these supplies like ventilators, breweries making hand sanitizer, so that’s been awesome to see. 

Tell us about music. What albums are you playing? 

I love listening to the NPR All Songs Considered Podcast, I find a lot of good music that way, and I am one of the biggest fangirls of NPR Tiny Desk Concerts. I love them so much, love the intimate setting and getting to see artists in a way you normally wouldn’t. Albums I’m running through right now: Childish Gambino’s new album. I still can’t stop listening to the posthumous Mac Miller “Circles,” J. Balvin’s new “Colores” album. Best Coast, one of my favorite ladies in the music world, released an album right before all of this ramped up. I’ve been playing some things I have on vinyl like Moon Taxi, My Morning Jacket, Janice, Fleetwood Mac. If I get super stressed, I’ll throw on the “Something’s Gotta Give” soundtrack. 

I also play piano, ukulele, guitar, and I have a music degree in voice. So just having more time to spend re-falling in love with something that has been a big part of me and has maybe fallen back a bit when responsibilities get heavy is really nice. Before I found Parisleaf, I taught music in schools. With music, you are an audience of one for yourself if you want that. I think that’s one of the most beautiful things about music. If you want to share it, you can. It’s a universal language with a universal understanding. 

I heard that you enjoy baking. Can you share a secret recipe with us?

I’m from Western Kentucky, which is considered The South, so you can’t just go ahead and share family recipes. I do still visit home and I’d like to have a bed to sleep in when I get there. So, the recipes will have to stay locked up. But I haven’t been able to bake during this because it’s hard to get eggs, flour, milk, etc. I don’t need milk to survive, but small children do, and I don’t want to take that away from them so that I can make some cookies for myself. But once this is over, I’m going to make 20 cakes. 

What are three questions you don’t have an answer for?

When will this be over? When will we be able to conduct ourselves normally again? No one can answer that, and it also leads into my second question. 

What is the new normal going to be? I don’t think that we’ll go back to the way things were before. There are so many people who have lost jobs, so many small businesses who will have to close their doors. 

My third question is more of a hope. I’m hoping that through all of this that people are gaining a respect for some of the industries that were previously looked down on and have now become essential. There are people out there going to work and literally risking their lives for, potentially, minimum wage. I hope we’ll come together as a country to demand big reforms.

Find more Coronavirus Q&As and other resources here.